We are in the final week of school, which means that I am in the final countdown for making lunches, keeping laundry on schedule, and signing agendas.
The great part of summer is the fact that the schedules can lighten up, but the challenge with this shift is the fact that it can quickly turn to a lot of kids being really off a consistent schedule.
Keeping a consistent schedule has the following benefits for kids (and adults):
- Shortens the amount of time that it takes to fall asleep (sleep latency)
- Allows for more consistent periods of deep sleep and dreaming sleep
- Decreases the time it takes to become fully awake in the morning
- Supports healthy food choices
- Supports stable body weight
- Improved immune functioning
- Improved mood
I often encourage my families that the schedule can shift in summer to a later bedtime as long as your child has the ability to also sleep later in the morning, which may not show up until adolescence.
My biggest struggle with allowing my son to have a later bedtime is the fact that he has never really been able to sleep later than 7 AM. There has been one reported occasion in which he supposedly slept until 10 AM, but that wasn’t at our house and I am not sure just how late he had stayed awake.
So far, I have never seen it happen. For elementary-age children and younger, staying up later often results in less sleep, as being over-tired tends to result in being over-stimulated and distressed.
Keeping the room absolutely dark until desired wake time can help coax a later wake time in the morning, but know that this can take many days or even weeks to be consistent.
Electronics add a whole additional degree of complexity for sleep. Our clock system, circadian rhythm, uses light exposure as a means to gauge when one should be awake or sleeping.
In a 2012 study of electronic usage in adolescents, researchers found, “45% of the adolescents have a television, 53% have a computer, 86% have a cell phone, 70% have an mp3 player, and 30% have a video game console in their bedroom (Pieters, DeValck, Vandekerckhove et al).”
The only media that was not associated with later bedtime and longer sleep onset was television, which arises from the fact that we usually do not watch TV with close proximity to our eyes in the same way that we use other devices.
Listening to music was still associated with later bedtime, which is important for parents to note because many parents don’t even think of music as a possible interfering influence on sleep.
Furthermore, cell phone and computer usage were associated with daytime effects from sleep disruption. One thing that had a moderating effect on the impact of electronic usage and sleep quality- parental boundaries around both.
There are a few sleep boundaries that I really want parents to sustain.
First of all, time in bed should as closely match the amount of sleep needed. Base bedtime on their natural rise time, and count backwards, because it is much easier sustain a normal wake time each day than to try to force someone to fall asleep at the exact same time.
Second major boundary, no electronics in the bedroom. Frankly, I don’t like for anyone to have devices in their bedroom, but it is particularly hard for children and adolescents to self-regulate usage of electronics.
If you allow devices in the room, then at least have a reasonable curfew for these devices. The curfew should be one hour before the desired bedtime to allow for the circadian system to engage with the sleep-promoting process.
It is fine to use white noise, as this can be soothing for sleep and block ambient sound, but it should originate from a white noise machine rather than a device.
Although many people feel comfortable falling asleep to music, this can actually result in more sleep disruption over the course of the night– we have small micro-arousals every time the sound changes, and can have more intense awakenings during the night.
Even if the sound turns off at some point, there may still be more intense awakenings at night due to the change in the sound environment- this is why white noise is always recommended for the entire night.
Lastly, try to only stress their normal sleep schedule once every two weeks. It is okay to have a really exciting, late evening every few weeks, but try not to have them more frequently.
If you know that your summer entails a lot of really late nights, then it might be good to treat summer like its own time change and realign their schedules to match.
Sustain a healthy sleep pattern, even if the time shifts, and sleep will be protected from the chaos of summer. Try to start the school year sleep pattern two weeks before school starts for kids who adjust easily, and four weeks before school starts for your child who struggles to adapt.