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Reverse sleep cycle

Does it seem like your child’s internal clock has flipped upside-down? During their vacation, do your kids sleep when the sun shines and are awake by the light of the moon?

If this sounds familiar, you may also be wondering when to start resetting your child’s sleep hours to match the coming school year? Dr. Amir Sheinberg, Director of the Pediatrics Unit at the Sleep Institute at Sheba Medical Center, answers what’s on the minds of many parents.

Is it just my child or do all kids adopt a reverse sleep cycle during vacation?

The phenomenon of a reverse sleep cycle is relatively common during the vacation season, especially among adolescents. The freedom that vacation gives leads many young people to switch their days and nights, living in an alternate world that runs on their own time.

Does sleeping fewer hours lead to any health problems?

A March 2020 survey conducted by the Geocartography Knowledge Group, a leading research institute, shows that most Israelis only sleep about six hours, maximum – which is two hours less than the medically recommended number of hours. Unfortunately, lack of sleep is linked with a variety of health problems, including destroying the body’s ability to restore and rejuvenate itself. So yes, sleeping fewer hours each night can have detrimental effects on health.

What do you recommend parents do?

First of all, it’s important to point out that you may not need to do anything! Many kids’ sleep and wake cycles balance out naturally within the first two weeks back at school. So don’t wage WWIII in an effort to get your child in bed earlier.

Address the reverse sleep cycle as a condition similar to jet lag. When you return from the other side of the world, readjusting to the current time zone is a gradual process that takes about an hour a day. For example, when returning from a place that is a 7-hour difference from local time, it takes about a week for your body’s circadian rhythm to normalize.

A small percentage of children have a general problem with sleeping at night, which isn’t specifically related to summer vacation. In these cases, it’s advised to visit a doctor who specializes in sleep medicine for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Often, sleep therapy includes taking melatonin supplements (“hormone of darkness”), which is naturally released by the pineal gland in the brain. Melatonin functions to regulate other body hormones, helping to maintain our biological clock and set sleep and wake cycles.

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