Kids Bedtimes - What, How, How Much Facts and Tips about Ideal Bedtimes for school going kids
We know it is important to unwind and sleep. After all, who would want the dreaded symptoms of sleeplessness chasing around on a busy office day!
But, as parents, we often find ourselves sleep deprived due to hyper-active kids who just do not want to shut their eyes and sleep - and, as a direct result, do not let us sleep.
There is good news, though. There are many steps you can take to reduce the intensity of bedtime fights and eventually, make these times of the day as peaceful as a river on a calm morning.
It is first important to pose a few questions about the situation.
How much should they sleep?
According to the American Academy of Paediatricians, school-going kids between 6 and 12 years of age require 9 to 12 hours of sleep.
But, there’s no rulebook to follow. Kids vary, their lives vary, their appetites vary, and their sleep requirements vary too. While some kids can be fresh and active after a mere 9 hours of sleep, some may need a good 12 hours to operate at full speed.
Studies say that earlier bedtimes can mean healthier and smarter kids. The ideal bedtime for kids has been seen to be between 6 PM to 9 PM.
This study, for example, links late bedtimes (later than 9 PM) in pre-schoolers to greater chances of obesity later in life.
A chart of suggested exact bedtimes for kids based on their age had gone viral after being posted on Facebook. The chart starts with a bedtime of 7 PM for 2-year olds and works its way up in 15-minute increments for each year. So, it says 7:15 PM for a 3-year old, 8 PM for a 6-year old, and 9 PM for a 10-year old. The chart, however, got many mixed reactions from parents and experts. While a few parents thought the bedtimes to be ideal, many strongly disagreed with its practicality.
Experts suggest that you should ensure kids get a good amount of sleep. Earlier bedtimes are beneficial. However, there is no set strict time for putting your kids to bed. Decide on a bedtime that ensures a good sleep duration and enables kids to wake up fresh, in time for school.
Obviously, these suggestions can be flexible during special events and vacations.
As far as bedtimes are concerned, it’s important to ensure that your kids are getting enough sleep. The following are a few signs that indicate that kids might not be getting their fair share of sleep:
They do not wake up on time in the morning
They are irritable and cranky, especially in the late evening regularly
They are excessively active
They are unable to concentrate at school
They fall asleep at inappropriate times during the day, say, at school or while doing their homework
They are emotional and anxious
If you notice any of these signs, it is time to focus on better bedtime routines and perhaps, try earlier bedtimes.
Proven Tips for Peaceful Bedtimes
Here are some little things you can do to make bedtimes much more pleasant than they sound.
Set Consistent Bedtimes and Wake-up times
We thrive on routine, and kids do that much more. Set a consistent bedtime.
Consistent bedtimes not only make it easier for kids to expect their bedtime and go to bed easily but also help with other aspects of their behavior and cognitive ability. This study saw kids with consistent bedtimes perform better in cognitive tests including reading, math, and spatial abilities.
Also, maintain the time kids wake up. Changes in waking times are like jet lag for kids. They can throw a great routine right off its tracks.
Be Consistent on Weekends too
This may seem a bit counter-intuitive, especially if you look forward to a little extra snuggle time on weekends. However, try not to waver by more than an hour, as those few extra hours can throw your routine completely out of shape!
Reduce exposure to Blue light, especially at night
This is an age of smart devices. School kids are exposed to blue light from TV screens, laptops, tablets, and phones. How much screen time kids should get is a separate issue, but it can also affect sleep so it is especially important to curb this behavior before bed.
Screen time is addictive in nature and can rob kids of important sleep time. Studies have shown that screen time, especially in the few hours before bedtime, leads to delayed bedtimes and shortened sleep durations.
Not only that, blue light emitted from electronic devices can affect the very processes of the brain. It can cause a delay in the release of the hormone, melatonin, which is responsible for inducing sleep. Exposure to blue light can cause an undue increase in alertness and alter the body’s circadian rhythm.
Continue to get as much good use from screens as you can - but switch them all off an hour or two before bedtime.
Dim the Lights
Put off all bright lights, draw the shades, and put on a soft night light about half-an hour before bedtime. This creates a clear differentiation between daytime and nighttime, making it easier for your kids to transition into sleep.
Quiet It Down
Another aspect of a sleep-inducing environment is silence. The calmer your house is, the easier it will be for your kids to wind down. Try to turn down the volume of the television in the other room, and ask other family members to pause other noisy housework like dish-washing, etc.
Maintain Room Temperature
Do not put the heating too high. Room temperature or a tad cooler is conducive to sleep. Try not to let your kids cuddle up in layers of warm clothes and blankets.
Although not easy, make it a point to take things a little slower. Stress leads to an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone. This, in turn, makes it difficult for the mind to settle down for a night’s slumber.
Instead of rushing things up and making it more stressful, try indulging in calming activities like reading a good book, letting them enjoy a short bath, or talking to them calmly about their day.
Remember, never insist that they should sleep. This will only make them anxious and stressed.
Talk to your kids about the importance of sleep. Give them the facts. Perhaps, just a revelation that a good night’s rest can make them smarter and taller will be enough for them to want to start sleeping well. And, who can stop them if they want to do it!
Also, be transparent about your planned bedtime routine. Talk to your partner and your kids. Discuss about the activities you think will do good in the kids’ bedtime routines. Also discuss any changes you would like to introduce into their bedtime routines.
Be Rigid, but let them have some Choice
Be strict about the times, number of activities, etc. Keep the bedtime routine short, say around 20 minutes. Try to include all possible disruptions like a glass of water, a goodnight hug, choosing a security object, etc. within the routine.
Try to avoid any disruptions once they are in bed.
Of course, you can give them choices. For example, let them choose the book they want to read. But, do not give in to their requests of ‘one last book’ - it is enough to offset a well-progressing routine. If it is one book you have decided, so be it.
Choose Bedtime Snacks Carefully
Some kids need a little something in their tummies to keep them through the night.
For some kids, though, hunger is just another excuse to avoid going to bed. In such cases, try to satisfy them with an alternative like an offer of water instead.
If, however, they really need to eat something, avoid very heavy meals and sugar-laden foods like chocolates as they are known to interfere with sleep. Aim for light snacks high in magnesium and Vitamin B like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These can aid in the release of melatonin.
They can have a deep breath for dinner if they are giving you a hard time about going to bed.
If possible, get your partner involved too. That way, it will be less stressful and both of you can have cuddle time with the kids.
Use a Security Object
A favorite stuffed animal or a favorite blanket provides the comfort and security to kids while they snuggle on their own. You may even allow them to choose a different sleep buddy every day.
It is natural for kids to fantasize about monsters and other fears lurking in the dark - behind screens, under beds, etc. It is important to understand that their fears are very real for them. Do not dismiss them, but reassure them that they are safe in bed.
If needed, use special techniques to ward off their fears. For example, a room freshener spray may work as a monster spray. Or, a sprinkle of water in a special-looking container along with a few magic words may work wonders.
Are there Sleep Disorders to Blame?
Sometimes, you may find all your efforts go in vain. At times, it may be just a difficult phase and patience and perseverance are all you need. At times, though, a sleep disorder may be the underlying cause.
Watch out for the following symptoms:
nightmares and night terrors
too much drowsiness during the day
trouble falling or staying asleep.
Talk to your paediatrician to rule out sleep disorders if you notice any of the above symptoms.
While it may be difficult as a busy father to not let your stress, levels go down as you put your kids to bed, it is important to take it one step at a time. Be calm, set up a 15 - 30-minute bedtime routine, set up an environment conducive to sleep, collaborate with your kids and your partner, and you will be there before you know it.
Lastly, remember that these tips could also benefit you, and everyone around you. The entire family benefits from you being at 100% during the week. Get some sleep.