The summer sun is bright and beautiful, but it can be a real pain when it comes to your toddler's bedtimes. How do you convince a kid to go to sleep when it isn't even dark out yet? Learning more about the ways the summer solstice affects your toddler's sleep can help you and your little one have more peaceful slumbers.
To learn more about the way the sunniest days of the year affect your kiddos, Romper reached out to three child sleep experts. Based in Seattle, Rebecca Michi is a children's sleep consultant who has worked with hundreds of families, so she has some serious real-world insight into the sleep habits of kids. The founder and sleep consultant of the Good Night Sleep Site, Alanna McGinn is also director for the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants (IACSC). She knows all about the best ways to make kids sleep. And Nicole Johnson, president of the Baby Sleep Site, also works tirelessly to help parents and their children rest more easily. With their combined expertise, these women provided excellent insight into the way longer summer days affect toddler sleep schedules.
For starters, don't panic if you feel like your kid is super wired this time of year. It's natural. People generally sleep more during the longer nights of winter, and they get less sleep during the brighter, longer summer days, according to McGinn. However, these shorter nights can also lead to chronic sleep deprivation, which can translate to extreme crankiness for a toddler.
To better understand this phenomenon, consider the very real ways that sunlight affects the body's internal clock. That early morning light can disrupt the body's production of melatonin, or the hormone that induces sleep. "In the morning when the natural light comes into their bedroom, that will shut off the production of melatonin, and as your child is already in a lighter sleep, they can wake much earlier. A child can miss out on as much as a few hours of sleep each day," said Michi. These hours of lost sleep can add up in a hurry and lead to some severe grumpiness. It's understandable, though, because no one enjoys functioning on too little sleep.
But if it's still bright out when your toddler's bedtime rolls around, this is also a problem, as noted by McGinn. Toddlers can resist their need for sleep because they think it's go time as long as the sun is up.
So how can you make sure your toddler still gets enough shut-eye during the sunniest time of the year? Consistency is key. "Stick with your child’s usual bedtime," said McGinn. "Pushing it out later and later will only make those mornings get earlier and earlier." Consider using a timer to make sure your little one still goes to bed at the same time, regardless of what the sun is doing.
In addition, making your toddler's bedroom as dark as possible is key. All three experts strongly recommended installing blackout curtains in your kid's bedroom. Seriously, you might want to slap some of those blinds up today. They can make your kid's room pitch dark any time of day.
Plus, giving your kid some wind-down time in a darkened room before bedtime is also important. "Keep in mind it’s not instantaneous," said Johnson. "Just because you take him into a dark room at 7:30 p.m. doesn’t mean his body will immediately expect to sleep." Giving your kid at least an hour in a dimmed room before you want him to be asleep, and consistently sticking to the same schedule, can help his internal clock adjust, as Johnson further explained.
It may take some time, effort, and the investment of blackout curtains, but your kid can learn to get enough sleep during the summer months. Just console yourself with the fact that this season doesn't last forever, and briefer fall days will be here before you know it.