It’s the time of year that we return to structure, schedules, and afternoon and evening activities. Both co-op and soccer begin today for us! I’ve given a lot of thought to how the coming weeks are going to look and flow, but one thing I haven’t had to give much thought to is bedtime. That’s because even though we had the occasional summer nights that kept us all up late, for the most part, our sleep schedule stays rather consistent. Similar to eating well, we pay for it if we get too far off track. Sometimes people’s eyes pop out when I tell them our girls go to bed at 7:00, but here’s a little insight into why we choose that and how we’ve made it work.
We started the 7:00 PM bedtime a couple years ago, and now at ages 4 and almost 7 years old, we still aim for bed at 7:00 PM most nights. Sure, sometimes it creeps up to 7:20 PM and there are some fun summer nights that result in 10:00 PM bedtimes, but for the most part, our girls are tucked into bed by 7:15 PM. Quite often, they fall right asleep too, though sometimes they will stay up reading or looking at books for another 30 or 45 minutes before drifting off.
We love a consistent and early bedtime for many reasons. First and foremost, I am a HUGE believer in the importance of sleep. It’s vital to keep a strong immune system, but it also does wonders with keeping attitudes in check and behavior consistent. I heard recently (I have not verified it, so take it for what it’s worth) that when children lose just a single hour off their needed full amount of sleep, their behavior regresses by 2 years the next day. For example: if Hailey (6) goes to bed one hour later, but gets up at the same time, her ability to handle herself the next day is more on par with a 4 year old, rather than the 6 year old she is. Again, is this scientifically proven? I have no idea, but it seems to describe the scene in our house pretty accurately if the girls get behind on sleep.
Some actual science of the important of sleep though? I’m sure you are aware that there is no shortage of that. Multiple studies have found that kids who go to bed later take longer to fall asleep than kids who go to sleep earlier; they also wake up more frequently in the middle of the night, then don’t sleep late enough to make up for their deficit. I remember when the girls were babies always hearing that “sleep begets sleep” and now, almost 7 years into parenting, I’m a fanatic believer. I’ve heard people say that their kids could never go to bed at 7:30 because they are too wired, but when kids are sleep-deprived, their bodies (and our adult bodies, too) actually release hormones including cortisol and adrenaline, which gives them an extra boost of energy. So that nighttime craziness is most likely actually proof of them being overtired. I definitely can see this with Hailey, as when she is overtired, she gets “loopy,” or very energetic but with a crazed look in her eyes.
Secondly, an earlier bedtime works well for David and me because it gives us some time in the evenings for us. Usually the girls are down and the kitchen is cleaned up by 7:45/8:00 PM. This gives us at the minimum a solid hour to catch up, chill out, and just enjoy some adult time together. David leaves early in the mornings and I’m busy with homeschool and living that mom life, so having an hour to debrief and connect is really important to the strength of our marriage, even if some nights it just looks like two exhausted people lying on the couch watching a show together.
So great, it’s clear I’m a stickler for kid sleep. But how have I made this actually work on a consistent basis for our family? I’ve been asked that a few times and am happy to share what has worked well for us. As always though, I know every family works differently. For example, my best friend doesn’t get home from work until 9:00 PM some nights and her 7 and 4 year old stay up so she can see and spend a little time with them before bed. That works for them and I think that’s awesome. Clearly I don’t think there is one right way to do things, but for the sake of sharing, here is how we established the sleep habits in our home, and how we’ve made early bedtimes and consistent sleep patterns work for us.
We established that nighttime is sacred from the very beginning. Starting from the day the girls were born, we’ve treated nighttime differently than day time. When I nursed, changed diapers, rocked back to sleep, we always did it silently and in the dark. From day one, we’ve tried to establish the fact that nighttime means dark, quiet, and sleep. We’ve never turned on lights, read books, or had snacks during the night, so my kids don’t know any differently.
We stick to a bedtime routine. We were excellent at this when the girls were babies and toddlers. Dinner, bath, books, and bed was as second nature as breathing at one point; we didn’t dare break from it in fear of screwing up the system. Now, our routine has changed slightly, and is a little more relaxed, but it still exists. Dinner, pajamas, brush teeth, books, bed. Usually we eat around 5:30 and that takes about 30 minutes or so. Then the girls clear their plates, brush their teeth, but on pajamas, and we all go into the playroom to read books together. Some nights if David is home, we will split and I’ll read to one girl in her bed, and David will read to the other in hers.
We are firm about our bedtime rules. Once we tuck them in, “nighttime” has officially begun. They are allowed to read (or look at books for Kaitlyn) and Hailey is allowed to write in her journal, but that’s it. Overhead lights must be out. It’s time to be quiet (no singing or dancing, Kaitlyn). You are not allowed out of your room (bathroom is an exception).
I think it’s important to note that some of this came easy to Hailey. She was the one that when she switched from a crib to a big girl bed, would still play in bed and wait for us to come get her in the morning or after naps. Kaitlyn has taken more consistent effort. There have been several nights of walking her back to her room when she tries to continuously come back out. She’s also the queen of “one more book” pleading and then screaming when the answer is no. However, I’m a believer that sticking by my word is important, and over time staying consistent has payid off.
For the most part, the girls know what to expect now and there isn’t really any push back. I wonder how it will change in the upcoming years, but I figure we will cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, Hailey (age 6, almost 7) usually falls asleep around 7:45/8:00 PM and wakes up around 7:30/8:00 AM. Kaitlyn (4) varies a little more, but for the most part is asleep by 7:15 PM and wakes up at 7:15 AM (no naps).
I’d love to hear how sleep works at your house!
What are your bedtime struggles? Strengths?
Have you changed bedtimes as your kids have gotten older?
If you have more than one child, do they go to bed at different times?
How do you manage that?