4 ways to get a better night's sleep this summer
Published Monday, July 23, 2018 2:38PM EDT
It can be tempting to stay up later during the summer holidays to make the most of longer daylight hours and summer activities. Add long lie-ins on days off work or school, and a relaxing time of the year can actually end up wreaking havoc on the family's sleep schedule.
If you want to use your summer as an opportunity to set a healthier sleep schedule, here are some expert tips that will help the whole family get some more restful shut-eye.
Have realistic expectations
Dr. Cheryl Tierney from Penn State Children's Hospital says it's unrealistic to expect children and parents to keep to the same rigid school-year schedule during the summer months. A few late nights and lie-ins are bound to happen. "It's about having a balance," says Tierney. "Compromise is reasonable."
Henri Tuomilehto, a sleep specialist at the University of Eastern Finland, adds that for adults planning to catch up on sleep on their summer vacation, it probably isn't possible to repay your sleep debt in just a week.
"If you've neglected your sleep all year, you can't really expect things to suddenly change when you start your holidays," he says. "Having said that, there's no need to get anxious. There's always the next year's holidays, and now is a good time to look in the mirror and think about possible changes."
Recognize that you might need more sleep
"Generally speaking, people sleep less than they think they do," says Tuomilehto. "Sleeping time is often sacrificed to evening-time household chores, TV watching and, most importantly, using our smart devices in the bed. You think you go to sleep at a given time, but in reality, you are still browsing the internet one hour later."
How do you know if you do need more sleep? "A person who sleeps well is energetic," explains Tuomilehto. "If you feel like you could be more energetic, it's a good idea to try sleeping one hour longer for a couple of weeks -- that's enough to tell if there's a difference."
Try to stick to a regular sleep pattern
Younger children often wake up at the same time every day whether they have to go to school or not, so if they are going to bed later during the holidays this means they get less sleep. This can result in the same kinds of problems adults have when we don't get enough sleep, such as irritability, headaches and difficulty paying attention.
Tieney recommends keeping younger children close to their regular sleep schedule and letting them go to bed no more than one hour past their normal time. Older children can push that a bit later, but they should still not stay up more than two hours past their regular bedtime.
With no school and no work it can be tempting to take more afternoon naps during the summer months, especially when relaxing on the beach or by the pool on vacation. However, Dr. Alon Avidan, director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, suggests avoiding long naps during the day, advising if you feel you need a little shut-eye, a short 15- to 20-minute power nap between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. is sufficient.
Too much napping may take away the feeling of sleepiness in the evening when you really need it. Tierney adds that children older than five or six should avoid afternoon napping too, because it can make it more difficult for them to fall asleep at night.