Written by: Cally Worden
Kids get crabby when they don’t have enough sleep. And so do the adults who care for them. I’ve lost count of the studies that have been reported on this subject. Let’s just take it as read that kids who don’t sleep enough get grumpy, have difficulty concentrating, and struggle to take the best from school. Not a great recipe for creating happy and contented little beings in our midst. So where does that leave us?
How much sleep do Kids need?
Here are a few facts. Experts recommend that children of 1-3 years of age get 12-14 hours of sleep each day, with 3-6 year olds requiring 10-12 hours beneath the duvet. By the time they reach 7-10 years of age, we are told our growing charges need 10-11 hours of shut-eye, with 12-18 year olds craving just 8-9 hours a day. Anyone with teenagers will know that this last recommendation differs wildly from your average teen’s view on this, with a preference for 12 hours+ and zombie-status being the norm. But the teen Need vs Want sleep issue can wait for another day.
Younger children of 1-3 years old will often still make up some of their sleep time with a daily nap. If that’s about 2 hrs, then using the above guidelines they should still be getting 10-12 hours a night. Getting up at, say, 7 in the morning therefore demands a bedtime of between 7pm and 9pm. Looking again at the advice and we see that this really applies to all kids from the age of about 1-11. What a lovely, easy target. A bedtime of 7pm-9pm each day. What could be easier?
If Only it were that Simple
See, kids are not little robots. Life would be easier if they were, especially if you were able to remove the batteries from time to time. But they’re not, and although the majority (around 80%) of kids will fall somewhere in bracket that needs 10-12 hours of sleep, the other 20% won’t. This significant minority is made up of little live wires, who seem to have an endless source of energy (are we SURE they don’t have batteries?). And the sleepy heads who seem to be in training for teenager hood from day one and need much more sleep than this on a regular basis. All kids are different, so your bedtime needs to reflect this.
Not withstanding the independent sleep needs of each child, life plays a role too. Your family schedule may dictate an earlier or later rising time that will impact directly on bedtime. You may have a new baby in the house whose demands shift your older child’s bedtime around. Your child may be ill. You may be ill – opps, sorry, forgot that’s not allowed. The point is, bedtime is rarely a fixed commodity. Life gets in the way. My daughter’s school friend (6 years old) has to catch our rural bus at 7.00am each day. She will rise earlier, so in theory needs to be in bed earlier. Yet they don’t finish school here until 4.30pm. After a trip home, an hour’s homework, tea and bath, there’s not much time left before 7pm. And erm, aren’t kids supposed to enjoy life a bit too? We compromise on a bedtime of 8pm. It seems to work.
What does Bedtime mean Anyway?
What are we talking about here? Is bedtime when the kids head upstairs? Or when lights go out? Depending on your bedtime routine the differential between the two can be significant. Cleaning teeth, reading stories, and batting aside the nightly round of delaying tactics from younger kids can delay true ‘Bedtime’ for quite some time, depending on your parental resolve on any given day.
So What is the Best Bedtime?
I think it’s clear that this depends on your kids, your lifestyle and frankly what kind of day you’ve all had. I know some days my kids will be little angels well past 8pm, and on others they’re losing it in the car on the way home from school. I think having a bedtime to aim for is a good start. Then be prepared to adjust it, and your expectations on a daily basis. If you get them into bed without any major meltdowns you’ve probably pitched it just right and it’s time for a celebratory glass of something warming. How do you manage bedtimes in your home?