Do the summer holidays affect your child's sleep schedule?
The summer holidays can be an exciting time for parents and children – you may have been away abroad, visited extended family or simply enjoyed spending time with your children away from the day to day routine.
The chances are that you’ve tried to keep your little ones as busy as possible, arranging sleepovers and play dates, but eventually this can have an impact on their sleep patterns. Parents of teenagers may even have noticed that their children seem quite happy to sleep the entire day away, lounging in bed until noon! Is it wise though, to allow your children to have later bedtimes and longer lies?
Well, actually there is evidence to suggest that this break in routine can have an effect on your children, especially when it comes to re-establishing a routine after the summer holidays. Studies have demonstrated that the back to sleep transition may impair your child’s classroom performance, at least for the first few weeks of term as they adjust.1
Children and teenagers need a routine, especially when it comes to sleep which is imperative for their physical and emotional development. But just how much sleep should they be getting?
How many hours of sleep do children need?
The needs of children can vary depending on their developmental stage – young children of 2 or 3 need considerably more sleep than a 15 year old teenager. However, it’s absolutely crucial that you make sure your child is getting the right amount of sleep for their age.
Sleep deprivation in children can cause them to exhibit behaviour that mimics ADHD or even mental illness, especially in teenagers.2 Your child may also have a weak immune system and be more susceptible to colds and flus, and less able to cope with stressful situations. Sleep deprivation can also lead to obesity, as your child will crave more sugary, carbohydrate-rich foods during the day, leading to a vicious cycle that will only result in further sleepless nights.
The table below is a good indicator about how much sleep your child should be getting at night during certain stages in their development.
||Hours of Sleep
According to this table, a child of 7 should be in bed by at least 8pm in order to get the required 10-11 hours before getting up for school. The chances are that during summer your child has been going to bed at least a couple of hours later and either getting up earlier in the morning, or sleeping in later. So how do you go about breaking this routine when it’s time for them to go back to school?
How can I get them back into a routine?
Getting your children back into a routine for school can be an exhausting experience. Your child has gotten used to a certain way of going to bed and trying to break this routine may lead to tantrums and even cause you sleep deprivation. That’s why I would recommend starting the process a week or two before the beginning of term – that way, when the school’s do begin again, your child will already be settled in their new routine.
Push back bedtime
If you’re child has become used to going to bed an hour or two later, suddenly forcing them to sleep two hours earlier than usual will inevitably cause a lot of upset.
That’s why I’d recommend gradually pushing back bedtime – start by getting your child into bed 15 minutes earlier than usual and work from there, day by day until you have them ready for sleep at their normal school night bedtime.
This may be met with a little bit of resistance at first but you have to persevere, otherwise your transferring power to your child and teaching them that, with enough protest, you will give in to their demands.
Think carefully about meals
Your child might be used to having a small snack after dinner, but you should be considering what they are eating very carefully. If you’ve been on holiday, you may have allowed them treats that you wouldn’t normally give them – ice cream, chocolate, fast food etc.
However, what your child eats during the day and at night can have a real impact on their sleep. Now of course, you’re probably familiar with the idea of sugar and hyperactivity, and probably try to avoid sugary treats like the plague.
Nevertheless, refined carbohydrates and processed meats can have a similar effect, which is why I’d always recommend sticking to healthy treats. Plenty of fruits and veg – get your child involved with making meals! Not only is baking a fun bonding activity, it can teach your child more about the food they eat and what goes into their bodies – never a bad thing!
Below I’ve enclosed a couple of tasty treats you can try making together with your child.
Easy to make Blueberry Pancakes
Healthy Oreo Cookies
Cinnamon & Almond Banana Bread
Get rid of the gadgets
A study conducted by the consultancy Censuswide revealed at 80% of children in the UK will own a mobile phone by the age of 12, with 58% having their own tablet by the age of 10!3 This is certainly a dramatic shift compared to just a decade ago, and one that can spell trouble for establishing a child’s sleep routine.
If your child has a tablet or a smartphone, you probably assume it’s a good way for them to wind down in the evening, by watching cartoons or playing games. It keeps them quiet and amused, allowing you to get on with making dinner, cleaning the house and other tasks in peace – however, the blue light emitted from such devices can interrupt their production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
Melatonin is naturally released as the day progresses, particularly as the sun starts to set. It makes us feel sleepy and tells us that it is time to rest. However, the LED light from smartphones, tablets and televisions can interfere with your production of melatonin, making you feel more awake and alert, preventing you from achieving a good night of sleep.
I would highly recommend having all devices turned off an hour before bedtime. Instead focus on fun games that will help your child to relax and wind down – play doh, Lego and all the old classics! Of course if you have teenagers, this problem can be difficult – in today’s climate, you’d have an easier time prying blood from a stone than getting a 14 year old to surrender their mobile.
Nevertheless, you have to set boundaries and be a good example to your child, which brings me on to my next point…
Be the example
Your children will look to you as their example and they will quickly notice if you are exhibiting behaviour that is forbidden to them – especially if they’re teenagers! If you ban them from using their tablets but sit all night on your own, this will set a negative example.
Instead, put down your own device and focus on engaging in activities with them. Help them build a Lego Millennium Falcon or bring out the Snakes and Ladders. Read stories to them as you tuck them in to bed – this will show that you are willing to spend time with them and that you are invested in their thoughts and feelings.
Of course, your average teenager will not be thrilled to trade their mobile for an hour of ‘dad time’ but make the most of this. Talk to your child, not at them. Being a teenager isn’t exactly an easy or fun experience, but having a positive relationship with your parents, one that thrives on honest communication, can make the world of difference.
Finally, make sure you are regular with your own bedtime routine. If you demonstrate to your child, that you are willing to practice what you preach, it will reaffirm the idea that bedtime is a normal and fixed part of the day, making them less likely to act out or rebel against their own night-time routines!