Why We Have a Bedtime
I know a lot of peaceful parents who don’t have a bedtime. Obviously, this is perfectly fine if it works for you and your family. I want to be clear here, I do not think that you are doing anything wrong if you don’t have a bedtime and no one in your family is suffering. More power to you. I honestly wish I could do it that way. This is more for people who may have heard the silly little myth that having a bedtime goes against the peaceful parenting rules; it doesn’t.
I can’t imagine not having a bedtime for myself or for my kids. I used to struggle with this idea a lot until I asked myself, “What is wrong with having a bedtime?” I have a bedtime. My husband and I try not to stay up passed 11 p.m. I need at least 6 hours of sleep to function even remotely well and even then mass amounts of coffee are needed.
When you aren’t getting enough sleep needing that extra cup of coffee is not the only side effect. When you don’t get enough sleep you are likely to experience brain fog, forgetfulness, irritability, decreased attention to detail, weight gain, loss of hearing, decreased libido, and a lowered immune system.1 Basically, if you don’t choose to shut your body down for the proper amount of time each night, then your body will gladly do it for you. Not getting enough sleep causes your body to shut down certain functions in order to save energy. One of those functions is your ability to think straight. The next time we feel beyond irritable and unable to handle simple tasks we should examine our sleep patterns to see if we have been visiting slumber land frequently enough.
If you think the side effects are worse for children, then you are right. When children don’t get enough sleep they may struggle with a wide range of problems like: obesity, ability to concentrate, irritability, hyperactivity, mood swings, as well as a lowered immune system.2 Lack of ability to concentrate and hyperactivity? So maybe 1 in 5 boys shouldn’t be diagnosed as being ADHD; maybe they’re just tired.3 Add that to the list of reasons why I homeschool. (I apologize. I digress.) Consider the last time your child was excessively emotional, and ask yourself if there’s a chance that he hadn’t been getting enough sleep. Think about the last time you struggled to get your child to focus on their school work and ask yourself the same question. If you don’t have a set bedtime, then there is a good chance that you don’t notice that your child isn’t getting enough sleep. Think about it like this: If you don’t set a limit to the number of slices of pizza you’ll eat, you will likely end up overeating.
So exactly how much sleep should your child be getting? Here is what the National Sleep Foundation recommends:
Newborns 0-3 months – 14 to 17 hours
Infants 4-11 months – 12 to 15 hours
Toddlers 1-2 years – 11 to 14 hours
Preschoolers 3-5 years – 10 to 13 hours
School-aged Children 6-13 years – 9 to 11 hours
Teenagers 14-17 years – 8 to 10 hours
Young Adults 18-25 years – 7 to 9 hours (4)
Some parents have said that their kids crash late and rise late. They let them stay up until their kids run out of energy, sometimes after midnight, and then they don’t wake up until close to noon. Regardless of when they go to bed my kids are up before eight. If your children are natural early risers then you need to implement a bedtime to ensure they are getting the recommended hours of sleep.
Exposure to sunlight is supposed to help your body produce natural serotonin.5 I am a big fan of this because I don’t like medication that increases serotonin levels. Darkness tells your body to release melatonin to get you ready to go to sleep. It would be logical to me that you should follow the natural flow of hormone production and your body will eventually regulate. If you aren’t going to sleep until after midnight, then I would assume your melatonin production would become unbalanced. Likewise, if you aren’t waking up until noon, then you are missing out on sun exposure and your serotonin production will become uneven. Since children’s bodies are still trying to regulate their hormone production, I think a bedtime is the optimal way to ensure their sleep patterns align with their hormone production.
Now, I would be lying to you if I told you that the only reason we have a bed time is because of the negative effects of not getting enough sleep and sun. While the health of our children may be the main focus in our thought process, my husband and I are human and we need time to ourselves. We like to have conversations that might not be appropriate for little ears, watch our show, drink some tea together, you know, just be with each other without tiny bodies cramming between us. Parents are the foundation of the family, which means they need to be well bonded in order to hold the family together. When the kids are asleep before 10 pm we get adequate time to be with each other.
We usually only have to wake our kids up if they have a doctors appointment or if we are going on some kind of trip. Otherwise, they sleep until they wake up on their own. This is great because it let’s us know that our bedtime is on target. On the other hand, my husband and I frequently have to get up early. This works because our schedules allow one of us to always be home with the kids. Since we can’t sleep until we are ready to get up, we have a time we need to be in bed by in order to get enough sleep. There’s a logical factor for us that says if we have a bedtime then they should have one to make sure that we are all on the same general schedule.
Obviously, the most important point is that you and your family are well rested and healthy. How you achieve that goal is up to you. For me and my family it’s a scheduled bedtime for everyone.
1) 10 Things That Happen to Your Body When You Lose Sleep, by Ashley Marcin, on June 10, 2015, http://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-sleep/what-happens-to-your-body-when-you-lose-sleep#1
2) Is Your Child Getting Enough Sleep? Six Ways to Tell, Reviewed by a board-certified physician Updated October 31, 2016, https://www.verywell.com/is-your-child-getting-enough-sleep-6-ways-to-tell-620492
3) The Drugging of the American Boy, by Ryan D’Agostino, on March 27, 2014, http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a32858/drugging-of-the-american-boy-0414/
4) How Much Sleep Do Babies and Kids Need?, National Sleep Foundation, https://sleepfoundation.org/excessivesleepiness/content/how-much-sleep-do-babies-and-kids-need
5) What are the benefits of sunlight? Healthline, http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/benefits-sunlight#sun-safety4