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When Should I Send My Child to Bed?

Age Appropriate Bed Times

When Should I Send My Child to Bed?

The subject of age-appropriate bedtimes is an important one simply because of what's at stake. A child needs to get enough sleep each night to fuel their healthy growth and development the next day. An age-appropriate bedtime and the accompanying trappings of bedtime routine will help to promote that.

Putting a young child to bed too late can result in a lack of needed sleep, whereas putting an older child to bed too early can cause them to be difficult to deal with, resentful, and unable to sleep. The key is knowing how much sleep your child needs and when to give it to them.

Using Standardized Lists and Suggestions

Simple lists to help you out with determining an age-appropriate bedtime for your child do exist. They are based on the range of sleep hours a child needs at a particular age and an average perception of when that child might need to be awake and aware during the day. For example, The Sleep Foundation recommends the following:  

  • A child 4-12 months requires 12-16 hours of sleep, naps included
  • A child 1-2 years old requires 11-14 hours, naps included
  • A child 3-5 years old requires 10-13 hours, naps included
  • A child 6-12 years old requires 9-12 hours of sleep

A chart like this can offer you guidelines to work within if you are totally in the dark. Simply work backwards from when the child needs to awaken to set the bedtime they need. Most of the time, though, you are better off determining something as personal as a bedtime yourself.

Recognize Your Child's Unique Needs

Each child is different. This means that the amount of sleep that works for one may not work for another. In addition, each family is different. What works for your child and your family, therefore, is what needs to drive your bedtime selection. You will be most successful in setting a bedtime if you find a way to balance your schedule with your child's, keeping in mind that this will be easiest if you can pay attention to and utilize their physiological sleep signals.

An Age-Appropriate Bedtime for your Child

Begin setting a bedtime early on in your child's life. This will help you to create a family routine and expectations that you can then use as a framework for future adjustments. If you are paying attention to your child's sleep patterns, you will begin to see signs that a particular bedtime is not working for them as it has in the past. In other words, when your child is old enough to be ready for a new bedtime, their behavior will tell you. If you find that the problem is that a bedtime doesn't work for the family's routine, however, simply adjust it incrementally until it fits your needs.

Send your child to bed a half hour earlier or later each night until you have reached an optimal time. It is important to remember as you do this, though, that the child will need a corresponding change to their morning routine as well.

When to Stop Giving A Bedtime

Eventually, your child will outgrow their need for an enforced bedtime. As an adult, they'll need to decide for themselves when bedtime is. As a teen, they can begin to get used to this responsibility. Plus, getting a teen to listen to a bedtime is often more work than it's worth.

Generally, a good rule of thumb is to stop assigning a bed time once your child reaches high school. By this age, your child is mature enough to be able to go to bed on their own. You may elect to still have them go to their room, but not require them to sleep until they want to. Your child will need to suffer the consequences if they choose the wrong time to go to sleep.

If your child is tired in the morning due to picking the wrong time to go to sleep, they'll still need to go to school or work. Over time, they'll learn to go to sleep at the right time to avoid dealing with exhaustion during the day. You can guide your child, but try to avoid stepping in to tell them to go to bed at a certain time.

Certainly, once your child has gone off to college, they have no need for a bed time during the times when they're at home. Try to avoid forcing them to get up at a certain time, unless they need to be somewhere. While your child is still living under your roof, they are now an adult who should have the freedom to choose when they go to sleep and when they get up.

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