The Importance of an Age Appropriate Bedtime

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Q:  My daughter was the perfect sleeper. She slept from 10pm until 7am everyday like clockwork. Suddenly, after her first birthday, she is crying out at night, sometimes every hour or so. She seems disturbed. A friend mentioned that because she is getting her molars that this causes quite a disruption! We took her for a check up and everything seems fine! She is herself during the day, just a bit moodier because of lack of sleep. Any advice?




When I first started implementing new schedules and routines in my house, I think my family thought I was a being a little too obsessive. But now that they have seen the results of a well-rested family, they have become believers themselves. And I’m definitely rubbing off on them, as my 4 year old daughter will see someone yawn and say “it’s time for them to go to sleep”, and my husband will see a small child out with their family after 8 pm and say “that child should be in bed!” And why isn’t that child in bed? Is it a lack of knowledge about age appropriate bedtimes or do we choose our child’s bedtime just out of convenience?

When working with my families, one of the first things I look at is bedtime. Often the child is going to bed too late, which creates a sleep debt that compounds day after day.  We don’t often see the symptoms of a sleep debt until they have been sleep deprived for many days, weeks or even months.  Your child may have been an amazing sleeper and then all of a sudden things change, like waking up at night or napping poorly.  It could be a developmental milestone, but having an age appropriate bedtime will help you ride that milestone with few disruptions to their sleep. Children need a lot more sleep than we do, and having an age appropriate bedtime allows them to get that much needed sleep.

Many parents have to choose between an age appropriate bedtime for their child, or spending more time with them after work. I know parents don’t want to give up that quality time before bed, but at what cost? Is it in fact good “quality” time? Just because our lives have gotten busier doesn’t mean our children’s sleep needs have changed. And unfortunately some kids are suffering because of it. Sleep is so important for optimal growth, learning and development. As Dr. Marc Weissbluth, author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child says, “Sleep is the power source that keeps your mind alert and calm. Every night and at every nap, sleep recharges the brain’s battery. Sleeping well increases brain power just as lifting weights builds stronger muscles, because sleeping well increases your attention span and allows you to be physically relaxed and mentally alert at the same time. Then you are at your personal best.” As adults, we’ve all experienced the effect of lack of sleep on our attention spans and cognitive ability, and our children are no different.

So when is an appropriate bedtime? It can be any time between 5-8 pm and it should be based on the quality of naps during the day, the quality of night time sleep, and your child’s temperament towards the end of the day. If your child has meltdowns at 6 pm, he most likely needs to go to bed earlier than his usual bedtime. If you child napped for only 30 minutes, make up the time at bedtime. And don’t worry if you think that an earlier bedtime will cause your little one to wake early – they often wake up later!