5 tips for managing your kids’ sleep schedules this summer

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It can be so hard to get your kids to bed at a decent hour during the summer. (I remember being 3 or 4 and playing with my toys in bed while the sun was still up and streaming through my bedroom window.) How do we maintain a solid sleep regimen for them so they can be energetic and happy during the day, rather than overtired and cranky?

Summertime doesn’t mean we can skip the sleep schedule, even if school (or college) is not in session. Our circadian rhythms require our children to get adequate sleep no matter what time of year if they are to continue to develop and grow.

Toddlers (ages 1 to 2) need 11 to 14 hours of sleep every night, for instance. Preschoolers (from age 3 to 5) need 10 to 13 hours, while school-aged kids (ages 6 to 13) need 9 to 11 hours. Teens (ages 14 to 17) still need 8 to 10 hours; even those college co-eds home for the summer (ages 18 to 25) need their sleep (7 to 9 hours worth of it). (See National Sleep Foundation recommendations.)

Here are 5 tips for ensuring better sleep during the summer for our youngest family members. 

5 ways to help your kids sleep better during the summer

Stay cool

Especially if you live in a hot and/or humid area! A cool bedroom allows the body’s core temperature to drop, which is important from a circadian rhythm perspective: the brain can’t send us off to sleep until our body is cool enough.

Here are 40 tips for cooling off a bedroom during a heat wave, when you don’t have air conditioning.

Otherwise, use your AC (or fans) at the very least. You can’t rue a higher electricity bill if it means your kids are sleeping better. Sleep is not a luxury option, but a requirement.

Keep it dark

Certain parts of the country stay much lighter than normal during the summer (such as the upper northern tier of states and Alaska). It is really hard to fall asleep when the sky is still light out. This is because our brains use changes in light to signal melatonin release, and persistent light skies at bedtime can slow that process.

One option is spendy but worthwhile: install room darkening shades or other window treatments that block light. Maybe less spendy and fashionable, but useful, is to hang a separate dark bedsheet over the window during the summer to add another layer to filter out light.

A less expensive—and maybe more fun!—option is to have your kids wear eye masks at night. This may or may not work depending on your kid (I can say confidently that my girls loved wearing eye masks at night and received a new one in their Christmas stockings every December!)

Note: Some kids may have fear of the dark. If that’s the case, put a soft nonLED (no blue light!) nightlight in their room to fix that problem.

Aim for consistency

Probably the hardest thing to do in the summer is stick to a consistent bedtime schedule. But it’s really important to do so if you want your kids to be happy and healthy during the day.

Whatever you did as part of your bedtime ritual in the off-summer months should continue during the summer. That could mean a bath, bedtime stories, or whatever you and junior like to do at bedtime to unwind (I know a mom who does bedtime yoga with her kids.)

The challenge here often rests more on the parents than the kids. After all, an 8 o’clock bedtime may be your kids’ sleep schedule, but you may not personally be ready for that interruption to your summer night’s enjoyment. You might be sitting next to a bonfire or socializing with neighbors or coming back late from a beach excursion.

Keep this in mind: By helping your kids achieve their normal bedtime through their regular rituals, you are also relaxing and unwinding. Even if you don’t plan to go to bed until 11pm, that 8pm bedtime story ritual with your kid will do you a lot of good as well.

Continue naps

This is true for all ages, including adults. It can be hard to nap during a beautiful summer day (unless you have worked out a shady hammock or covered porch with daybed arrangement). Think of it as a siesta, instead, if that helps.

But those regular naps for the little ones will keep them on an even keel, and if you normally have a power nap in midday, this practice will continue to serve as an excellent recharge for you as well.

Even college kids sleep during the day, especially after their first year, when they’ve possibly learned the fine art of napping. It’s not lazy, it’s a coping mechanism! You should encourage them to catch their Zzz whenever possible—and take note if they seem excessively sleepy during the day. They might need to look into their sleeping issues if they’re not keeping a decent schedule or are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

Be sun savvy

Who hasn’t experience a sunburn, then tried to sleep at night? It can be uncomfortable; your skin feels overwarm, sensitive, and the softest sheets feel scratchy. Make sure your kids are protected from the sun by using sunblock, avoiding direct sun or wearing hats and/or protective clothing. If they do get a sunburn, a cooling aloe gel liberally applied at bedtime can help.

Another thing we don’t think about is dehydration. If your body is dehydrated, you develop a dry mouth as well as other symptoms that might have an impact on sleep quality, such as muscle cramps. A glass of water at bedtime is a must after a long day in the sun (but make sure your kids are drinking water all day long, too!).

If you have kids struggling with bed-wetting issues, you may wish to focus on more daytime hydration methods until they can get their bladders under control.