How Much Sleep Do Children Really Need?

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi makes his first public appearance at the al-Nuri Mosque to declare the caliphate on July 4, 2014. (Sipa via AP Images)
Are diehard bedtimes really the answer to happier, healthier children? Parents often ask how much sleep a child actually needs. While this is an important question, it’s equally important to ask, “How much time do you have to spend together?”
From Slate, “In Defense of Absurdly Early Bedtimes”:

Summer is right around the corner, which means I’ll soon undergo my annual metamorphosis into the monster of a parent who drags her kids away from barbecues and outdoor concerts an hour before other parents do. Yup, I make my almost 2-year-old and 5-year-old go to bed at 7 and 7:30 p.m., respectively. I know—you think I’m rigid, no fun, that I’m denying my kids a joyful childhood because they rarely get to frolic outside at dusk. I get a lot of crap for it. “Can’t you just … ?” My friends ask. No. I’m sorry, no, I can’t.

That’s because my kids are happier and more fun to be around when I stick with a consistent and early bedtime.

In parenting, the number-one rule—the only hard and fast rule that applies to all children of all ages—is that there are no hard and fast rules. As frustrating as that may sound, there just isn’t any one-size-fits-all answer to creating happy, fun children. For the 2-year-old and 5-year-old mentioned above, I have no doubt that this works, so this mom feels like she has the magic answer. She does … for her children … at this age.

Sleep, in general, does make happier, healthier kids. However, there are a few more ingredients to add to that recipe.

Next page: the first ingredient.

1. Consistency

Image Via Shutterstock

Image Via Shutterstock

When it comes to bedtime, the most important component is consistency. The secret to the success of the mom in the Slate article could very well have been her consistency rather than the actual time. Our bodies function best with good habits. There is nothing wrong with a 2-year-old going to bed at 7 p.m. Don’t be afraid to allow an older child to stay up a little later. The privilege of age is not “unfair” no matter what your 4-year-old tells you.

What to add next…

2. Routine

bedtime strategies

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With consistency, add a large amount of routine. The summer months are a great time to begin a bedtime ritual of reading aloud. The best books I’ve read to my children were books like Pinocchio (not the Disney version. I’m a Disney fan, but stick with the original work for this). Many of the classic books were originally published in a series format. Each chapter is a complete story within itself and builds anticipation for the next. This was the only time my children actually looked forward to bedtime.

And don’t forget what kids really need at bedtime.

3. Safety

child feeling safe sleeping

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Consistency and routine give children a sense of safety. Although your home is a physically safe place, they will have a sense of safety and security just knowing what to expect at the end of each day.

With all of the activities summer brings, don’t lose sight of the best part of the longer days: spending a little more time together in a consistent night-time routine.