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Is summer break interfering with your child's sleeping habits?

During the long summer days when children and teens are permitted to stay up later and sleep in longer, their school-year sleeping patterns might be thrown out of whack.

While some kids remain under a structured schedule due to summer camp participation, those spending time at home this summer likely won’t have to adhere to strict bedtimes.

Though it may prove challenging to get your child to bed a little earlier, experts agree that good sleep hygiene is essential to growth and development.

Sleep hygiene includes habits and practices that lead to regular, uninterrupted sleep, according to the British Columbia Children’s Hospital.

“[You could] end up with a large variability in bedtimes and wake times over the course of the summer,” said Dr. Nathaniel Watson, a former president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and associate professor of neurology at the University of Washington.

“That can cause problems for children when the school year starts back up [and] they have to adhere to a fairly regimented schedule,” Watson said.

Child sleeping on school desk

(Photo/Image_Source_/Getty Images)

Getting a later school-day start

This is especially the case when children attend schools that begin classes earlier than 8:30 in the morning.

Forty percent of high schools in the United States start before 8 a.m. and more than 20 percent of middle schools begin at 7:45 a.m. or earlier, according to Start School Later.

Some schools have opted for delaying start times, which can offer benefits including higher attendance rates, reduced depression risk and improved academic performance.

“By delaying the start of the day, students are able to obtain more sleep during their natural preferred sleep period, which is increasingly later [as they age],” said Dr. Natalie Dautovich, assistant professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The AASM sleep recommendations for children and adolescents aged 3 to 18 are outlined below.

summer sleep 2

Studies: Students aren’t well-rested

Studies show that during the school year, not all students are getting enough rest.

According to a 2016 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than two-thirds of American high-schoolers aren’t getting the amount of sleep they need on school nights.

A study from the AASM showed that problems in teens resulting from lack of sleep on school nights include attention and learning problems; a heightened risk for hypertension, diabetes and being overweight; increase in depression and suicidal thoughts; decline in athletic performance; and a greater likelihood of an accident behind the wheel.

“Motor vehicle accidents are the most common cause of death for adolescents,” said Watson.

“They’re still learning about driving, and so performance decrements are particularly problematic,” he added.

Studies have also shown that having a child stick to a regular sleeping routine can improve cognitive performance and lessen the frequency of behavioral problems.

How parents can help

There are a number of beneficial steps parents can take to get children and teens readjusted to the school-year sleep schedule.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends keeping televisions and computers out of the bedroom to help kids doze off because they can lead to trouble falling asleep, nightmares and sleep disruptions.

“From the prospective to shifting the schedules in general, it is best, even in the summer, not to allow the child to oversleep more than two hours beyond the usual wake-up time,” said Dr. Sumit Bhargava, clinical associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford Children’s Health.

“For example, if a middle-schooler has to be up by 7 a.m. and be at school by 8 a.m., they should not be allowed to wake up later than 9 a.m.,” Bhargava added.

Oversleeping makes it more difficult to adjust the circadian rhythm by the time the school year begins, he explained.

Consistency is key in maintaining habits all year round, according to Watson.

“Sleep is something that happens given the right circumstances, [which include] consistent bedtimes and wake times, no caffeine after 2 in the afternoon and consistent meal and exercise times,” he said.

Parents can also set up blackout curtains in their child’s sleeping environment, which can especially help if bedtime occurs while the sun is still out.

Dark, cool and quiet conditions are ideal for putting kids to sleep, Bhargava said.

Experts also recommend gradually shifting the child’s bed and wake times about two weeks before the new school year approaches.

The AASM recommends putting kids to bed 15 minutes earlier each night and waking them 15 minutes earlier each morning until their sleep schedule aligns with the school year schedule.

“We recommend that a healthy sleep life requires good sleep hygiene, and that should be a constant and not something that varies with the seasons,” said Watson.

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