Knowing exactly when to put your children to bed is a skill many parents find elusive.
We’ve all met the ones who seem to find it irritatingly effortless – their kids trot off happily at just the right time, rising bright-eyed and cheerful before breakfast the next morning. And we’ve gritted our teeth as we compliment them on finding the perfect balance, wishing they’d share their secret.
The truth is, there isn’t one and for most of us it means a bit of trial and error. Get them down too early and, if they’re not ready, they’re hyper and bouncing around into the night. Or they’ll go to sleep quickly but wake up hours before they need – or we want them – to. Settle them too late and they’re grumpy in the morning, struggling to wake up and make it through the day.
There’s an added challenge for those of us who work, as the only real time we have to spend with our kids is during the evening. But we’re aware they need plenty of rest, especially if they’re very young and attend a busy day-care setting or breakfast/after-school club.
Each child is an individual and there are no hard-and-fast rules. As adults we might describe ourselves as an ‘early bird’ or a ‘night owl’ – people simply function differently, and it follows that what suits one won’t work for another.
Take some advice
There is some guidance available, however. This chart went viral after a teacher from Wisconsin, US, published it on her school’s Facebook page. Many parents struggling with bedtimes found it helpful because it was based on when a child needed to get up in the morning, rather than just age.
It doesn’t, however, give advice for those whose little ones are under five years old – so it’s also worth considering official recommendations. These are the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for each age group per day, including naps:
- Infants aged 4-12 months need 12-16 hours of sleep
- Children aged 1-2 years need 11-14 hours of sleep
- Those aged 3-5 years need 10-13 hours of sleep
- Kids aged 6-12 years need 9-12 hours of sleep
- Teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep
The National Sleep Foundation has published similar times, with the addition of new categories for older age groups; it says both younger adults (aged 18-25) and those aged 26-64 need between seven and nine hours of sleep. As parents, many of us are used to making do with less – but perhaps it’s something we should bear in mind as we work out the best sleep routine for our children.
We all know sleep is important, not just to help our kids focus during the day but for their health and development. A study published by the Journal of Pediatrics found that young children who didn’t have regular sleep patterns were twice as likely to be obese by age 11 than those who did.
Research has also concluded that kids who go to bed earlier tend to be better-behaved and can even do better at school. One study found a group of children whose bedtimes were brought forward for five nights were rated as less irritable and impulsive than usual, even though their teachers were not made aware of the change.
Set a routine
A regular bedtime routine will help establish good sleep habits. A relaxing bath followed by a cuddle and story time is a calming way to end the day. The quiet time gives your child time to unwind, and they’ll settle more quickly if they feel secure and happy. It’s also a nice way to be close and share some quality time, especially if you’ve been at work all day.
Don’t be tempted to turn to technology; the National Sleep Foundation says screen-time should be limited one to two hours before bed, with a curfew on the use of tablets, phones & computers – and ideally television too.
At the end of the day – literally – there is no definitive right or wrong time for your child to go to bed. But by taking the professionals’ guidance into account, along with your child’s natural tendencies, you can discover what works best for your family.