Should Kids Pick Their Bedtimes?

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Nip bedtime battles in the bud. Kids need lots of sleep for healthy development.

While the American Academy of Pediatrics says kids ages 2 to 3 should get 9 to 13 hours of sleep each night, a whole lot of tots actually have pretty late bedtimes. However, some moms put their foot down on the bedtime struggle. A strict schedule works for them … maybe it could for you, too.

I was blessed with a child who liked to sleep,” says local mom Kimberly Goney. “When she was under school aged she slept when tired but she would sleep a full 12 hours a night so no biggie. After she started school I had to put a pretty strict schedule for night time (dinner, bath, bed, etc.). Now that she’s a teenager, it’s back to ‘go to bed at a reasonable time and don’t give me trouble in the morning.'”

We’ve had our daughter on a pretty set schedule since she was a couple weeks old,” says local mom Alicia Oliver. “It works for us. Now, on Wednesday nights because of church, it gets a little outta wack, but for the most part it’s been consistent.”

The toughest part of staying up late is actually on Mom and Dad.

“In most families, parents just aren’t going to have the energy to deal with a 3-year-old at 10 p.m., but I can’t tell you how many families I hear about who allow it,” says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., author of Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night’s Sleep (HarperCollins, 1997).

Many families have hectic schedules. The reluctance of late-working parents to pack their kids off to bed early are driving the longer days, too. In other households, sheer parental exhaustion is allowing kids to win the sleeptime skirmishes.

Are you letting your child rule the bedtime roost? Here are tips for getting him down earlier for that much needed sleep:

  • Push back your child’s bedtime by no more than 15 minutes a day or, better, by 15 minutes every two to three days.
  • Manipulate your child’s exposure to light, which experts say affects the hormones that control our internal clock. To help nudge an internal clock backward, aim for lots of bright light in the morning. Activity and natural light help, too. So head to the playground after breakfast. At the other end, dim the lamps as it gets closer to bedtime.
  • Avoid stimulating activities before bedtime, including rowdy play, television watching and video-game use. Substitute quiet, soothing rituals: a warm glass of milk, a bath, a bedtime story.

“An early bedtime benefits a child’s physical health, as well as mood and mental health, because it allows time for restorative sleep, which is important for the repair and recovery of the brain and the body,” says Reut Gruber, director of the Attention, Behavior and Sleep Lab at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute.

When it comes to bedtime, don’t allow your child to negotiate the time. Maybe start the bedtime routine earlier if your child tends to prolong it.

THE LATEST SLEEP GUIDELINES FOR KIDS:

  • Babies 4 months to 12 months should get 12 to 16 hours
  • Children 1 to 2 years old should get 11 to 14 hours
  • Children 3 to 5 years old should get 10 to 13 hours
  • Children 6 to 12 years old should get nine to 12 hours
  • Teenagers 13 to 18 years old should get eight to 10 hours

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