We live in a society of night owls, but is there an ideal bedtime for children? Are late bedtimes detrimental to your children’s health? We spoke with sleep specialists to find out.
You are aware that small children should obtain ample sleep each night. But what happens if bustling family activities delay your children’s bedtimes? Does this have a long-term effect on your children’s health?
Not surprisingly, the majority of sleep specialists are not enthused about late bedtimes, and many point out that this schedule is particularly challenging for parents. “In most households, parents won’t have the energy to cope with a 3-year-old at 10:00 p.m.,” says Judith Owens, M.D., director of the Hasbro Children’s Hospital Pediatric Sleep Disorders Clinic in Providence. “Parents require alone time.”
However, according to Dr. Owens, there is likely nothing inherently dangerous about allowing children to remain up late, provided — and this is essential — that they go to bed around the same time every night and receive sufficient sleep overall. As Dr. Owens explains more clinically, the duration and regularity of a child’s sleep-wake cycle are the most critical criteria in determining whether or not they sleep well.
Are Late Bedtimes Bad for Kids?
Once children begin waking up early for daycare, school, or other activities, late bedtimes might result in inadequate sleep. Tired children, like adults, cannot perform properly; they become irritable and unfocused. According to Dr. Owens, lack of sleep can have disastrous effects on a child’s mood and performance. It can also burden the body, resulting in stress that inhibits healthy physical development.
However, it turns out that children frequently burn the midnight oil. Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., director of behavioral pediatrics at the Sleep Disorders Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and author says, “I can’t tell you how many families I hear about with children up until 10:00 or 11:00 p.m.” (HarperCollins, 1997). In many households, the extended days are caused by tight family schedules and the unwillingness of late-working parents to send their children to bed early. In some households, parental tiredness is allowing children to win the battles over bedtime.
And the majority of homes lack the luxury of unhurried mornings. Recent research indicates that the effect is an abundance of sleepy children. In a survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, sixty percent of children under eighteen complained of daytime fatigue, and fifteen percent reported falling asleep in school. According to a study conducted by Brown University, more than one-third of 500 children in kindergarten through fourth grade reported sleep-related issues.
Is My Child Getting Sufficient Rest?
According to specialists, it is not always simple to determine whether your child is sleeping enough. According to Dr. Mindell, exhausted children do not necessarily act fatigued. In contrast, they may become overactive when they resist their desire to sleep.
According to Dr. Mindell, a sign that a youngster isn’t getting enough sleep is that he frequently falls asleep on even short car trips. Other indicators include eye rubbing, impatience, and aggressive behavior. A child who requires a great deal of encouragement to get moving in the morning may be sleeping too late.
However, a child’s independent awakening does not necessarily indicate that she is well-rested. Dr. Mindell explains, “We have extremely accurate internal clocks.” Some youngsters will wake up at the same time regardless of when they go to bed.
Paradoxically, sleep deprivation can result in disturbed sleep and early awakening in children. When parents complain to Dr. Mindell that their child is awake before the sun, she often recommends that they try putting the child to bed earlier. She claims that this technique helps the youngster sleep more soundly and remain in bed for longer.
What If My Children Choose to Stay Up Late?
If your child keeps unusually late hours, there may be underlying causes beyond your family routines. Mary Carskadon, Ph.D., head of the Chronobiology and Sleep Research Laboratory at Bradley Hospital in Providence, has researched the sleeping and waking patterns of teenagers who are “night owls” and “larks.” According to Dr. Carskadon, even younger children incline toward one or the other timetable. Research indicates that our individual preference for early or late sleep patterns may be somewhat influenced by genetics but also by our environment and age. Teenagers are typically more nocturnal than other age groups.
To determine if your child has a preference, ask yourself: Does she fall asleep regardless of the situation early? Does she appear more energized and cheery at specific times? Even if your child’s internal clock appears to be naturally tuned toward later hours, exercise caution before accommodating her request. She will eventually have to adhere to a morning schedule.
How to Transition Children to an Earlier Bedtime
According to several experts, the sooner children adopt a morning routine, the better. Sleep specialist Robert Doekel, M.D., of Birmingham, Alabama, says, “The longer this late-night behavior persists, the more difficult it will be to break.” Others believe it is OK to delay the adjustment so long as it is done gradually. If your youngster is accustomed to going to bed at 10:00 p.m., don’t enforce an 8:00 p.m. lights out the night before the first day of school.
And once they begin rising early, do not allow the allure and distractions of contemporary family life to keep them up late. Turn out the lights, pull up the sheets, and cuddle them in for more than 10 hours of slumber. Sleep supports vitality, health, learning, good moods, and harmony in the home for children (and all individuals, for that matter). “If children don’t get enough sleep,” Dr. Carskadon explains, “it impacts the quality of life for the entire family.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages 2 to 3 should sleep 9 to 13 hours per night, children ages 3 to 5 should sleep 10 to 12 hours, and children ages 5 to 12 should sleep at least 8 hours per night. If your child must wake up early or you wish to offer him an earlier bedtime for your personal peace of mind, here are some suggestions for making the transition:
- Increase your child’s bedtime by no more than 15 minutes every day or every two to three days.
- Manipulate your child’s exposure to light, which, according to researchers, impacts the hormones that regulate our circadian rhythm. To assist in resetting an internal clock, expose yourself to a great deal of morning light. Activity and natural light also help. After breakfast, proceed to the playground. As bedtime approaches, dim the lamps at the opposite end.
- Avoid stimulating activities, such as boisterous play, television viewing, and video game use, before night. Substitute calming traditions, such as a warm glass of milk, a bath, and a bedtime story.
Meaningful articles you might like: Symptoms of Sleep Regression, Safe Sleep For Your Baby Means Peace of Mind for You, The ABCs of Putting Babies to Sleep Safely