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How Do I Manage My Kid’s Summer Sleep Schedule?

Updated: Sep 11, 2019

Just when it finally feels like smooth sailing with your family’s regular sleep routine, summer comes along and blows the whole thing out of the water. Between sleep away camp, visits to the grandparents, family vacations, camping trips, and those late night fireworks, keeping your child on their normal sleep schedule all summer may not be a realistic goal – but that doesn’t mean you have to abandon ship.

In HelloJoey’s “Catching Zs: Put Sleepless Nights to Bed” kit, we look at the healthy habits that set the stage for a good night’s rest and share tips and tricks to help you make sure your kid gets enough sleep – not just over the summer, but all year long. Plus, you’ll also find practical ideas to get your child back to a regular bedtime before they head back to school.

Is it bad if my child stays up too late?

Even if you’ve created a consistent daily routine for your kid over the summer, the extra hours of daylight and all the fun festivities that come along with them pretty much guarantee that your child will stay up too late at least a few times during summer break. If and when that happens, you probably don’t really need to stress about it. “If you stay up late one night, it's not going to be that problematic,” reassures neuroscientist Dr. Alex Korb.

As sleep medicine physician Michelle Jonelis explains, “Our sleep pathways have flexibility built into them.” That’s great news, because it means getting off track doesn’t necessarily have to mean big trouble. If your child has a fairly regular sleep schedule, staying up late to watch for shooting stars or have smores around the campfire won’t have any major effect if you get right back to the regular bedtime schedule. “They can make up for lost sleep to a certain degree,” says sleep expert Heather Turgeon.

Of course, summer fun can lead to a whole string of late nights for the family – and after a while, that can take a toll on everyone. Dr. Korb says it’s called “social jetlag,” and it can make it harder for your family to get the sleep they need. “If you're getting insufficient quality of sleep throughout the week, staying up really late on Friday or Saturday night can cause disruptions in the synchronization between circadian rhythms and your sleep habits.” Sticking with the bedtime schedule as much as possible can help keep those rhythms in sync.

How do I get my child to sleep on vacation?

Summer vacations are one of the sweetest pleasures of the season, but they can cause a lot of upheaval when it comes to sleep. Not only is your schedule out of whack, but your kid is sleeping in a foreign environment – and is probably sleeping in the same room or tent as you. A full schedule of fun activities all day long also can interfere with daily naps or the downtime that your kid usually uses to recharge.

If you’re struggling with getting your child to sleep during summer vacation, these tips may help:

  1. Schedule some downtime every day. When you only have a limited amount of time to see the sites, it’s tempting to go-go-go on vacation – but that may be too much for your kid. Plan a midday hotel pool break, sneak away a quiet corner at the amusement park, or plop everyone down on a blanket in a park to give your family time to rest, recharge, and even nap if necessary.

  2. Stick to the bedtime routine as much as possible. If your child usually has bath time, then puts on jammies, then brushes their teeth and has a story and kisses, follow that routine no matter where you are. Even abbreviated versions of these rituals can trigger their brains that it’s time to sleep and will give them some familiarity in a foreign environment.

  3. Recreate their optimal sleep environment. You’ll be limited with what you can do on vacation, especially if you’re all in the same room, but you can still make your child’s sleep space comfy and familiar. Bring along their favorite pillow, blanket, or stuffie; play white noise or soothing lullabies; and anticipate and plan for needs like water, midnight potty breaks (or accidents), and unfamiliar sights or sounds.

  4. Keep track of total sleep. Your child may not sleep the same way they do at home, but that doesn’t mean they have to be sleep deprived. Kids who don’t usually take naps may conk out in the car after a long day, or they may snooze in the stroller – or even on your shoulder. If your child is sneaking in sleep during the day, it’s okay to adjust bedtime as long as they’re getting enough total rest.

  5. Watch for signs they’re running on empty. If you take lengthy vacations or spend summer at the lake, your child may start to suffer from sleep deprivation as your trip wears on. If they become moody or cranky, they have unusual behavioral problems or trouble paying attention, or regularly show physical signs like yawning or nodding off, it may be time to set some boundaries and get back to your normal bedtime schedule.

How do I get our normal sleep routine back on track?

While it’s fairly easy to recover from a late night here and there, those bigger or longer term sleep disruptions – like summer break or Daylight Saving Time – can make getting the kids back on track a little more difficult. According to Dr. Tovah Klein from the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development, making adjustments little by little is your best bet for success. “Do it 15 minutes earlier each night, and then it's not a big deal for the child.” Using those 15 minute increments, you can easily adjust your child’s bedtime from 8 p.m. to 7 p.m. in about week.

If your bedtime routine has fallen by the wayside, this is a great opportunity to reintroduce it – making adjustments if your kid has outgrown your old routine. You can also “reset” your child’s bedtime, making it a little later or a little earlier based on the upcoming school schedule and the routine your family will follow. Making these changes now will make your life easier when you’re once again dealing with the demands of school, work, and everything else.

App Tip

You know that kids pay more attention to what you do than what you say – and when you’re all sleeping together on that family camping trip, they’re going to see exactly what you do when it comes to sleep. That doesn’t mean you have to go to sleep when the kids do, but you can model good sleep behavior with some of these healthy habits:

  • Put away your screens and devices about an hour before you go to sleep.

  • Follow your own bedtime routine.

  • Aim to go to bed and to wake up around the same time each day.

  • Create your own sleep sanctuary.

  • Prioritize sleep and make time for rest and relaxation.

  • Be flexible, but remember that consistency counts.

You can find more practical ideas for helping your family get better sleep in “Catching Zs: Put Sleepless Nights to Bed.” Start your path to a solid parenting foundation in just 10 minutes a day. Check out the HelloJoey app.

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