“Why do I have to have a bedtime?” is a question that practically defines the first half of childhood. From an experiential perspective, parents know the value of their child having a good night’s sleep. But when kids are resistant, it might be tempting to delay bedtime for the sake of avoiding an end-of-the-day argument. Here’s why it’s important to protect those precious hours of slumber.
Sleep is a time that our bodies repair and restore, and it is indispensable to a healthy and happy lifestyle. Getting adequate sleep helps to improve attention, behavior, and overall mental and physical wellbeing. Of great importance for children who are learning so rapidly, it is during sleep REM cycles that memories and emotion consolidate, allowing us to establish and preserve long-term memories. (The reason that all-night study sessions don’t result in long-term retention is that lack of sleep prevents the short-term memories from being embedded into the brain’s long-term memory centers.)
Children of today face far more distractions than today’s adults did as children. Many families are overscheduled with extracurricular activities, and then fill their “down time” with digital communication and entertainment. Today’s children inhabit a ceaseless world, but their sleep requirements remain the same. Parents and caretakers must be committed to their children getting adequate sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends ranges that fall between 8 and 16 hours per night depending on the child’s age.
Many children resent being told to go to bed when they don’t feel tired, and certainly, bedtime drama can play out night after night. It’s is an age-old parent/child struggle. For children, enforced bedtime is a clear and frustrating instance of the difficult fact of life that sometimes we don’t get our way. However, for parents and other caretakers, bedtime presents an opportunity to teach children important life skills such as tolerating frustration and self-soothing.
I encourage you to consider your child’s bedtime routine. When my son was growing up, my wife and I took turns putting him to bed. My favorite thing to do was tell him stories of movies I had seen, but with him inserted into the main character’s role. “In a galaxy far, far away, there was a young Jedi named Joshua...” His eyes would beam and the story would continue. Bedtime turned into a wonderful bonding experience.
Here are some tips for developing a beneficial bedtime routine for your child:
Make it a fairly rigid routine. Predictability is soothing for children, and breeches in the pattern create opportunities for children to question and argue about what will happen next.
Turn off all screens at least an hour before bedtime. This should be a rule for children of all ages.
Read a book, tell a story, or establish a habit of talking calmly with your child before bed. (Often, as children get older, parents find that the intimacy of this time enables their child to open up and talk about their problems and worries.)
Do not lie down with your child. After a loving cuddle, leave the room before your child is asleep. It’s okay for children to spend some time tossing and turning or fussing before they fall asleep. This is great practice for children who are learning to self-soothe, tolerate “boredom” or separation, or cope with frustration.
If your child gets up or wakes up, as quietly as possible, walk them back to bed.
Finally, and most importantly, make bedtime an enjoyable experience. It will require determination and consistency on your part, but it will be well worth it.
Children who get adequate sleep benefit intellectually, emotionally, and physically. Their enriched neuro-development means better memory and attentiveness. They experience easier mood regulation, improved immunity, and are more likely to maintain a healthy weight than sleep-deprived children. Overall, proper sleep habits mean happier days for the child, and less worry for the adults who love them.
Dr. Strecker is the Head of School at Valley School of Ligonier. As the father of a 22-year-old son who has been putting himself to bed for at least 12 years, he figures he successfully managed at least half of 3,650 bedtimes. 😊
In an environment that is safe, challenging, nurturing, and disciplined, Valley School provides a balanced and strong program of study for a diverse group of children. Our goal is to stimulate in each young person lifelong habits of moral behavior, seeking wisdom, and doing good works for others.