It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Later and Later bedtimes

When does your tot go to bed? Your school-age child? Your teen? Chances are increasing, statistically, that the answer is “too late”.

The Globe and Mail published an article* a while back discussing childrens’ bedtimes, and how they’re getting later, generation by generation. Is this because we need less sleep than a generation or two ago? No. Does this explain road rage? Probably. Does this help explain the huge increase in behavioural disabilities? I’m almost certain of it.

We take great pride in our “busy-ness”. Ask anyone how they’ve been lately, and they say, with a rueful grin, “Busy.” And we all nod sagely, yes, yes, we know how it is. And we do know how it is, of course.

We adults also get all macho about how little sleep we need. We boast about our late nights, and, if we’re in the minority who get to bed at a healthy hour, we feel compelled to apologize for our un-coolness. Going to bed before exhaustion hits is seen as a weakness. This is wrong. Just plain wrong.

Our children need their sleep, they’re not getting it, and it is not good enough to lay all the blame at the altar of busy-ness. One blogger not too long ago said their family couldn’t use a certain method of sleep-training because their lifestyle would be too constrained if they had to ‘make their lives stop’ for sleep and nap-time.

To a certain extent, there is justification in this position. If the only time you can get the child to a necessary appointment is during afternoon nap, well, you prepare for a cranky child and you take them anyway. As long as it’s necessary, and there is no other time to do it. Once in a while. But if your life is set up in such a way that your child is consistently getting less sleep than they need, this is a problem, and, for your child’s health, you need to make some adjustments.

I once had clients who requested that I give their child shorter naps in the daytime, as they were having trouble getting him to sleep at night. (Actually, this happens all the time, but I am thinking of a specific family right now.) As I do with all families who make this request, I explain that before we start tweaking with the child’s sleep/wake schedule, we need to know what that schedule is. I give them some charts, and instruct them on how to fill them out. I’ll do the same at my end, and we’ll talk in three weeks.

Their discovery? Though they thought their schedule was reliable with a few exceptions, their charts showed them that their “normal” bedtime was the exception. Once they started putting him to bed at the same time every night – which meant leaving that dinner at a friend’s house early, or hiring a sitter instead of taking tot along – he fell asleep with no difficulty. Routine is so important!

What does your child need? The chart on the left is pretty standard. (It is also a link to the site from which I copied it. I didn’t spend a lot of time checking it out, but it seems a good one!) There are those that suggest more sleep for certain ages, but none that suggest less is better.

If your child is getting consistently less than what is indicated, it is possible that your child genuinely doesn’t need as much sleep. It is possible, but, frankly, it is not likely.

I had a friend who believed that her daughter, then age 7 or so, didn’t need more than seven hours sleep. “She goes to bed at ten, and she bounces out at five in the morning. And then she just goes, goes, goes all day.” All this energy must mean the child was well-rested, right?

Well, no. Counter-intuitive as it might be, I often see under-rested children who charge like maniacs through their day. I call it “being in overdrive”. Strangely, when this child had sleepovers at our home, I’d pop her in bed at eight, the same time as my same-age daughter – and she’d sleep till seven! Was it too surprising that she was having trouble in school? I think not. A good night’s sleep might not solve all her school problems (though it might!) but it would certainly help!

I am disturbed by the number of under-rested children who come through my daycare, whiney and prone to tantrums until I replace their lost sleep with solid naps. Teachers are concerned about the number of tired children they see, droopy, irritable, unable to focus and concentrate. And what about the manic children, who may not immediately appear to be “tired”? What about the sleep-deprived adults, who make small driving errors that put others at risk, adults who are irritable on the road, in airplanes, at the office, and blame everyone and everything except their bedtime? There are too many tired people out there, and it is not a good thing for our society!

*I’d provided a link, but when I checked to see that it worked, it turns out that since April 8, when the article was published, the Globe has begun requiring that you be a paid online subscriber to view it! Sorry about that!

© 2006, Mary P

April 29, 2006 Posted by | Developmental stuff, health and safety, parenting | 16 Comments