So we are at the end of the 9 weeks of summer holidays, and I have been trying and failing to get the children back into a normal bedtime routine. There just seems to be too much to cram into those last few days, so we continue to eat late, and having my 5 year old twins in bed by 7 seems like an impossibility.
But come next week, it will happen. I know the consequences if they start going to bed later, and I can’t bear whining children. Besides which, I do enjoy my peaceful, childfree evenings.
Childrens’ bedtimes do seem to be quite a cultural thing. We Brits are all for having them in bed as early as possible, but how much sleep does a child actually need?
Why sleep is so vital
You could (and of course many have done) write a book about baby routines and how to get them to sleep through the night, so I am not going to cover that today. But toddlers up to the age of 3 should still be getting 12-13 hours of sleep at night and 1-2 hours of naps during the day. Children aged 4-6 require between 10.5 and 11.5 hours a night and those aged 6-12 need 10 hours. Teenagers can get by on less, but 8-9 hours is the minimum.
Of course these are just guidelines, and every child is an individual, but sleep is vital for so many reasons. It is during sleep that Growth hormone is released. I cannot be the only person who has looked at one of her children and said “I am sure you have grown since yesterday”. Well we were right; studies have shown that some toddlers can grow as much as 1.5cm overnight. Amazing.
REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, when you dream, is how the brain processes what has been going on during the day, and this is vital for brain health, concentration and emotional development.
Children who do not sleep enough have been shown to be fatter, more prone to depression, less creative, with reduced concentration and a lower resistance to disease.
Routines for toddlers and teens
So how do you encourage your children to sleep well? Remember, this is not a skill we are born with and every child has to be taught. Routine is important however, and this can start from birth. Supper, some playing (preferably nice calm playing, but mine do always seem to go loopy after you feed them in the evening), bath or shower, stories cuddled up with Mum or Dad, and in to bed.
If children wake in the night, it should always feel like nighttime to them; keep the lights dimmed, speak in hushed voices and encourage them back into bed as soon as possible.
Teenagers are of course different, but they should still be encouraged to develop their own good bedtime routines that include some wind down time away from all screens. There can be nothing more disruptive to a good night’s sleep than an iphone on your bedside table which buzzes whenever you get an email or text; ban them from the bedroom!
Sleep is tricky
But of course everyone hits problems from time to time. Some babies just don’t want to sleep through. Toddlers start exerting themselves at bedtime, or wake in the night with sleep terrors. Children find their way into their parents’ beds and many partners will end up moving out of the marital bed and into a cramped single bed just for an uninterrupted night of sleep. Older children sleep walk or develop episodes of insomnia and anxiety around bedtime. Sleep is a tricky area, and the combination of tired children and exhausted parents is always a challenging one.
So try and tackle your problems early. Don’t let the routines go to pot because you are going through a tricky patch. Read books and work out which solutions would work for your family. I think Dr Tanya Byron is very sound in her bedtime advice; firm and clear but she encourages you to tackle problems in ways which are not too distressing for your child. If things are getting out of hand, talk to a professional.
I’m off to start my bedtime routine now – goodnight.
By Susie Tunstall-Pedoe, September 2013