Yes! Your Child and Teen Needs a Summer Sleep Schedule! Here’s Why and How To Create One
One of the biggest summertime complaints we get at Modern Parenting Solutions has a very simple solution that rarely gets used.
The complaint we get all summer long from parents of kids and teens? Their young person is crabby and not fun to hang around with during the summer break. Or their kid doesn’t want to do anything other than stay glued to their screen all day. Another common – but similar – complaint is that they never see their kid because they’ve developed the “vampire sleep schedule,” which means that they stay awake all night and sleep for most of the day.
Are you experiencing any of these same summertime slump behaviors?
What if I told you that the answer is often as straightforward as ensuring that your child or teen has a regular sleep and wake schedule? Remember that when young people experience any of the uncomfortable HALTS risk states (hungry, angry, lonely, tired, stressed), it becomes tough for them to control their emotions and behavior. So it makes sense that your child is more likely to be grumpy or annoying when tired.
So set your child or teen up for a better summer by ensuring that their sleep schedule is regulated and makes sense. But sometimes, regulating your child’s sleep schedule is easier said than done (especially for teens), so this article today will give you all the tools you’ll need to create a consistent summer sleep/wake schedule.
You’ll first learn why a consistent summer sleep schedule is so important (so you’ll be armed with the language you’ll need when explaining this to your child). Then I’ll walk you through how to establish a wake/sleep schedule in your home – even if your child or teen is resistant to the idea. When you’re done reading this article, you’ll feel confident establishing a sleep routine in your home, and you’ll see a positive difference in your child or teen’s emotional and behavioral health.
Reasons Why Young People Need a Consistent Sleep/Wake Routine
You might intuitively know that getting enough sleep is essential to your child’s overall emotional and physical health, but you might get stuck when explaining this to your child or teen. Let’s review why sleep is so important – even in the summer! – so that you have the language you need when discussing with your child.
REASON #1: Sleep Prevents Cognitive Energy From Being Used in More Important Areas
This first reason is important, and you’ll see how it affects ALL of the upcoming reasons too.
We all have a finite amount of cognitive energy throughout the day. Things like making decisions, controlling attention, managing anxiety and depression, and being creative all deplete our cognitive energy throughout the day. When kids and teens are tired, a lot of that cognitive energy goes to managing their sleepiness, allowing less mental energy to be used on other important tasks such as making good decisions and controlling behavior. However, when kids and teens are sleep satisfied, they have more energy to use in these other areas, allowing them to make better decisions, relate better to others, learn and retain information, and experience a more peaceful life.
If being tired depletes this cognitive energy, then what re-invigorates it? You got it: consistent sleep.
TALKING POINT: Having a wake/sleep routine makes us healthier and happier people because when we get enough sleep, we replenish our cognitive energy, and we can use that energy on the stuff we need to do throughout the day instead of on tolerating our uncomfortable tired mood.
REASON #2: Sleep Helps Even Out Mood
Now that you know that being tired drains cognitive energy, it makes sense that tired kids and teens are spending so much energy tolerating being tired that they don’t have enough cognitive energy available to manage their mood. When this happens, they tend to get annoyed and angry faster – and they tend to express their displeasure with their annoyance more intensely than they would if they were sleep satisfied.
Tired kids equal grumpy, impatient, inflexible young people who are not fun to hang around. Being sleep satisfied doesn’t create perfect kids, but it will help to even out those mood swings, and extreme moods become less intense.
TALKING POINT: Having a consistent wake/sleep routine makes us feel better and helps us enjoy life more because we don’t get annoyed as fast at little things. We’re better able to withstand life’s minor irritations.
Reason #3: Sleep Improves Behavioral Control
Again, if a child is sleep satisfied, they have lots of cognitive energy to use to manage their behavior. Research tells us that kids diagnosed with ADHD have fewer symptoms of inattention and off-task behaviors when they have consistent, quality sleep.
A regular sleep routine also helps the young toddler or elementary school kid who struggles with tantrums or anger outbursts. It’s no secret that tiredness triggers tantrums in toddlers and triggers anger outbursts in older kids. Wouldn’t you love a more peaceful home? One where you don’t have to walk around on eggshells so as not to trigger a tantrum, negative attitude, or a yelling match? A consistent sleep routine goes a long way in bringing peace back into the home.
TALKING POINT: Creating a consistent sleep routine is like medicine you don’t have to take. It helps your body manage ADHD by helping you pay better attention, remember things better, and to not do things without thinking them through.
Reason #4: Sleep improves Anxiety and Depression
One of the best ways to decrease anxiety and depression symptoms is to have a consistent sleep/wake routine. For kids and teens who struggle with anxiety, getting enough sleep allows them to spend more cognitive energy on managing their anxiety. When they’re able to do this, they are more likely to use coping skills and strategies to reduce their anxiety.
In many situations, anxious young people have learned the bad habit of ruminating on negative thoughts as soon as their heads hit the pillow. Working with a good child therapist can help your child or teen learn strategies to fall asleep easier, but encouraging them to go to bed at the same time each night and wake at the same time every day will do wonders in helping their bodies turn off their anxious minds and fall asleep easier.
When kids are depressed, they tend to have trouble sleeping, or they can sleep too much. Research has shown that adolescents who have been diagnosed with depression are far more likely to have sleep problems than their peers. Anxious and depressed kids and teens struggle to regulate their sleep/wake routines, so you’ll need to get involved here. Over time, your child’s body will get used to the routine, and they’ll be able to maintain the sleep routine independently.
TALKING POINT (FOR KIDS AND TEENS WHO HAVE DIFFICULTY SLEEPING): I know you find it hard to sleep at night, but your body needs rest even when you’re not sleeping. We need to teach your body that the habit of falling asleep at the same time each night is what it should be doing. Over time, this will help you fall asleep faster, so you won’t have to lay in bed worrying all night.
TALKING POINT (FOR KIDS AND TEENS WHO SLEEP TOO MUCH): I know you don’t like to be woken up in the mornings, but it’s healthy for you to wake up at the same time each day. This teaches your body to power down at night and to have enough energy when needed during the day.
Reason #5: Sleep Improves Memory and Decision-Making Abilities
Sleep benefits memory and decision-making abilities by allowing memories to encode during a quality sleep session. Research has shown that when kids and teens get enough sleep, their procedural memory (i.e.the ability to fully complete daily tasks and procedures) and declarative memory (i.e. the ability to recall facts or memories from the past) show improvement. This improved ability to remember facts, combined with the increased ability to pay attention (see reason #3 above), helps young people do better in school.
In addition to better memory, research also tells us that kids and teens who get the recommended amount of sleep can better inhibit their impulsive actions and think through their decisions before acting on them. This means that kids who lack the necessary amount of sleep display deficits in judgment, an increased willingness to accept risk, and a tendency to focus on short-term rewards over long-term consequences. This helps kids get involved in fewer risky and physically dangerous behaviors, including the use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and other drugs.
Because lack of sleep affects the frontal lobe, which is the part of the brain that governs rational thinking, kids and teens with a better-developed frontal lobe can think through the pros and cons of a situation instead of impulsively doing something without thinking it through just because it’s fun. Sleep adds energy to the frontal lobe; lack of sleep takes energy from this critical brain region.
TALKING POINTS: Having a consistent sleep routine helps us remember things better, which means you’ll get nagged less about remembering stuff. It’ll also help you make good decisions.
Reason #6: Sleep Improves Overall Physical Health
Getting the right amount of consistent sleep makes your child or teen a healthier individual. Science tells us that kids and teens who lack enough sleep (or consistent sleep) tend to have problems with obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular health. The reason is simple: tired kids are less willing to participate in physical activities and have less inhibition to turn down unhealthy foods. It’s been shown repeatedly that tired young people eat far more sugar than their peers who get the recommended amount of sleep.
In addition to inadequate nutrition and exercise, an inconsistent sleep schedule also confuses the body – it never knows when to power down or be at peak performance. Irregular sleep schedules teach the body to conserve energy at all costs when it can because it doesn’t know when it will get rest again. This leads to young people who are lethargic during the day (the body hasn’t learned that it needs to be at peak performance during the day) and having problems waking up in the morning (the body does everything it can to continue conserving energy).
TALKING POINT: It’s our job to keep our bodies healthy, and getting enough sleep is key to being at our best. A regular and consistent sleep schedule teaches our bodies when to help us be at our best and when to power down and rest.
Reason #7: Sleep Improves Relationships
As you’ve already learned, when we get enough sleep, we’re more emotionally even, better able to concentrate on other people, and we’re not spending cognitive energy on anxiety or depression. All of this sets us up to be better people in a relationship.
All of the above reasons support the fact that young people who can pay attention to other people have reasonable control over their impulsive actions, aren’t overly bothered or distracted by anxiety or depression, and have frontal lobes at full throttle are young people who are easy to be around. These young people tend to make friends easily – and to keep these friends too. Young people who are sleep satisfied also tend to have close and positive parent-child relationships.
TALKING POINT: When we get enough sleep, we enjoy people better, and they tend to enjoy us more too.
Know Your Sleep Numbers
So now that you are convinced that you need to set up a consistent summertime sleep/wake routine, how much sleep should your child or teen get?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), recommends the following guidelines:
- Age 0-3 months: 14-17 hours
- Age 4-11 months: 12-15 hours
- Age 1-2: 11-14 hours
- Age 3-5: 10-13 hours
- Age 6-12: 9-12 hours
- Age 13-18: 8-10 hours
Individual sleep needs vary. This means that some kids and teens might naturally need more than the recommended hours of sleep, while others appear to need less.
If your child needs more sleep than their peers (and if their sleepiness isn’t due to depression), set their bedtime earlier and let them get a little bit more sleep. It’s usually not a good idea to allow them to wake up later in the day, as this allows their bodies to learn to wake up later. You want to teach them the habit of waking up at a normal hour, so they don’t have trouble getting to school or work on time.
Now, if your child seems not to need very much sleep, I usually recommend that you replace the hours that they don’t sleep with rest time. For example, if your teen seems to need only 6 or 7 hours of sleep, instead of allowing them to go to bed later, insist that they go to bed at the hour that you set, but they can do something non-electronic and restful (i.e., read, draw, build a puzzle) for the hour before sleep. This allows their bodies and minds to get the optimal amount of time to rest so they can function at their best the next day.
How To Create a Summertime Sleep/Wake Routine That Works
So now that you know why your child needs a consistent sleep/wake schedule and the amount of time they should be getting, it’s time to create the sleep/wake routine.
Step 1: Figure out bedtime and waketime
Start by determining how much sleep your child or teen needs based on age (see the previous section). Next, decide when your child should wake each day. During the summer, you can allow your child to sleep later, but you don’t want them to sleep the day away. In addition, keep in mind that the later you let them sleep in regularly during the day, they’ll have a harder time acclimating to their school wake time in the Fall.
Once you’ve decided on a wake time, calculate when they should go to bed. Now you have your child’s wake time and bedtime figured out.
Step 2: Communicate the new sleep/wake routine
Most kids and teens will give their parents some (or a lot) of pushback when it comes to a summertime sleep/wake routine. This is why I gave you the reasons and talking points in the first section. Use these talking points to teach your child the life lesson of paying attention to health.
Step 3: Ensure your child’s room is set up for sleep.
You probably already know that kids and teens sleep best in dark rooms with a comfortable temperature. In addition, research shows that kids who sleep with a television turned on or when watching youtube on a computer, tablet, or phone don’t get a good quality of sleep. Since this is the case, have your child or teen store their electronics outside of their rooms at night.
In my household, I created a charging station for all our small electronics that charged overnight. My kids plugged their phones, tablets, and handheld game consoles in their designated spot in the charging station each night before starting their nighttime routine.
Step 4: Be consistent with the new routine – don’t back down or give up!
By now, you probably understand that consistency is important to making a sleep schedule work. Your child or teen’s body needs to learn the new wake/sleep habit, and this can take some time. This timetable can be different for every individual young person, but I know it will work for you – I’ve seen a consistent sleep routine help families of all types.
In my experience, when parents are inconsistent with the sleep routine, not only does the young person’s body not learn the healthy habit of powering down and functioning optimally, but the child learns that YOU DON’T MEAN WHAT YOU SAY. Make your parenting more effective by being consistent with the sleep/wake routine AND your communication.
Step 5: If you took a break from the routine because of a vacation or special family time, get back to the routine as soon as possible.
It’s normal (and fun!) to take a break from the sleep/wake routine, but only take breaks when it makes sense. Vacations, visiting family members, and special occasions all make for good reasons to stay up late or to sleep in.
The important thing is that once the special occasion is over, you HAVE to go back to the healthy sleep/wake schedule. There might be a small adjustment period (i.e., your child might have difficulty falling asleep quickly or getting up easily), but your child will get back to the routine in no time.
Optional Step: Create a bedtime routine for both young kids and teens.
Many parents believe that when kids have a hard time falling asleep, the problem starts when their child puts their head on their pillow. But they’re wrong. Research tells us that the lead-up to bedtime plays a crucial role in sleep hygiene. If your child or teen hasn’t had the time to get into the “sleep zone” before falling asleep, then they’re using their sleep time (when they should be sleeping) to wind down for the night.
A pre-bedtime routine is crucial to encourage your child or teen to fall asleep quickly and easily. This routine teaches your child how to wind down and relax before sleep.
Other helpful tips:
- Don’t let your child or teen manage their own sleep and wake times, but do let them have a say in it
- make sure they get enough physical exercise during the day
- let electronic devices take a break during the evening
- keep the room cool, dark, and comfy
- Don’t allow naps during the day
Where I See Parents Messing Up
So now I want to share some of my child psychologist experience with you. Since I’ve worked with tons of families over the years and seen them struggle in this area, I want to share with you some of the common struggles that I see play out.
But my kid has always needed very little sleep – I can’t make them sleep more!
Many parents who struggle with their kids or teens during the summer will often tell me that their child has needed very little sleep since birth. The thinking here is that since their child has historically slept less than the recommended hours, there’s nothing they can do.
BUT…just because your child doesn’t sleep very much now (or in the past) doesn’t mean that you should ignore their sleep hygiene now. I find that one of two things happen with this situation: 1) the child has learned the habit of not getting enough sleep but CAN learn to get the sleep that their bodies need, or 2) the child’s body doesn’t need tons of sleep, but they DO need rest time.
Regardless of whether or not your child or teen will sleep the recommended number of hours, they still need to get that amount of REST. For example, if your teen seems to sleep only 6-7 hours (instead of the recommended 8-10 hours), then encourage them to get 1-2 hours of rest time (non-screen time) to make up for the lack of sleep. This rest time is needed for the child’s body to function at its best.
They let their kids develop a “vampire sleep schedule” because it’s easy.
A vampire sleep schedule is when a child or teen stays awake most of the night (usually participating in online activities) and then sleeps most of the day.
Some parents have admitted to me that while they know this sleep schedule isn’t ideal, it does make for a peaceful home because the child isn’t awake to argue or be grumpy. In addition, they also admit that they get tired of the attitude they get from their child when they try to enforce a sleep/wake schedule during the summer.
I get it, but the downside is that if your child or teen sleeps all day, then you don’t get the opportunity to make summertime memories with them, AND when they do have to participate in something during the day, then they’re grumpy, tired, and difficult to be around.
Believe me, it’s easier in the long run to establish a summertime sleep/wake routine than it is to put up with a grumpy kid.
They give up too quickly when a) they start the new sleep routine, and kids fight against it, or b) they get off the routine for some reason (i.e., vacation) and then have to go through being consistent again.
ANY parenting strategy takes effort, and the summertime sleep/wake routine is no different. Kids and teens believe that summertime means they get to do what they want when they want, but that’s just not true (or good for them!).
Just because your child or teen gives you an attitude about the summertime sleep/wake routine doesn’t mean you should give up on it. You’ll be more successful in being consistent with this routine if you remind yourself of the smart reasons WHY the routine is important when your child complains.
Letting teens manage their own bedtime
Another area where I see parents fail with a summertime sleep/wake routine is by allowing their teen to manage their own sleep and wake time. For example, I had a parent tell their 15-year-old that they needed to be in bed with the lights off (and no electronics) by midnight and to be awake by 9:00 am. Then they expected their teen to magically follow this new routine on their own.
Of course, this was a failure!
As the parent, you need to monitor that your child puts their electronics away for the night, turns out the light at the right time, and wakes at the right time the following day. Kids and teens just naturally aren’t going to do this on their own.
Letting tweens and teens keep electronics in their rooms at night
Research tells us repeatedly that participating in an activity with an electronic device right before bed makes it much harder for us to fall asleep. Our brains get stimulated by the electronic device and need time to “power down” to fall asleep. In addition, when kids and teens fall asleep with the tv on (or youtube playing on a laptop), they get a worse quality of sleep.
Do your child or teen a favor by teaching them the life skill of falling asleep without the aid of electronics. It CAN be done. It’s also a good life skill to learn to have boundaries around electronics – especially social media.
They ignore their own sleep hygiene
OK Modern Parents: are YOU getting enough sleep? Do YOU fall asleep with the tv on or scroll through social media for several hours before going to bed? Do YOU have problems getting enough sleep too?
Maybe a great family goal this summer is for everyone in the household to work on their sleep hygiene. All the tips that I discussed for helping your child get a good night’s sleep also apply to adults, so take an honest look at your own sleep/wake habits.
I want to remind you again that modeling healthy behavior in front of your child or teen is probably the BEST way to teach them the important life lessons they’ll need to be happy and successful young adults in the future. If YOU prioritize healthy sleep habits, then your child will too.
The Take-Home Message
Modern Parenting teaches our young people essential life lessons that set them up for a happy and successful future. One of the best life lessons to teach your child this summer is all about healthy sleep/wake habits.
Young kids and teens develop the idea that bedtimes are only for school nights – but that’s just not the case!
Creating and maintaining a consistent sleep/wake routine improves everything from attitude, emotional distress, behavioral control, memory, attention, and many physical ailments.
In addition, I believe that a consistent sleep/wake routine for both kids and teens improves the parent-child relationship, especially in the summer! When building summertime memories, you want your child or teen to be awake and in a good mood. You also don’t want to be around a crabby and moody kid all summer, and something as simple as a sleep/wake routine can have a huge positive influence on the peace level in your home this summer too.
What should you do now? Download the worksheet that I created for you that will walk you through creating a summertime schedule (that includes sleep and rest) that will set your family up for a great summer.
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