Help Your Kids Get Rest at Sleep-away Camp

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This year, 10 million children will tote their sleeping bags to camp. But they may not do much sleeping. For many children, overnight camp is the first time they sleep away from their family for more than a night or two. Add an unfamiliar bed, strange nighttime noises and the overall excitement of camp, and it’s no wonder many kids come home from camp severely overtired.

So when you’re helping campers pack, take a few extra steps to encourage enough sleep. With the shut-eye they need, they’ll enjoy all camp has to offer – and return refreshed, happy and ready to fill you in on their adventures.

Pack some comfort. Don’t forget to pack a favorite sleeping buddy. According to leading pediatrician and author Dr. Harvey Karp, comfort items like special stuffed animals and pillows become particularly important when kids sleep in an unfamiliar place, because they create a soothing sense of security at bedtime. Older kids might appreciate a small framed photo of the family or a note from Mom and Dad.

?   Check nighttime temps. While you’re checking the daytime weather forecast for the camp destination, make sure to check the nighttime forecast, too. Nighttime temperatures may be much lower – or higher – than what your child is used to, particularly if he’ll be sleeping in a cabin or tent. Pack several pairs of pajamas and thick socks for layering.

?   Head off embarrassing moments. Around 7-10 percent of kids wet the bed at age 8, an age when many kids are considering their first sleep-away camp experience. If your child is anxious about the possibility of an accident and mortified at the thought of packing disposable training pants, talk to his pediatrician. Pediatric urologist Dr. Steve Hodges says a short-term prescription for a medication like desmopressin, which slows nighttime urine production, can provide a temporary solution at camp and other circumstances that make bedwetting especially embarrassing.

?   Send moonlight munchies. After an action-packed day at camp, young campers may feel their stomachs growl just as the counselor announces, “Lights out!” If camp rules allow, pack a few pre-bedtime snacks so kids don’t hit the sack hungry. Whole-grain crackers, granola, cold cereal and protein bars travel well; tryptophan-rich foods like nuts and sunflower seeds score added sleepy-points.

?   Block out noise. A child who is particularly sensitive to noise may find camp group-sleeping arrangements disconcerting. And strange outdoor sounds can trigger nighttime fears in timid campers. Consider packing earplugs so they can drift off to sleep in silence, or a MP3 player (if allowed) if they prefer falling asleep to music.

?   Home sleepy home. No matter what you do, kids probably won’t adhere to their regular sleep schedule at camp. “When they return, getting back to the normal routine is important,” says pediatric sleep specialist Dr. Krisztina Harsanyi. It may take a few days to a week to adjust to their regular schedule, so Harsanyi advises postponing sleepovers and trips until after kids have spent some quality time catching up on sleep.  n

Malia Jacobson is a writer and mom of two who specializes in children’s sleep and health topics.

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