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Family Friday: How the Seasonal Change Affects Your Child's Sleep

October 2, 2020:

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about how the fall/winter season can affect mood and sleep. Kids and teens aren’t immune to this. They can often experience more sleep and mood dysregulation than adults due to the constant process of growing and changing that their brains and bodies are going through. What can make this adjustment tougher is that kids and teens usually aren’t aware of how the season’s transition affects them or they aren’t able to accurately express their discomfort. Here are a few things to know about your child’s or teen’s sleep this season:

1. Circadian rhythm is dictated by exposure to light. Getting sunshine for at least an hour a day can help keep internal rhythms on track. If waking up in the dark is tough, turn on as many lights as possible as soon as possible. Since light is so powerful, this means it’s especially important to stop screen time at least an hour before bed, and avoid nightlights if you can.

2. The temperature drop from Summer to Fall is actually helpful in getting more restful sleep. Make sure your child’s room is around 68°F, and find out which sleep clothes are most comfortable for maintaining a just-right body temperature throughout the night.

3. Increase your child’s or teen’s daily amount of exercise. This will help regulate hormones, reduce anxiety, and tire them out. If it’s rainy or snowy, set up an indoor obstacle course or watch exercise/yoga videos online. You can even pair TV and movement together to make it more interesting – if a character says their catchphrase, do 5 push-ups; if the characters encounter a problem, do 20 jumping jacks; etc.

4. Set up a regular sleep-wake schedule and stick to it, even on weekends. For kids, a 30-minute deviation from an established bed time can be disruptive to sleep. For tweens and teens, there’s more wiggle room, but more than 1.5 hours difference can throw off the rhythm. The sleep schedule should include a calming evening routine with soothing activities like reading, a warm bath/shower, yoga, journaling or drawing/coloring, and quieting down general activity and noise levels throughout the house.

Healthy sleep habits affect your child’s or teen’s ability to be successful with academics, friends, chores, leisure activities, and emotional regulation. Help them calibrate and stay on track as we move into darker, cooler, cozier months.

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