Sleep: guidelines on how to sleep better this summer

by Dr. Krystal White, Contributing writer
Courtesy photo by Ollyy/
Courtesy photo by Ollyy/

Most people crave even a tiny sliver of sun during the bleak winter months, but by the time summer arrives, experts warn that much desired hours of extra daylight in the summer contribute to sleep problems. Seventeen to 18 hours of sunlight can completely alter your regular sleep patterns. Combine that with a summer schedule (having kids home from school or a long vacation) and higher temperatures, and you’ve got a recipe for sleep deprivation. Although stress is the number one reason people report that they lose sleep, many things can cause insomnia:  poor sleep habits, being sick or ill, going through hormone changes, having chronic pain, restless legs syndrome, being overweight, or sleep apnea.

Dr. Ohayon, MD, a sleep expert at Stanford University who has been surveying the prevalence of sleep disorders in the U.S. since 1990, reported that sleep problems become more prevalent during summer months, jumping from
10 percent of the adult population up to 25 percent.

Given that many people don’t already get the recommended amount of sleep during the rest of the year, summer months compound the issue.

“Regular schedules are often disrupted in the summer when school is out and this can lead to poor sleep routine,” said Dr. Daniels, pediatrician at LRMC. “The sun stays out later too, suppressing some of the natural sleep drive, making it even harder to fall asleep.”

Sleep Deprivation is associated with a decrease in IQ points, more negative behavior, more parent to child and more peer to peer conflict. Kids that gets less than eight hours are more likely to be labeled “trouble-makers” by teachers, and also diagnosed with ADHD. Adults who get less than seven hours over a three month period, are more likely to get into motor vehicle accidents. Sleep deprivation is related to avoidable weight gain and irrational decision making skills.

Dr. Daniels will be specializing in sleep disorders in a medical fellowship later this year.

“Keep a consistent bedtime routine even during summer vacation, particularly a regular wake-up time in the morning,” Damiels said.

Also, avoid using laptops, tablets, smartphones, and other light-emitting screens before bedtime.  Instead, consider reading books from a summer reading list when getting ready to go to sleep.”

Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to combat summertime sleep woes. Follow these guidelines for sleeping soundly.

1. Control the light and the temperature. Exposure to light and higher temperatures can alter the amount of melatonin in your body’s system. This natural chemical controls the sleep/wake cycle. Invest in blinds that darken the bedroom and keep them shut through the day. The ideal temperature range for sleeping is 68 degrees to 72 degrees Fahrenheit (19-22 Celsius). Keep a fan or air conditioner and good ventilation in the bedroom to obtain a good night’s rest.

2. Be intentional during holidays. Although you may be tempted to stay up late and sleep in during vacations, this can wreck your sleep habits and health. Staying up late is related to over consumption of food and alcoholic drinks, which also disrupts appropriate sleep quality. Be intentional to avoid long naps during the day and try to maintain as close to your regular wake and sleep times as possible (within one hour to 90 minutes in either direction).

3. Calm down: Within 90 minutes of bedtime, refrain from: TV watching, computer playing (highly stimulating visually), physical activity, make sure that your kids have no caffeine at all after 5 p.m. Keep them away from chocolate, tea and carbonated drinks, but a snack is okay. Warm milk continues to demonstrate effective relaxation.

4. Set a specific bedtime and stick to it. Your child’s body clock will adjust much more quickly to the routine if the routine follows a natural and consistent pattern.

5. Follow a routine: General good routine is dinner, clean-up, light activity, bath, snack, a ritual good night activity and then 1 to 2 books in bed, hugs and kisses, lights off, nightlight on.

Ritual Activity Ideas: 

• Many kids (ages 2 and above) enjoy going around the room or the house and saying goodnight to favorite toys, people, and other objects, much as the baby rabbit and his mother do in Goodnight Moon. “Our favorite bedtime ritual is saying goodbye and goodnight to the sun,” Know when to say when, though (five minutes); if your toddler insists on saying goodnight to every brick in the living room wall, it’s a safe bet he’s trying to put off bedtime a little longer).

• Use a “dream buddy,” or a stuffed non-electronic toy
who can only be used in bed. The child and dream buddy protect each other, and some kids love choosing three things/people dream buddy says “goodnight” to each night.
• Nighttime prayer

6. Noises off. No TV in bedrooms, no phones (kids text!) in bedrooms, no music to sleep with in bedrooms. If a parent says “but he needs it to fall asleep!” know that he has learned to fall asleep with it, and can learn to fall asleep without it. It is a process to remove those items, but given that sleep deprivation comes at such a behavioral cost, it’s well worth the fight.

7. Stay put: Once child is “upstairs” preparing for bed, he should stay upstairs. If he leaves room, do not talk, or say anything, but physically take him back to the room.

8. Keep the peace! Bedtime is for sleeping. Nothing else is to be tolerated. Ignore requests for snacks, drinks, bathroom. If he gets upset as he sees you walk out the door after you tuck him in, tell him you’ll be back to check on him in a few minutes. In all likelihood, he’ll be fast asleep by the time you return. Remember: You cannot force a kid to sleep! But you can establish that she must have a bedtime and stay in her room. Make sure you set these clear expectations.

Sleep is your body’s number one way to recover, replenish and repair. Make it a staple of your life this summer, and by autumn, you and your family will be healthier and happier.

(Dr. White is a pediatric psychologist at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and the developmental health consultant for Europe Regional Medical Command. She specializes in healthy habits across the lifespan and evaluating developmental disorders.)