How to establish a bedtime routine and stick to it in the summer


For many families, summer vacation provides a welcome respite from the rigid routines of school and work. It can be a liberating feeling for parents and children when kids can sleep past school bus time, or stay up late to catch fireflies or play with sparklers.

But while experts say doing it occasionally is fine, they warn that parents shouldn’t stray too far from their children’s usual bedtime during the summer. “Our clinic is filled in August with panicked families trying to figure out how to get their kids back to school,” said Laura Sterni, director of the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Sleep Center. “And that’s because if you let it go too far, it’s not easy to do it.”

We spoke to several sleep experts about how parents should think about summer bedtimes. But first, it helps to understand the importance of bedtime routines.

Establish a good routine

Bedtime routines are valuable for kids and adults alike because they signal our brains that it’s time to relax and transition into sleep. “Bedtime routines are one of the most common family activities. They affect the well-being, development and health of children,” noted a paper published last year by researchers at the University of Manchester in England Yet, despite the importance of these rituals, the researchers found “limited evidence and agreement on what constitutes an optimal bedtime routine”, so they decided to develop this consensus themselves.

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The team consulted 59 experts in the UK, from fields including medicine, psychology, dentistry, education and public health, and used a scoring system to determine the effectiveness of the routines. They came up with six key elements of an ideal bedtime routine for children aged 2 to 8, which, in order of importance, are: brushing their teeth; having a consistent bedtime; read a book; avoid eating and drinking; avoiding electronic devices; and engaging in calming activities, which may include bathing or showering, or talking and cuddling.

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With the exception of toothbrushing, which tops the list due to its importance in health issues, parents don’t need to do all the steps every night. After all, said psychologist and researcher George Kitsaras, who led the study, family life should be flexible. “But if you do half of it, if you do a few, it’s still an advantage for the child over no routine at all,” he said.

To decide when to start putting your child to bed, whether in the summer or during the school year, determine when your child should get up, count down to the appropriate number of hours of sleep and add about an hour for the routine .

(If you’re not sure how much sleep your child needs, check the recommendations of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. These can vary widely. For example, the guidelines state that children aged 6 at 12 should sleep 9-12 hours a day, you may need to look for clues that tell you if your child is getting enough sleep, for example if your child does not wake up spontaneously in the morning, throws temper tantrums , can’t concentrate in school or are sleepy in the afternoon, they may not be getting enough sleep.)

Yale Medicine sleep psychologist Lynelle Schneeberg devised a slightly different iteration of the bedtime routine than the Manchester team for children aged 3 to 10. The author of “Become Your Child’s Sleep Coach” and member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine focuses on the five Bs: bite (a small, unsweetened bedtime snack); bath; brushing teeth; bathroom (using the toilet); and books (reading with a caregiver).

But she also suggests something else: a night light and an “evening basket” filled with books and other quiet activities. After reading with your child, put the basket back on for about 20 minutes before you expect him to fall asleep. Then kiss them goodnight and tell them to use the basket until they’re sleepy. This helps your child learn to fall asleep rather than relying on you as a crutch. (A favorite stuffed animal — a bedtime buddy — can also help.)

What about teenagers? If you’ve successfully established the importance of a bedtime routine, the hope is that teens will adapt it to their own needs as they age, Kitsaras said. For example, they may listen to music to relax instead of reading. “I think that’s the beauty of routine is that as you get older you learn more about yourself and what works, what doesn’t work for you,” he said. . “But ideally you’ll keep things like brushing your teeth and avoiding screens.”

Dealing with summer disturbances

If you’ve established a bedtime routine that works for you and your child, every expert has warned against changing it too drastically during the summer months.

When asked how much longer children should stay up later in the summer, experts’ advice ranged from around an hour for young children to up to two hours for teenagers. During the school year, “We call it ‘school plus two,'” Schneeberg said, which means that on the weekends, you shouldn’t let your child sleep more than two hours beyond his wake up time at school. “But I think it’s perfect for the summer.”

Many parents think their teenagers can stay up late in the summer because they are also able to sleep. But sleep experts had several concerns about it. Letting teens stay up all day can disrupt their circadian rhythms and may encourage them to eat too many junky late-night snacks, Sterni said. Additionally, she pointed out, when teens sleep during the day, they lose opportunities to exercise, socialize and spend time with family.

When it comes to teenagers and summer sleep times, Scheeberg said, “I always tell parents, you can’t put them to sleep,” but you have a better chance of controlling when they get up.

She encourages parents to focus on the circadian cues that help teens wake up: light; food; caffeine; activity; social interaction. So if you’re hoping your teen will be up at 9:30 a.m., you could open their curtains, cook breakfast, and ask a friend to come play basketball.

Along with urging parents not to stray too far from the school year’s bedtimes, sleep experts encourage maintaining as many other aspects of the routine as possible during the summer. “I’m a big proponent of limiting electronics to a certain time, whether it’s summer or not. Encourage reading, encourage being outdoors, encourage something else,” Sterni said. “But I understand; I raised two boys. You are going to stretch it a bit; a little okay.

You can also try to stick to the routine when traveling. Schneeberg suggested you always bring a bedtime basket when you’re on the road, for example, and Kitsaras suggested that instead of reading a book, you talk about the day’s adventures as a relaxing activity before bed. But don’t worry if the kids go to bed late because of a late flight or a visit to relatives. And you shouldn’t be so rigid about the routine that you stress out when it doesn’t happen, whether it’s during the school year or in the summer.

Bedtime routines are only productive if you do them “in a very proactive, interactive, and positive way with your kids,” Kitsaras says. “If you replace them with anxiety, stress and rush, it will go against everything we offer.” The bond created between parent and child is “the lifeblood”, he said.

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