Summer Sleep Routine for Kids
Table of Contents
When school ends, and summer begins, everyone can feel the excitement in the air. Not only does the universe gift us with more sunlight each day, but the sweet dog days of summer are often jam-packed with our favorite activities. Sleeping in a little longer, running through the sprinklers, hitting a water park or two, and maybe a visit to see the grandparents are hard to beat. The only problem here is that relaxed summer routines for kids often lead to wonky summer sleep schedules that carry through into the first days and weeks of the new school year. Ahead we’ll discuss summer sleep routines for kids and offer a few tips for keeping things on track.
Remember How Much Sleep Your Kids Need
Kids need plenty of sleep to support their physical, mental, and emotional development. And there’s no shortage of research showing that insufficient sleep can lead to poor emotion regulation, attention deficits, and learning impairments. (1), (2)
- Infants 12 – 16 hours per day
- Toddlers 11 – 14 hours per day
- Preschoolers 10 – 13 hours per day
- School Age 9 – 12 hours per day
- Teens 8 – 10 hours per day
- Adults 7+ hours per day
Shift Bedtime as Needed — But Keep It Consistent
Debbie Gerken, RNC-NICU, Certified Pediatric Gentle Sleep Coach, says, “If parents would like to shift bedtime due to family events and activities throughout the summer, [they should] try shifting the bedtime by 15 minutes every few nights as the child acclimates to the later bedtime.” Gerken adds that when doing so for the little ones, parents can “avoid overtiredness by making sure naps are prioritized to support the shift to a later bedtime.”
Macall Gordon, M. A., and certified gentle sleep coach, adds, “It’s important to remember that children need about 11 hours of sleep until school age. So if there is a shift, parents should “try to craft a bedtime that gets little ones the amount of rest they need.”
Gordon also notes that shifts are fine, but consistency is key. “An earlier bedtime can be challenging when the sun doesn’t go down until later, but having a consistent bedtime routine that happens at roughly the same time every day will also keep your child’s body in a predictable daily rhythm.”
Plan Ahead for Sleep-Disrupting Vacations
“When planning for a vacation, it is super important to prioritize sleep for a few days leading up to the start of the vacation,” says Gerken. “This supports the child so that they aren’t going into the vacation overtired, which decreases the child’s ability to manage the changes in environments, routines, time zones, etc.”
Managing Time Zone Changes
Gerken says parents can choose whether they shift to a new time zone or stick to the status quo. “Parents should consider how long they will be away and what types of activities they’ll be doing while away. These two factors can help them decide if they should shift to the new time zone or continue with their current time zone.” Essentially, if it’s a brief stint, it may not be worth disrupting your child’s summer sleep routine, whereas longer vacations may warrant some acclimation.
Have A Plan
Gerken also says parents might consider familiarizing themselves with the layout of their destination and giving some thought to the sleeping arrangements. “Knowing this ahead of time can help parents prepare the child, depending on the age, for a sleep space that may look different than their space at home.
Consistency is Key
To help kids acclimate, Gordon suggests bringing things from home that are familiar and calming, like their favorite bedtime book or pacifier. “The key is to keep as much consistency as you can so you have less to retool when you get home,” she says.
Start Back-to-School Sleep Prep Early
If you think you’ve upended your kid’s summer schedules and the new school year is approaching faster than you’d like, we’ve got some good news. You can walk things back, and it’s not as hard as you think.
Start Early and Ease Back Into School Year Routines
According to Gerken, parents should start early and take it slow. Even better, Gerken outlines the following plan for a successful transition.
- Start shifting your kids’ summer schedule two weeks before school begins so that the shifts can take place gradually.
- Establish a consistent bedtime to optimize your child’s sleep, which then can support re-establishing the child’s natural circadian rhythms.
- Expose your child to natural light first thing in the morning. This helps let the circadian rhythm know that it’s time to wake up — and it leads to a much less groggy morning than when a child wakes up to a darkened room.
Gordon suggests starting with the morning wakeup for an alternate approach to shifting back to a more “school-friendly” time after summer routines have veered off course. Essentially parents should “start waking children earlier and earlier until they get to the rising time they need.
Summer Sleep Tips for Babies and Young Children
For babies and young children, the summer months can be managed best with a few simple tips, says Gerken.
Keep Sleep Environments Dark
A dark bedroom is key to getting quality sleep, so parents should think about managing light as best they can for both daytime naps and nighttime snoozing. To keep things dark enough for the little ones to get their shut-eye, Gerken says, “blackout curtains help block out the daylight that lasts later into the evening during the summer months.
Keep Them Hydrated
While prioritizing hydration during the hot summer days is important, Gerken notes that hydration is also crucial for better sleep. (4) But while keeping the little ones hydrated, Gerken warns parents to “make sure they limit intake before bedtime for children to avoid frequent overnight wakings for potty breaks.”
Manage the Noise
With longer daylight hours, many of us will find that our neighbors hang out a little later or push mowing the grass into the cooling evening hours. From time to time, the neighborhood goings-on may clash with your child’s bedtime. To drown out the noise, Gerken suggests “using white noise and adding a white noise machine in the hallway outside of the bedroom. This can help buffer summer sounds like later outdoor social time, fireworks, etc.”
Summer Sleep Tips for Teens
Summer schedules for teens are a little trickier to manage than summer schedules for kids, but it can be done.
Encourage Bedtime Routines
This might be a hard sell because bedtime routines are often associated with babies and toddlers, but you can try rebranding it as a wind-down routine before bed. While it should include low lights and calming activities, Gerken says “it should also include limiting screen time, cutting it off at least an hour before bedtime — if you can do that with your teen.”
While teens tend to like naps on lazy hot summer days, Gerken encourages parents to keep tabs on their frequency and duration. Ideally, parents should help their kids avoid long naps that can disrupt their ability to go to sleep at bedtime. Moreover, Gerken notes, “Frequent naps also prevent teens from getting up and being active, both of which can support their sleep come bedtime.”
Sleep Hygiene for the Whole Family
When a laid-back summer routine ends up having a domino effect on the rest of the family, parents could try revamping sleep hygiene practices for the whole family.
Keep the Bedroom Cool and Dark
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that a cool, dark environment is key for good quality sleep. (5) And while longer daylight hours can get in the way of that, you can always try blackout curtains to keep the light out. Also, think about lowering the thermostat in bedrooms throughout the house.
Keep Screens and Phones Out
Blue light from tablets, televisions, and smartphones can have a profoundly suppressive effect on the production of melatonin — the hormone that controls our body’s sleep-wake cycle. (6) To encourage quality sleep, consider switching off electronic devices at least one hour before bed.
Use Beds and Bedrooms Only for Sleeping
Your child’s bed and bedroom should ideally be used only for sleep and rest. While an occasional fort is fine, parents should discourage using beds for homework or gaming, as kids may begin to associate their beds with activity instead of sleep.
Additionally, time-outs and punishments are bound to make an appearance over summer break. When that happens, parents are cautioned not to have their kids serve time in their rooms. This, too, can cause negative associations with things other than sleep.
Set Consistent Sleep and Wake Times
Inconsistent sleep and wake times can delay sleep onset, shorten sleep duration, and impair your overall sleep quality. (7) So encouraging your family to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day is incredibly important.
Keep the Kids Active
When bedtime rolls around, you want your kids tired enough to go to bed without resistance. The best way to do that is to ensure they’re getting enough physical activity during the day to expend all that energy. If they’re active enough during the day, they’ll likely fall right into bed when it’s time.
Should kids have a bedtime in the summer?
While parents can allow some flexibility on the timing, summer bedtimes are still a good idea as it helps maintain a routine, provides structure, and supports kids’ overall sleep health.
What is the best room temperature for sleeping in the summer?
The ideal room temperature for sleep is around 65°F.
The Last Word From Sleepopolis
Sleep routines and bedtimes can provide structure to your child’s day and improve their overall sleep health. And while routines shouldn’t be abandoned over summer break, there isn’t one summer sleep routine for kids that fits everyone — parents can be flexible with the timing. When you move your child’s bedtime during the summer and move it back for the new school year, make sure the change is gradual and always keep sleep and wake times consistent.
- Lollies F, Schnatschmidt M, Bihlmeier I, et al. Associations of sleep and emotion regulation processes in childhood and adolescence – a systematic review, report of methodological challenges and future directions. Sleep Sci. 2022;15(4):490-514. doi:10.5935/1984-0063.20220082
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2022, September 13). Children’s sleep linked to brain development. National Institutes of Health. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/children-s-sleep-linked-brain-development
- Sleep faqs – sleep education by the AASM. Sleep Education. (2021, May 4). https://sleepeducation.org/sleep-faqs/
- Asher Y Rosinger and others, Short sleep duration is associated with inadequate hydration: cross-cultural evidence from US and Chinese adults, Sleep, Volume 42, Issue 2, February 2019, zsy210, https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsy210
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, April 1). Creating a Good Sleep Environment. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/emres/longhourstraining/environment.html
- Blue Light has a dark side. Harvard Health. (2020a, July 7). https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side
- McMahon WR, Ftouni S, Phillips AJK, et al. The impact of structured sleep schedules prior to an in-laboratory study: Individual differences in sleep and circadian timing. PLoS One. 2020;15(8):e0236566. Published 2020 Aug 12. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0236566
- Debbie Gerken, RNC-NICU. Email Communication. July 18. 2024.
- Macall Gordon. Email Communication. July 18. 2024.