wouldn’t it be nice if children were born with some internal clock that made them fall blissfully asleep around 6-7 pm every night? That would give parents enough time to be adults and would ensure that the morning was met with excitement and energy rather than whining and weary children. Unfortunately, it seems that most children are born with a clock that makes them want to stay awake in the evening; regardless of their bed time. One of the most important parental responsibilities is setting bedtimes for children.
Decades ago, bedtime was bedtime. Kids were sent to their rooms soon after sunset and expected to just go to sleep. There weren’t TV’s in the bedroom or video games that needed playing. You were lucky if you got a glass of milk. Today, it seems that everything with our children is negotiable. One thing that should not be negotiable is bedtime.
Children are not able to realize the needs for sleep and rest that they have. As parents it is important to remember that they are growing physically and emotionally and that sleep is one of the best ways to ensure they stay healthy. Adequate sleep also equips children to keep their immune system working optimally which can help them to fight off all those germs floating around in daycares and schools. Parents need to set a bedtime and stick by it. Of course there will always be extenuating circumstances where bedtime can be stretched and on those days the kids will consider it a treat. But keep in mind that the next day you will be the one suffering with a cranky and disagreeable child.
So what is the perfect bedtime? Much of that depends on the age of your child, their level of activity during the day and what time they wake up in the morning. Newborns obviously require the most a whopping 16 hours a day. As your infant reaches a month old their sleep needs decrease by about an hour or so. By the time your baby is 4 12 months old they require around 14 hours per day. This time is split between nighttime sleep and a nap during the day. Transitioning toddlers can do well with having around 12 hours of sleep per day. Some toddlers will not take naps and some will. The key is recognizing signs of tiredness.
As your toddler gets to elementary age they will require much less sleep. Usually around 10 ‘½ hours per day. Most kids at this age do not take naps and setting a bedtime is the best way to ensure they get the sleep they need. When you set a bedtime try to judge it by the personal needs of your child as well. Since this is the pivotal age where kids will begin wanting to stay up later, setting a bedtime for your child that is 30 minutes before they actually have to go to sleep is a good way to ensure they are getting enough sleep and leaves a window of time that can be used for settling the child into sleep mode. Although it is okay to make exceptions on weekends or other days where they will be able to take extra naps or rest more; keep in mind that it is a fallacy that sleep can be made up. When children or adults skip or miss out on sleep they just miss out on it and their physiological body becomes responsible for making changes to accommodate their tiredness. Sometimes this can linger on for days and this is one of those things that greatly compromise immunity (as well as attitude).
From the age of 7-10, your child needs around 10 12 hours of sleep and beyond 12 it is recommended to get 8 ‘½-10 hours of sleep. Sleep studies have indicated that children in these age groups who do not get adequate sleep or have a routine sleep schedule suffer more commonly from behavioral disorders as well as have diminished performance in school. Long term sleep deprivation can lead to serious illness, lack of energy and even makes teens more privy to alcohol and drug abuse. So even though your older children may not feel that they need a bedtime; they do. When setting a bedtime for children in this age group try to make compromises on waking times with the goal in mind that they receive their necessary 8-9 hours of sleep.
Setting a bedtime for children is something that needs to be started early in life. Like all good habits they take time to evolve into lifestyles and ensuring sleep plays a large part in supportive parenting. Sleep is a lot about routine and doing the same thing every night. Avoiding things like caffeine and excess sugared foods after 4 pm every evening and trying to keep track of your child’s sleep patterns and their behaviors will enable you to find the best sleep schedule for your child. Forcing sleep or naps during the day in young children can make kids feel negatively about going to sleep and will make them more prone to battling it at night. Some kids do well or even better without a day time nap.
As your child evolves into a teenager you may even notice an increase in sleep as brain function and development takes physical precedence. Let them sleep! They need it. don’t be afraid to set a bedtime for your child and expect them to stick to it from an early age. Once you begin to offer too many allowances on bedtime you begin to break the sleep patterns and rearrange habits which can be costly to your child developmentally. Keep in mind that you know your child best and that by watching their behavior and reactions to excess or decreased sleep you will be able to find the happy medium by setting a bedtime that works for you and your child. The goal is for them to get enough sleep so that they can remain healthy and happy.
“Children are not able to realize the needs for sleep and rest that they have.”
Absolutely true! Just ask any child on the planet if they are tired and ready for bed. I bet none of them are. Ha!