371 Days ’til 40: Children’s Bedtimes

16 Feb

I have now worked in the school system for over 20 years and one of the things that never ceases to amaze me is the vast differential among families when it comes to children’s bedtimes.  As an educational professional, and as a parent, this is of paramount concern to me.  I cannot begin to fully comprehend how many children in our society are floating through their lives utterly deprived of one of the most necessary activities to assure health and development:  sleep.

Why don’t children get enough sleep?

I am sure you can imagine the various excuses.  Here are some I have heard.

  1. Their father doesn’t get home from work until 7:30, I HAVE to keep them up or they will never see him.
  2. They don’t want to go to sleep before 9:00.
  3. They refuse to go to sleep.
  4. There isn’t enough time – with ballet, soccer practice, youth group, dinner, bathing and homework the earliest they can be in bed is 9:30.

No matter what the excuse, or how good it may be children NEED sleep – they need LOTS of sleep!  My girls are in elementary school.  They go to bed between 7:00 and 7:30 and fall asleep between 7:30 and 8:15 (usually).  They must get up for school at 6:15.  On the days that they go to bed even 30 minutes later we can tell the difference and their ability to function is depleted.  Most of their peers go to bed 1-2 hours after them, but have similar morning wake-up times.  I can often see in their eyes the exhaustion they carry with them.  The difference between my girls and these children is quite apparent on a daily basis.

Parents, you MUST put your children to sleep at a reasonable hour!  Sleep is critical to their physical and emotional development.  Early bedtimes can often mean great sacrifices (such as spending less time with a working parent), it is not easy.  Yet, without the bedtimes we see other ramifications.  Lower test scores and childhood obesity are just two results of sleep deprivation.

How MUCH sleep should my children have?

Here are some website resources that have good information about how much sleep children need and the growing sleep deprivation epidemic.

All families will have occasions where their children will need to stay up late or lose sleep.  When this happens, if there is an opportunity to nap or sleep in within a day or so of the sleep loss it is often easy for the children to recover.  One night of less sleep will not harm a child – the key is to not let it become a pattern.

When my youngest was a baby she did NOT want to go to sleep.  I spent the better part of two weeks listening to 1-2 HOUR screaming sessions as I used the well-tested “rapid return” technique to get her to stay in her room.  While those two weeks were miserable (I eventually invested in earplugs for those nightly two hours) it did pay off in the end.  My daughter learned she would not win the bedtime battle and eventually accepted her new bedtime.  Once she did accept this, she became a happier child.  I did not even realize how sleep deprived she was until I saw the difference in her after the situation was rectified.

There were added parent benefits too – with the children in bed at a reasonable time, I could get more done, relax, and get to bed earlier myself!

Early bedtimes are for the STRONG, not the weak!

Quality pillow time is a good thing for us all.

Sweet dreams!



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