Summer Sleep Tips for Kids: Balancing Structure & Flexibility

sleep tips for kids

Summer is finally here! It’s the time of year where everyone wants to enjoy that “Hakuna Matata” lifestyle. And our relaxed schedules make it tempting to let our kids stray from normal sleep schedules.

But chronically late bedtimes and skipping naps can lead to overtired kids. And we all know what happens when our littles are overtired—meltdowns at the pool, playdates that turn into fight club, and hour-long bedtime battles.

I’m all for the Zen, vacation vibes and breaking the rules sometimes; however, I want to encourage you and your family to prioritize sleep this summer, especially if you have young children. 

Sleep Recommendations by Age

Our sleep needs do not decrease in the summer months. In fact, you will typically see a higher need for sleep in the summer months due to the heat, dehydration, extra fresh air, and increased physical activity. The following sleep recommendations are taken straight from the National Sleep Foundation.

Image credit: The National Sleep Foundation

These numbers indicate how much sleep is needed per age in a 24-hour period, including naps. And as you can see there is a range for each age group.

As a therapist and sleep consultant, I recommend aiming for the higher end of the scale for most children. Especially children under five years old. The majority of brain growth and development happens within the first five years of life, and all of that juicy neurological magic is happening is during the sleep cycles. So, as you can imagine, there is a strong correlation between quality sleep and healthy development

So here are a few sleep tips for kids to ensure your family’s summer sleep is on point. 

Summer Sleep Tips for Kids

  1. Set a realistic bedtime based on age: Use the chart above to determine how much sleep your child should be getting (I typically recommend an average of 11 hours of nighttime sleep for littles under six years old). Next take into consideration when they need to be awake each morning and calculate the hours of sleep recommended. 
  2. Use a bedtime alarm: It’s so easy to lose track of time when you are playing outside after dinner. Set a daily alarm on your phone to indicate when it’s time to get ready for bed. I encourage that you set the alarm for 10 minutes prior to the routine to burn off energy (see #3 below). 
  3. Burn up any excess energy: Once the alarm goes off, have a 10-15 minute buffer and encourage your kids to do some physical play in order to burn off any extra energy. Run laps around the house, jumping jacks, tug of war, wrestling, jumping on a trampoline, etc. 
  4. Utilize a bedtime chart: Use visuals to help guide your kiddos through the bedtime process. Simply create a Word Document with an inserted chart and clip art or make a fancy one on Laminate the chart or cover it with packaging tape and allow your child to cross out each step with a dry erase marker. 
  5. Set the mood: Create a very calm environment for the bedtime process involving several senses. Encompassing more senses creates a stronger cuing system to brain that sleep is near. Make a spa music playlist, dim the lights, diffuse some oils or light a candle, turn off the TV, and implement a quick massage after bath time.  
  6. Make sure it’s dark: Ensure that the bedroom is dark so the circadian rhythm is not disrupted. It should be difficult to see your hand in front of your face. Use blackout curtains and cover any lights with black electrical tape. Darkness is especially important for nap time.  
  7. Keep it Cool: Make sure your child’s room is a comfortable temperature. We sleep better in cooler environments. Anywhere between 68-70 degrees is ideal. If your child is waking up hot and sweaty, try making some adjustments. Change pajamas or sheet fabric, add a fan to the room to circulate the air, or adjust the thermometer.  
  8. 80/20 Rule: By no means should we live our lives on a super strict schedule, right? We need to let loose and bend the rules from time to time. A laissez-faire lifestyle is my dream, but I also know that my family unit is a hot mess without proper sleep. So, we live by the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the time we are consistent with our routines and schedule, and twenty percent of the time we live by Timon and Pumba’s life motto.  
  9. Be prepared for ‘back to school’: No judgment if you and your fam simply choose to do what works for you, but I’d really encourage you to have a plan for how to transition your kiddos back to a fall schedule. It can take up to two to four weeks to reset the circadian rhythm, so mark your calendars now for when you will need to start adjusting your sleep schedules. Try shifting the time by 15 minutes every couple of days until you are back at your ideal bedtime/wake time. Check out my back to school sleep guideline to help make the shift in late July/early August. 

I hope these little sleep tips for kids help. Cheers to good sleep and Zen summer nights! 

For more sleep tips, see this post on 7 Tips for Better Sleep & Intimacy.

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Annie is a North Dakota native and shares her life with her dreamboat husband, Tyler, and two spunky little girls, Ruby & Pippa, in Wimbledon, ND. Annie loves spending time outdoors with her family, dogs included. She is always the first one on the dance floor and often forgets she is not in college anymore. She enjoys running, playing soccer and volleyball, sipping on red wine, and bubble baths….lots and lots of bubble baths. Annie Schlecht is an occupational therapist, certified pediatric and adult sleep consultant, Reiki practitioner, and infant massage instructor. She started her own business, Zen Sleep Consulting, in 2016 after seeing a huge need in the state. Her mission is to help her clients (birth to adults) feel Zen and confident as they master the skill of sleep. Annie is serious about the work she does; yet, likes to do it with a splash (or wave) of sarcasm & humor.


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