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Sleep Hygiene Tip of the Week: Don’t "break" good sleep habits during Spring Break

Who doesn’t love a vacation, even if you don’t go anywhere? For people who are sleep deprived, any kind of break is always an invitation to catch up on sleep.

Kids, in particular (young ones, but also teens) look forward to not having to get up with the sun during Spring Break. They’ve become some of the most sleep-deprived of all Americans, especially adolescents, thanks to unnecessarily early school start times and normal shifts to a delayed sleep phase cycle that come with hormones increases and the brain’s final neurological stage of development.

But is a week off from school really going to fix your kids’ problems with sleep deprivation?

It really depends.

Long-distance vacation travel

If your kids (whatever age they are) are traveling across time zones, they will be jet lagged when they arrive and jet lagged when they get back. It will take the rough equivalent of the number of time zones traveled in nights to reset their rhythms.

So… if you traveled 3 time zones home on Sunday at the end of break, your kids will need 3 nights (and a concerted effort to stick to a normal sleep schedule) to adapt to a normal schedule again.

Solution: Underschedule them for the first three days back, have them return to their normal sleep schedule as soon as they are home, and stick with it until they are back to their usual and customary rhythms.

If a short nap helps in the afternoon, that’s fine. But don’t allow for late nights beyond their typical bed time until they have recovered from jet lag. And be prepared for irritable behavior and unusual eating patterns, which can be part of the side effects of jet lag.

Stay-cation

If your kids are not traveling, but they are sleeping in until several hours past their normal rise times, be wary that this may force them to shift to a later bedtime because they simply won’t be tired enough to go to bed if they sleep in so late.

And then, guess what? Spring Break is over, and they have to go back to that normal bedtime/rise time schedule again.

Solution: You don’t have to get them out of bed at Oh-Dark-Thirty during Spring Break, but allow them an extra hour beyond their rise time.

So… if they normally get up at 6, let them sleep until 7. They can take a short nap during the day if that helps, but it will definitely make the return to school much easier at the end of their vacation.

Camping is the perfect Spring Break solution!

Sleeping under the stars with limited electronics and artificial light is a surefire way to reset your circadian rhythms to the more natural light-dark cycles.

A few days of hanging out in tents, roasting marshmallows, breathing fresh air, getting exercise, and going without handheld devices is worth its weight in gold. Your kids will be refreshed even if they initially resist the suggestion. Give it a try!

A final reminder

Spring Break means there are only a few weeks left of classes. Entering these last two months of classes sleep deprived is no way to end the school year.

Writes Christine Ritter for The Flare“While it’s easy to fall back on Spring Break habits, such as sleeping in and going out instead of studying, there are still six weeks left that can affect the overall grade… There is plenty of time for a grade to go up a letter, or down, depending upon how someone utilizes the time.” 

You may even remember experiencing “spring fever” yourself, as a kid, or “Senioritis” going into your final days before graduation. The drive to do anything but study is strong! But you can help your kids get a good recharge during Spring Break, improving their chances of staying focused, energized, and motivated to complete projects and study for key tests, which could include AP or SAT tests or other rigorous exams.

Of course, your kids won’t necessarily like hunkering down when the smell of new-mown grass is in the air and the sky is full of birds and bees, but if you want to help keep them on track, start with making sure they stick to a decent sleep schedule.

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