Family Life

Is There a Best Bedtime?

As parents, it’s easy to shun enforcing bedtimes for our children, especially when we’re exhausted after the events of the day. However, there are benefits to having your child in bed at a set time each night for both them and for you.

To find the best bedtime for your child, they need to establish good sleep habits which starts with a bedtime routine that meets their needs.

The amount of sleep your child needs depends on their age and if they take naps. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine provided recommendations for times to sleep for children:

When it comes to constructing an actual routine, Aimee Ferrell, MD, a general pediatrician at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health Pediatrics at O’Donovan offers some helpful hints for bedtime:

  1. A good bedtime routine involves a set of activities over the course of an hour which help the child get quiet and wind down. It also signals the body that it’s bedtime. Good bedtime routines often include a bath, reduced noise, lower lights, and no screen time. Reading a book, hugs, a drink of water, and then lights out are good ways to end.
  2. Daily exercise will help to ensure that the child will be sleepy at bedtime. However, vigorous exercise or playing right before bed can be too stimulating.
  3. Avoid caffeinated beverages and heavy meals in the evening.
  4. Stick close to the schedule and routines even on weekends and vacation.
  5. The most important thing about a bedtime routine is to stay with it. Children thrive on consistency. 

If your child needs to be ready at a certain time to walk, bike, or catch the bus to school, then an earlier bedtime might be best. Be sure that your child has enough time to do the basics of their routine, including brushing their teeth, washing their face, and anything else needing to be done prior to bedtime. The benefits of going to sleep early don’t end with eliminating tardiness.

Michelle Lanier, a certified pediatric sleep consultant and the owner of Sweet Sleeping Baby, a sleep consultation service, explains the benefits of an early bedtime: “An earlier bedtime will ensure an adequate amount of sleep at the time when their body is ready. Restorative sleep can improve learning, memory, behavior, and attention span. A regular consistent bedtime routine occurring earlier in the evening will help with falling asleep and staying asleep.”

If your child doesn’t need to be up early for school or daycare, a late bedtime should be fine if they’re getting enough sleep. For older children, going to bed too late can affect their health, behavior, success in school, and their relationships with you and their peers.

“When children do not get enough sleep, their health suffers. A lack of sleep in young children often results in irritability and trouble with emotions. Poor sleep has been linked to over-eating and reduced ability to fight infections. School age children may have difficulty with attention, behavior problems, trouble learning, and increased injuries,” warns Dr. Ferrell.

With summer coming up, now is the best time to start bedtime training. The worst thing you can do is give up on bedtimes while the children are out of school. While they might groan and complain, doing this now instead of the week before school will keep them on track for success.

If you’re really struggling to get them to bed, talk to your pediatrician about what could be the cause or confide in a pediatric sleep specialist like Michelle. In the meantime, over-the-counter medications and sleep aids can help your child adjust their internal clock and set the pace for a healthy bedtime.

“Melatonin and diphenhydramine (Benadryl) have some potential benefits when used sparingly. They are relatively safe, but if used too often, may interrupt the child’s natural sleep cycle and end up being counterproductive. There are no prescription medications which are approved for or routinely recommended as sleeping pills for children,” advises Dr. Ferrell.

At the end of the day, there isn’t a set “best bedtime” supported by science or medical professionals. Determining what lights out looks like for your child is dependent on your child’s needs and the length of their morning routine. As long as your family is getting the restful sleep they need and succeeding daily, you’re doing just fine.

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