My kids' bedtimes have been getting progressively later, and not just because they're getting older. With homework, play time, after-school activities, my work schedule, and, oh yeah, dinner (which we try to eat together as a family every night—#goals) it's usually way later than I'd like by the time we get into the bedtime routine.
But now summer has officially begun, bringing with it longer, lazier days. Bedtime, schmedtime, right?
Not so fast. "Sleep is often one of the most disrupted routines in the summer," says Blake Jones, Ph.D., an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Purdue University. "Children are permitted to go to bed later and sleep in later." Uh, guilty...
Jones' research focuses primarily on how daily routines influence child obesity and sleep. He told me in an e-mail interview that one study he was part of examined 22 previously identified risk factors for early childhood obesity in a large sample of preschool children, and found that when all of these factors were put into the models, "the top predictor of child obesity for these young children was insufficient sleep (defined as less than 10 hours per night)."
Studies have shown that sleep loss during the week can't effectively be made up for by sleeping in on the weekends (not that we don't all try!). Furthermore, as many parents already know, later summer bedtimes can make the back-to-school transition even harder.
"It may take kids several weeks to move back to earlier bedtimes, and this can impair their abilities in the classroom in those first few weeks," Jones said. "As challenging as it can be to transition back to school, we're starting to think more about what late summer bedtimes and shortened sleep are doing to their health, focus, mood, and overall health throughout the summer and long-term. Children usually thrive on routine—it's important for their physical, mental, and emotional health. So as parents we need to do our children a favor and make sure that we are providing the structure."
Those guidelines don't take a summer break, but Jones is realistic. "Summer is a time of fun, and the reality is that schedules can be very tricky," he says. "The best approach is to allow for some flexibility, but to have a plan. When traveling or with late events, make maintaining children’s sleep habits a priority. If there's a night here or there that is off by more than an hour from their usual bedtime, the key is to get back on their schedule (or close to it) as soon as possible." You can also adjust your child's sleep environment—using blackout curtains, for example, to block light; running a fan or air conditioning; and modeling healthy sleeping behaviors yourself.
As it turns out my kids are getting enough sleep, according to the AASM guidelines, but just barely—so this is all a good reminder to me to keep harping about bedtime. My kids may not like it, but it's truly for their own good.