Summer nights mean late nights for many families. With school out for summer, routines seem to fly out the window. The extra hours of daylight, family vacations, and not having to wake up early for school tends to make children stay up later than their normal bedtimes.
Getting away from normal sleep routines for the summer months may not seem like a big deal, but it can have negative impacts on children mentally and physically. Children, just like adults, have internal body clocks that regulate when they sleep and awaken. Any disruption in these clocks leads to less quality sleep, which is what can cause negative effects to their bodies and minds.
When children lose their sleep routines, their brain function is impacted and they struggle with problem-solving, creativity, memory, and emotional well-being. They also tend to have slower reaction times and make more mistakes, which you have witnessed if you’ve ever seen your child become more “accident prone” when he or she is tired. Daytime performance and safety in general lack when children get off their sleep routines.
Children’s minds are not the only thing affected by the disruption to their sleep. Their bodies are also physically impacted. Sleep deficiency is known to lead to obesity. Quality sleep helps maintain a balance in the hormones that make us feel hungry and full. An imbalance in these hormones can lead to overeating and poor food choices. Lack of sleep also affects how the body reacts to insulin and can cause an increase in blood sugar levels, which in the long run can lead to type 2 diabetes.
Sleep also promotes healthy growth and development. It is during deep sleep that the hormone responsible for growth in children is released.
Sleep is also needed to help the immune system functioning properly to fight off illness.
Many children thrive on routines and their routines can help them know what is expected of them. Unlike adults, kids do not have the ability to plan out their days. Keeping a routine can also let them know what to expect and even give them something to look forward to, such as an activity he or she enjoys.
Children are not the only ones benefited by good sleep routines. Parents are rewarded by having less cranky and more cooperative kids. Routines offer consistency in expectations of children and help to reduce power struggles and tantrums.
It can be difficult to make your children stay on a bedtime routine through the summer months, so it helps to make sleep a priority for the whole family. Pick a bedtime that works realistically. Don’t pick a bedtime that you know will be difficult to stick with. Use the same bedtime every night, but allow for free time during the day. There will most likely be nights here and there when going to sleep at that time seems impossible. But children that are accustomed to their routines have a much easier time getting back on track without disruptions to their normal sleep cycles, and when the school year comes back around, getting them on a routine will not be a struggle for the parents or children.
by Kristina Diaz, RRT – Contributing writer for the American Sleep Association