From baseball in the park to sidewalk chalk to sandy toes, summertime ushers in a season of relaxed family fun. It also brings something less welcome: sleep problems. With later sunsets, soaring temperatures, vacations and sleepovers, summer can sabotage bedtimes and rob kids of much-needed rest, leaving them moody, irritable, sluggish and more vulnerable to illness. Where’s the fun in that?
If wrangling a summer’s worth of cranky kids doesn’t appeal, take heart. With minor effort, parents can bring back warm-weather fun by helping kids sleep well, wherever summer adventures lead.
Sleep saboteur: Blazing temperatures
When summer temperatures climb, sleep suffers. A drop in core body temperature is an important cue triggering sleepiness in both children and adults. Body temperature drops naturally during sleep, but hot summer nights can hinder this natural process, leading to poor-quality, interrupted sleep.
For sweeter summer sleep: The ideal temperature for sleep is a cool 68 F, says Bobbi Hopkins, M.D., pediatric sleep physician at Texas Children’s Hospital Sleep Center in Houston. Room-darkening shades and curtains help keep rooms 15-20 degrees cooler, while ceiling fans and free-standing fans flush out hot, stale air. Pre-bedtime, cool kids down with a lukewarm bath. Don’t pile on the pajamas or blankets – minimal, lightweight sleepwear and bedding help keep kids comfortable. For an icy treat, store pillowcases in the freezer and slip a fresh, cold cover on your child’s pillow at bedtime.
Sleep saboteur: Sunlit evenings
Summer days seem endless, and come bedtime, that’s bad news. Many kids balk at going to bed while the sun’s still shining. But families shouldn’t blow off bedtimes just because the sun stays out until 10 p.m. Ample sleep ensures that kids have enough energy for camps, sports, play dates and good old-fashioned summer fun.
For sweeter summer sleep: Hopkins recommends setting a summer bedtime according to a child’s sleep needs. “If a child needs 10 hours of sleep per night, parents should keep that in mind and make sure a summer bedtime allows sufficient time for sleep,” she says. “It might be OK for a child to stay up an hour or two later, as long as they can sleep later the next morning.”
But kids who rise early for summer camp, lessons or daycare can’t skip bedtime without risking serious overtiredness. On sun-drenched evenings, help kids wind down for bed at night by closing curtains and dimming house lights an hour before bedtime.
Sleep saboteur: Sleepovers
Giggles, pizza and movies -– summer sleepovers load kids up on everything but sleep. With school on hiatus, sleepover invitations start pouring in, and summer-weary parents may appreciate the break a sleepover date offers. But when a sleepover leaves kids groggy and grumpy the next day, parents might question if this time-honored summer ritual is worth the trouble.
For sweeter summer sleep: Most sleepovers are light on sleep, but parents can still help limit the overtiredness that results. Whether kids sleep over at your house or a friend’s, lay down sleep guidelines. If 10 p.m. is the latest your child can stay up without melting down the next day, inform the host’s parents and the kids involved. Plan the evening’s activities accordingly. Don’t rent an armload of movies or video games if you want kids snoozing before midnight.
Sleep saboteur: Summer travel
Travel is part of summer’s joy – unless a grumpy, sleepless child is along for the ride. Anyone who has traveled with youngsters in tow knows that sleep problems can wreak havoc on summer vacations. Whether your destination is a mountain campground or a beachside villa, traveling tots may resist bedtime, refuse naps, sleep restlessly, or wake up earlier than expected, resulting in cranky kids and worn-out parents.
For sweeter summer sleep: Young children thrive on routine, so sleeping in a new spot can be a struggle, says John Schuen, M.D., chief of pulmonary and sleep medicine at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids. The key to an easier vacation bedtime is recreating the child’s bedtime routine as closely as possible in the new location. Maintaining a consistent bedtime and bringing along bedtime books and familiar bedding and toys comforts tired kids and encourages sounder sleep.
Parents shouldn’t overlook sounds, either – nighttime noises can hurt kids’ sleep more than parents realize, says Hopkins. “Hotel rooms or other vacation accommodations can be quite loud, and that can make all the difference for kids’ sleep.”
She recommends bringing along a white noise machine or small fan to drown out the racket. Requesting a hotel room on a high floor well away from elevators and stairwells can also cut down on bothersome noises that keep kids awake.