With the summer holidays upon us, the structure and routine that school imposes on the whole family goes out of the window. With all of the flexibility and fun that this freedom brings, it can also cause major disruption to children’s sleep by them going to bed late and sleeping in. Added to this lack of routine are problems like the increased summer temperature, light nights and jet-lag caused by long distance holidays – all making a good night’s sleep even harder.
Here is some advice for parents to help minimise overtired children over the summer holidays.
Routine is the key to a good night’s sleep. Even if you want your children to be able go to bed later and sleep-in later in the morning, make it consistent. Have a regular wake up time throughout the summer holidays to help strengthen your child’s biological clock, rather than different bedtimes and waketimes each day.
To help overcome the light evenings, make sure that you have thick curtains or blackout blinds in the children’s bedrooms to help block out the late evening and early morning sunshine which can disrupt sleep.
Keep a similar bedtime routine to that of term time – have some pre-bedtime wind down time with a bath and story, even if this is at a later time than during school term. These pre-bedtime cues can be forgotten in the excitement of summer activities, but are very helpful for promoting sleep.
To help deal with the increased heat of summer (especially with the recent heatwave) consider using a fan in the child’s bedroom (out of reach of the child), keep curtains closed in the daytime to prevent the room heating up by the sun, and give the children a cooler bath so that they don’t get too hot before bed.
Exercise is really important for helping to promote good quality sleep. Try to encourage your children to get active outside every day, rather than spend all day playing Fortnite!
To help children cope with the jet-lag caused by long distance flights, consider moving the child’s bedtime nearer the destination timezone by 15 minutes each night for a few days before your holiday. For example, if you are travelling west (e.g. to Florida), put the children to bed 15 minutes later than usual and let them get up 15 minutes later than usual, increasing this late bedtime and waking time by 15 minutes each day before your holiday – this way they will already be nearer the destination time zone before you even travel. If you are travelling east (e.g. to Greece) then put the children to bed early by 15 minutes and wake them 15 minutes earlier than normal before your holiday, increasing the difference over several days so that they are already going to bed nearer the destination time zone.
Don’t worry too much if a “normal” routine isn’t adhered to every day. Even by only using a few of these tips, it may help ease the stress that a change of sleeping pattern can cause over the school summer holidays.
If you find that your children’s sleeping patterns have got wildly out of hand and you need more expert advice, contact Dr Browning at Trouble Sleeping. Dr Lindsay Browning studied neuroscience and insomnia at the University of Oxford and currently runs Trouble Sleeping where she helps people of all ages with their sleeping problems. www.troublesleeping.co.uk
In the UK we are experiencing an ongoing heatwave, with no signs of stopping. For many people, the sunshine and heat during the daytime is a very welcome change. However, when night-time comes this can lead to a very bad night’s sleep. In an ideal world, a nursery should be kept at between 16 and 20 degrees Celsius, but without an aircon unit, here are some other ways to try and get the temperature down to near that recommended range.
Tips to help your child sleep:
Keep windows shut. During the daytime keep windows shut so that the very hot outside air does not come into the house. The temptation is to open the windows, but during a heatwave the air outside is likely to be much warmer than the air inside.
Keep curtains shut, especially in sun facing rooms. When direct sunlight gets into a bedroom it will heat up the room. Keep curtains shut to minimise the bedroom heating up.
Give children a cool bath before bed. Usually a warm bath is a good plan before bed to help promote sleep, but during hot weather a cooler bath will help to reduce their body temperature before bed.
Use a fan. A fan can help move air around the room to help keep the child cool. A frozen water bottle could also be placed in front of the fan to help blow even cooler air around. Don’t point the fan directly at the child’s face, and make sure that the fan and electric cable are out of reach of the child. Some people worry about the noise of the fan keeping the child awake, but don’t worry. The child will get used to the noise of the fan quickly.
Wear less clothes at night. Get the child to sleep in as few clothes as possible to help them to feel cool. A baby can sleep in a nappy alone.
Use a cool wet flannel on the forehead. If your child or baby is very upset by the heat, try placing a cool wet flannel on their forehead for a short while. This is especially helpful if the child or baby is very upset, as they are likely to make themselves even hotter when they are distressed.
Keep the child hydrated. During hot weather it is easy to get dehydrated. Let the child have a glass or bottle of cold water to drink during the night. This will help them to both cool down and also keep them hydrated. Bottlefed babies can be given cool boiled water.
Waterproof mattress covers should be removed. The waterproof sheets that can be placed on beds to help prevent bedwetting accidents getting into the mattress, often encourage sweating. So, for extremely hot weather look into other options for bedwetting – such as nighttime pull-up nappies, using a towel on top of the mattress or use a disposable absorbent mat such as the Huggies DryNites bed mat.
Fill a hot water bottle with crushed ice and cold water. This can be really helpful to place in the bad to help keep the temperature down. Make sure that the hot water bottle has a cover so that the ice cold bottle does not come into direct contact with the child.
Reassure your child. Sometimes a little reassurance is all that is needed. Reassure your child that the weather is unseasonably hot and that it is perfectly normal for them to feel hot in bed, but that you want to help them feel better by suggesting some of the tips above.
I hope that these tips help you. If you need to talk through any sleep issues with sleep expert Dr Lindsay Browning, contact Trouble Sleeping where we would be delighted to help.
Recent research published in the April journal of Sleep(https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsy018) from the University of Warwick has show that children who do not get enough sleep are twice as likely to be overweight than children who do get enough sleep.
They looked at different age groups (infants (0 to <3 years); early childhood (3 to <9 years); middle childhood (9 to <12 years), and adolescents (12 to 18 years). The results showed that “short sleep duration is a risk factor or marker of the development of obesity in infants, children, and adolescents“. Specifically they found that:
In babies less than 1 year old who got less than 12 hours sleep, there was a 40% increased risk of weight gain.
For children between 3-9 who got less than 9-10 hours sleep, there was a 57% increased risk of weight gain.
For children between 9-13 who slept less than 9 hours per night, there was double the risk of increased weight.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) in America recommends different sleep durations for different age groups. The recommendations, as stated on their website, are as follows:
newborn (0–3 months), 14–17 hours sleep per night
infant (4–11 months) 12–15 hours sleep per night
toddler (1–2 years), 11–14 hours sleep per night
preschool-age (3–5 years), 10–13 hours sleep per night
school-age (6–13 years), 9–11 hours sleep per night
teenage (14–17 years), 8–10 hours sleep per night
The study also reported the results of brain imaging studies of people with poor sleep compared to those who sleep well. The study showed that sleep loss increased brain activity in areas of the brain which make you want to eat:
When you do not get enough sleep, your brain makes you feel more hungry than you would have been if you had slept well.