Good Morning, Campers!

Many of us remember sleep-away camp as a rite of passage when we became old enough to go off on our own and create memories and friendships. And now your child is going off, too!


For new campers, it may be their first time sleeping away from home without Mom or Dad for more than a night or two. Cabins, bunk beds, campfires, boating, swimming, pottery, talent shows … that’s a lot of newness and excitement for your camper! Add in having to adjust to strange noises, cabin mates up at night whispering, an unfamiliar bed … and it’s easy to see that drifting off to sleep may be difficult, even for the best of sleepers. They may leave for camp well-rested and full of sunshine, but they could return as overtired messes!


Help children enjoy their camping adventures so they, too, can create their own rustic nostalgia. In between shopping trips for bug spray, labeling clothes and reviewing your packing list, add these five sleep tips to your to-do list:


1. Pack their perfect bunk. While your camp will send you a list to ensure that campers have everything they need, make sure to pack some things that re-create the comforts of home – or at least the necessities. This is especially important for the younger and first-time campers. If your child has a special stuffed friend or blanket that they can’t sleep without, make sure it goes to camp. Pack your child’s pillow and any comforting blankets.


Most of us think “sleeping bag” when it comes to camp, but it doesn’t have to be a bag if your child isn’t comfortable in it. Most camps are OK with you bringing your own sheets and blankets to re-create a more comfy bed – especially for campers that are staying for extended periods of time.


Generally, camps do not allow expensive electronics like iPhones and iPads, but if your child is noise sensitive, check to see if an old iPod and set of headphones can come along. If that’s an option, perhaps download a white noise app or soundtrack for drifting off to sleep. If the iPod is a no-go, remember that old Sleep Sheep from the infant days? Dust it off and check the batteries. It only plays for 45 minutes and may be the perfect bunkmate to fend off distracting bedtime noises. If that’s too babyish, perhaps a small clip-on fan might be allowed, which can do double duty for cooling off and blocking out troublesome noises.


2. Prepare them for what’s to come. If your child is one who thrives on routine (as many do), make sure that you talk through what camp will be like – including bedtime. Check out your camp’s website to see if there is a typical daily schedule posted there or reach out to your camp to find out what your child can expect. Walk campers through the details, explaining that while their camp bedtime routine may not include a book or some of their home bedtime rituals, it will be consistent from night to night and their counselors will be there to help get them ready for bed.


3. Check the weather. Know the average highs and lows for the location of your child’s camp. (Many weather websites have charts detailing yearly averages.) Sure it’s summer and it’s bound to be warm, but if your child’s camp is in the mountains or by the ocean, overnight lows may be cooler than you think. Also check the extended forecast a few days before camp to be prepared for any impending heat waves. Then pack your child’s pajamas accordingly. Be sure to include extra socks and long-sleeve cotton tees for layering.


4. Consider sleep factors. While overnight camps are fun and full of activities galore, with so many to choose from, you should also take into consideration what works best with your child’s current schedule. If your 6-year-old has gotten the overnight camp bug and you are on board, check that potential camps have a schedule that isn’t too far from his norm. If he is regularly fast asleep by 7 p.m. each night, an 8 p.m. camp bedtime should be OK, but a 9 p.m. bedtime may be too much for him with all of the physical activity he’ll be doing. Also think about your child’s daily schedule: Does he need downtime each afternoon to unwind a bit? If so, many camps have a scheduled quiet time, so check for that, too.


5. Get them back to reality. No matter how prepared your child is, and how well rested he goes into sleep-away camp, she will inevitably come home exhausted. If your child was only away for a week or two, get him right back on his usual schedule upon arriving home and she should adjust in just a few days. If she was a month-long or summer-long camper, adjusting may be a bit more difficult. Rather than do it cold turkey, move bedtime back to her norm in stages – by 30 minutes every few days. No matter how long your child is away, be sure to plan so that there is enough time to catch up and be well rested before starting the new school year.


Amy Lage is a University of Massachusetts-Amherst graduate and a Family Sleep Institute-certified pediatric sleep consultant. She is the founder of Well Rested Baby, which offers sleep-related consultations in person and via phone, email and Skype or FaceTime.

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10 Feb 2015

By Amy Lage