Kids need a lot of sleep and while most people know this they typically underestimate just how much a lot is. Let’s look at some statistics. Newborns need 17-20 hours of sleep in twenty-four-hour period, a one- year old needs 13-14 hours of sleep, and a child between the ages of three and five needs 11-13 hours of sleep in a twenty-four- hour period. Sometimes even when you have a great sleeper on your hands ensuring your child gets adequate sleep can become a scheduling issue. As in, “how will we squeeze all of these hours into our busy day?” The common reaction when families find out that a biologically appropriate bedtime falls between 6 and 7:30pm is shock, sometimes followed by concern. How can I make that happen when I don’t pick my child up from daycare until 5:30? The honest answer is that when you have a two working parent household it can be tough but, usually not impossible. So, what is your child’s ideal bedtime and what are parents to do if they work late but want to ensure they have a well-rested family?
Ideal Bedtime and Its Importance: By using this handy chart you can determine your child’s ideal bedtime. We always want to base bedtime off the amount of time that a child can tolerate being awake before becoming overtired which will be different depending on their age. When we become overtired our bodies produce cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline, which act as massive stimulants. (This is what leads parents to believe their child is not tired when in fact overtiredness can often present itself as hyperactivity in children.) These hormones actually accumulate in our bodies if we are consistently overtired. We refer to it as sleep debt, it is cumulative and its effects are detrimental. A lack of sleep leads to impaired memory, lack of alertness, and a shorter attention span and poor concentration. The effects can be long terms as well, leading to poor school performance and behavior problems well beyond the terrible twos.
Making an early bedtime actually happen so that your child can achieve adequate sleep often means doing one or several of the following:
Plan Ahead: Think about what delays bedtime when you walk in the door and write them down. Your list might look something like this: preparing dinner, tracking down clean pajamas (I’m picturing my own mountains of laundry as I write this), baths. Now think about which of these items could be done ahead of time. For example, you might be able to prepare a few dinners over the weekend and freeze them. Or use your crockpot. Maybe in the morning you could lay out pajamas before you leave for work. Or possibly do baths in the morning instead of at night. By planning ahead when possible you will save yourself some time at the end of the day.
Shortening the Routine: If your child’s bedtime routine tends to get a bit long it’s OK to shorten the routine when you are running late. If your child typically watches a show before bed this could be saved as a special weekend activity. (Especially since the LED lights that T.V.s emit suppress our production of melatonin- the hormone that makes us feel sleepy.) If your child typically asks for multiples stories or songs there might only be one on weeknights. And the biggy, last- minute requests, should be nixed. Make sure that bedtime routine expectations are clear and quantify everything (e.g., bath, pajamas, 2 books, 1 sip of water,1 big hug and 2 kisses) Once the bedtime routine is over no last minute requests should be met. Why? Because it is bedtime and we already had our stories, hugs, kisses etc. and it is now time to sleep. Read here for more ways to end bedtime battles. Remember that by setting limits you are ensuring that everyone is getting to sleep on time and getting the sleep they need!
Rely on Your Village: If your child is with another caregiver during the day ask them to help out where they can. On a day you are really running late maybe daycare can feed your child dinner or get them into their pajamas. Yes, these are enjoyable activities that most families enjoy doing together but not when your child is melting down at the dinner table because they are exhausted. Additionally, if your daycare provider is capping your child’s nap unnecessarily early ask them if they can allow your child to sleep later which would then mean a later bedtime.
Just do your best: It’s easy to get discouraged when you are constantly getting home from work too late to get your kids into bed at their optimal time. But, all we can do is our best! If the best you can do is 7pm when ideally your child would have been asleep by 6:30 pm, it’s still a whole lot better than 8pm! If you make bedtime a priority and implement some of the suggestions above your child’s bedtime will surely be closer to the target time then if you were to simply decide it was impossible!
Make Weekends Count: An earlier bedtime may mean less time with your children but, it is not fair and generally not enjoyable to keep your child awake beyond what is comfortable in order to spend time with them. It’s tempting especially when as working parents we often deal with feelings of guilt, but instead try to make weekends really count by enjoying quality time together when your family is well rested. From a sleep standpoint, make sure that bedtime happens on time on the weekends when you can more easily be home on time.
Getting your family all of the sleep they need is not always easy but it’s always worth the effort. Well rested children tend to learn more easily, are less impulsive and irritable and have an easier time regulating their emotions. A well-rested child can handle the challenges that each day brings!
Lauren Stauffer is a Family Sleep Institute certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and owner of Well Rested Baby. She offers a host of services including in person, phone, email, and Skype/FaceTime consultations that can be tailored to meet any family’s needs and schedule. Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation. Be sure to follow WRB on Facebook for more great sleep tips!
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