As school days come to a pause, it’s easy to start letting kids dictate their own bedtime. But be warned: If you hand over all of the control for the nighttime routine (e.g. they’re up all night playing Angry Birds), a cranky kid may replace your all-star student. Damiana Corca, a Colorado-based sleep specialist and founder of Life After 7 p.m. sleep programs, gives us the five-step blueprint for a maintaining a well-rested child on a flexible summer sleep schedule.
Start with a chat: Before the final school bell tolls, begin a dialogue with your child about bedtime expectations. With youngsters less than 10 years old, don’t expect a major shift in the routine, but be willing to give a half hour or so leeway with lights out. If your kids are older, set boundaries with curfew, smartphones, and wakeup expectations (like what time chores need to be done for fun to commence) before summer starts, so that everyone is on the same page.
Understand the “late night effect”: If Junior’s Xbox doesn’t shut down until the morning birds start chirping, you probably won’t see him munching on Fruit Loops until the afternoon. “Sleeping-in causes a downward spiral,” Corca says. “It important to set a general wake-up time so the body starts to remember what time it needs to wake up. Once that time become regular, an earlier bedtime will become natural as your child’s body will be tired at an earlier hour.”
Know that naps aren’t just for babies: Busy kids—even teens—should schedule in a 45-minute afternoon break to avoid a train wreck of fatigue that accumulates during the day. Kids who are exhausted come bedtime may actually have a more difficult time settling in to restorative sleep. And if your young child still naps on a regular schedule, you can consider shifting it back by a half-hour to delay bedtime by 30 minutes to allow more family time in the evenings.
Build in before-bed quiet time: You can’t force a kid to fall asleep, and doing so usually leads to a fight. An hour before lights out, start the wind-down process. “The time it takes for a child falls asleep fluctuates,” Corca says. “When you prepare for bed, kids don’t need to fall asleep instantly. But if it takes longer than an hour, this quiet time becomes even more important.” Let kids read, read a book together, or allow for other quiet activities—just make sure they shutdown screens of all kinds.
Helpful tools: If your kid can’t stop himself from checking Snapchat and Instagram before he finally falls asleep, get a Wi-Fi timer that shuts down Internet access at a certain hour. And if your preschooler’s bedtime happens to coincide with sunset, install a blackout shade or throw a blanket over her blinds. You can also run a small fan in your child’s room to keep it cool and create white noise that will deflect stray noises like thunder booms and firework cracks.