Daylight saving and springtime (even though it still feels like winter in the northeast!) come each year bringing with them longer evenings and shifts in sleep patterns. Some parents with excitement for spring weather and in anticipation of the even longer days in summer, begin letting their young children stay up later. As with many things that seem like a good idea in the short-term, there are long-term risks to extending your child’s bedtime. Health, routine, and family balance are three great reasons to stick with an early bedtime, regardless of the seasons.
It can be hard to leave the party or the park early, but research shows that children who go to sleep earlier have better overall health. They sleep more hours in total, and have better quality of sleep; both of which contribute to brain development and a healthy immune system. As parents, we often think that a child who stays up late, will sleep in the next day, and catch up on much-needed sleep. But unfortunately it usually doesn’t work that way.
Sleep deficits can build over time, and as the saying goes, sleep begets sleep. In a baby or young child, a lack of sleep can mean more meltdowns and unpredictable behavior. In older children and teens, it can lead to anxiety in addition to emotional irritability. Children, like adults, thrive when they are well rested. Unlike adults, they do not decide on their own when to go to bed, and rely on us to make decisions for them that are good for their health and happiness.
An early bedtime also contribute to a sense of routine. While children may try to push boundaries, they respond best when they know exactly what to expect. Consistency in bedtime is a big part of a bedtime routine, and when adults stick to the plan day after day, children settle in easier without negotiations. Developing a pattern early on has lasting effects on children; helping them practice habits that will benefit them for their entire lives. An early, predictable bedtime also helps build a sense of schedule during other times of the day.
Balanced Family Life
Lastly, an early bedtime for children, means more time for adults to enjoy personal time. This leads to a more balanced family life that benefits everyone. Adults have time to pursue their own interests, connect with their partner and other loved ones, and feel rested and refreshed themselves. While it takes motivation and discipline at first to establish an early bedtime routine, once parents make the shift and adhere to it, they see that it frees them up more than it restricts them.
Well-rested parents are more able to parent effectively, and well-rested children are more able to learn and grow. If something as simple as an earlier bedtime can improve many aspects of your family’s life, what are you waiting for? Get to bed!
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Angela Walsh is a Family Sleep Institute, Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant and the founder of Babes in Sleepland. She helps sleep deprived babies, children and families, get back on track and get the sleep they need and desire. To learn more about Angela and how she can help you, visit her website: babesinsleepland.com. Also get sleep tips, the latest research on baby and child products, and be part of her weekly Q and A at her Facebook page: Babes in Sleepland and follow her on Twitter