Healthy sleeping puts a happy face on summer activities
by Abigail Cannon, GSC
Are you flying east to see family in July? Do you have a road trip planned for August? Maybe your kids will be in day camp during the week and you plan on camping every weekend. All the fun of squeezing the sunshine out of every day can wear your kids— AND YOU—out! The best medicine for tired limbs, too much sun and, admit it, the stress of visiting family is—sleep!
The importance of getting enough sleep when kids are in school is a no-brainer. The benefits of sleep for children’s learning and memory have been researched and linked to better overall physical health. But it’s no less important in the summer when children may be staying in unfamiliar settings and navigating new relationships at camp or with family they rarely see. At all times of the year, sleep is essential to children’s—and adult’s—ability to better weather the demands of the day.
According to Alice Gregory’s 2009 article in Pediatrics, some studies suggest that inadequate sleep weakens the connection in the brain between the amygdala (which responds to fear) and the prefrontal cortex (involved in executive functioning), resulting in a decreased ability to regulate emotional response. Dealing with that younger cousin that likes to take your daughter’s toys? Asking your child to do their summer reading after getting home from camp? Adequate sleep can improve the outcome of any of these interactions. For babies and very young children, getting adequate sleep is essential for developing brains and bodies no matter what time of year. School age children need adequate rest to help them navigate relationships and activities with physical coordination and emotional resilience. Regarding teens, getting enough sleep may be an import- ant part of elevating mood, while preventing anxiety and depression. Parents, too, reap serious benefits from good sleep habits, gaining emotional resources to stay calm on busy travel days and mentally sharp for that extra hand of Uno. So do yourself (and your kids) a favor and keep healthy sleep part of how you celebrate summer.
Although the sun is up later and your children may be too, try to keep bedtime, even if slightly later, consistent. The body learns the rhythm of the day and its cues for drowsiness by waking and sleeping at roughly the same time every day. The digestive system also plays a role in driving the circadian rhythm. Help keep bedtime at a reasonable hour by keeping meals at a reasonable hour. This can be tricky when it stays lighter later and when fun social plans call. If you’re visiting friends or family away from home, let them know your schedule, including nap and dinner times, so you can make plans that work for everyone.
When traveling, set your clock and your schedule to the new time zone right away. It may take a couple of days for your family’s bodies to adjust, but do naps and bedtime according to local time.
Give kids time to wind down and pre- pare for sleep. Exposure to sunlight prevents the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone essential to falling and staying asleep. Bring activities inside and make sure children and babies wind down at least 45 minutes before bedtime. Switch from busy rowdy play to reading books, bathing or cuddling together. At home, use curtains or blinds to darken your child’s room.
While traveling, keep your bedtime routines intact. Pack important items your child associates with bedtime and do approximately the same sequence of things you do when home – such as have a bath, put on pajamas, read a couple of books and then dim the lights together before saying good night. However, you may need to spend a little more time in your child’s bedroom than you might at home as they adjust to a new place.
Don’t skip naps. For children under the age of three, maintaining naps even while traveling is very important. Sustained sleep during the day helps very young children and babies have smoother nights. When tiny people get overtired, bedtime can become a struggle and little ones are more likely to wake frequently during the night. Maybe naps need to happen in the stroller on the beach, in the carrier as you hike, or even on car rides. But skipping them entirely can ruin your summer fun.
Always tune in to your child’s cues. While family and fun can be distracting, if you miss the window for nap or bedtime, you may be watching your child’s re- works instead of enjoying the festivities. Another thing to remember is that Central Oregon gets HOT. Replace heavy sheets and blankets with lighter ones to keep kids and babies cool and comfortable. The optimal sleep temperature for the human body is surprisingly low, between 62 and 70 degrees. Open windows before bedtime to let cooler night air in or use the AC to cool off your child’s sleep space before bed.
During the summer, parents often lean heavily on movies and screens to occupy kids who are home more. Remember that the blue light of screened devices also blocks the body’s production of melatonin. Turn screens off at least one hour before bed, even for teens!
With a little planning, good communication, and some discipline, parents can help their children maintain healthy sleep patterns in the summer, resulting in hap- pier more energetic kids during this long awaited season of fun.
The amount of sleep babies, children and teens need may shock you. According to The American Academy of Sleep, the opti- mal number of hours per age group looks like this:
- Infants: 14 to 15 hours
- Toddlers: 12 to 14 hours
- Preschoolers: 11 to 13 hours
- School-age kids: 10 to 11 hours
- Teenagers: 9 to 10 hours
Abigail Cannon is a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach and mother of two. She teaches families healthy and life-long sleep habits through classes and personalized one to one coaching. Learn more at abcsofsleep.com