Summertime Snoozes

It is important for families to protect the sleep of our young children — even during the summer months. It is also difficult to stick to a sleep schedule because of the many temptations of summer. There is so much more sunlight during this season, and it feels like there are so many opportunities to find play. In addition, a child who is able to truly enjoy the outdoor time of summer and revel in the energy and fun of activities is also old enough to fight sleep because she realizes that every time she sleeps other people in her family are surely having fun without her.

It is tempting to let some of the naps slide, or push bedtime back a bit to accommodate the rest of the family’s schedule. These moments of flexibility are necessary for all of us sometimes, but it is important to not let the flexibility overwhelm the routine. Young children and babies need a regular schedule for sleep. Sleep is what consolidates their learning (and when children are young everything they do involves learning because it is all so new to them), and rejuvenates them for the next thing. In addition, sleep begets sleep. This means that skipping a nap does not often result in a longer night time sleep–it is much more likely that skipping a nap will result in your child having a harder time falling asleep and sleeping for a shorter period of time. Children often depend on the routine of the day to help them regulate their own bodies. If they can count on nap time coming every day after lunch time, their bodies begin to anticipate the shift. If they can’t predict when a nap time will come, then their minds and bodies aren’t in the habit of settling down and they struggle to calm their bodies when we ask them to.

Sometimes the hardest person to convince of the necessity of a good nap is the child herself.  She will resist and moan and cry and often roar at the indignity of being asked to slow down. As a parent, however, we can see that an overtired baby or young child can not be in charge of deciding for herself when she needs a rest time. Some of the following hints may help baby to calm down and rest her body and mind:

1. Catch a child before she is over-tired. Look for signs of sleepiness and get baby to a quiet place to rest at that time. Once she is over-tired, she will ramp up her energy and be physically unable to calm herself for a long time.

2. Ensure that the place your child sleeps is boring and quiet. Remove all the reminders that there is a fun world out there, and make her sleeping place soothing and tranquil.

3. Create a brief routine to help your child slow down. Lower the lights, read a book or two, cuddle or rock or sing a song. The routine should last 5-15 minutes.

4. Some children need a long time to calm their bodies down. The hour before sleeping, engage in quiet games or reading.  A child who has been running around wildly for the past hour will often really struggle to fall asleep.

5. Create an environment that feels secure for your child. You will know what your child most needs. Some children prefer the hall light on; some children prefer a night light or “lovey” (stuffed animal or blanket); some children prefer the door to their room wide open; some children prefer a visit from you for another quick hug five minutes after they have laid down to rest.

6. Remember to get rest yourself during their nap-time or bedtime. It takes a lot of energy to keep up with young children, and we won’t have that energy if we don’t take care of ourselves.