Why Sally Doesn’t Have a Bedtime

Would you believe that Sally doesn’t have a bedtime? Well, she doesn’t. She used to. We tried to put her to bed at 8:30 each night, and each night turned into a battle. “If you don’t go to bed when it’s your bedtime, you will be tired in the morning,” we told her. “No I won’t!” she insisted. So we would let her stay up, figuring that the next day she’d be tired and learn her lesson, and then she’d finally understand why she needed to go to bed at 8:30 each night. Except that it didn’t exactly work out that way.

I don’t remember when we gave up trying to insist on Sally having a bedtime. Maybe it was when I realized that there was no real reason she had to go to bed at a certain time. Maybe it was when we were just all tired of fighting a war with each other. Or maybe it was when we realized that giving Sally a bedtime simply wasn’t needed.

Every night we have supper, wash dishes, clean up a bit, play a game, sit around and read, and maybe watch a TV show. Sometimes we go to the Y or the library. Bobby goes to bed by eight o’clock, exhausted little baby that he is by then, but we three stay up. At that point Sean and I usually switch into work mode, me blogging or doing my graduate school work and Sean working on his own studies or grading exams. Sally plays games on the iPad, builds with k’nex, or looks at books. Sometimes we put a movie on in the background, often Planet Earth. The hours tick slowly by.

Then, sometime between 9:00 and 11:00, Sally announces that she is tired and wants to go to bed, and asks us to tuck her in. And then she does, just like that, entirely voluntarily and with no fuss. Last night it was 9:07. The night before it was 10:35. Sometimes she’s tired and grumpy in the morning, and when that happens I let her know that she probably didn’t get enough sleep the night before, and we talk about the importance of sleep and how we feel when we’re tired. But usually she’s fine. She’s pretty good at figuring out when she’s tired and regulating her own sleeping habits.

One reason Sean and I originally gave Sally a bedtime was that we valued the quiet alone time that came after the kids were in bed. Interestingly, letting Sally decide for herself when to go to bed hasn’t messed that up. She’s good at playing quietly and independently, and if she starts to infringe on our ability to get done the things we need to get done, we simply remind her that we are working and it’s late and encourage her to use good interpersonal skills (i.e., if you want our attention, ask nicely and be patient). Since we make a point to have more interactive family time earlier in the evening, though, this usually isn’t too much of an issue.

If Sally is still up when we’re ready to go to bed ourselves—whether solely for sleep or for sleep with a side of intimacy—we let her know that we’re tired and are going to bed. Since we usually don’t go to bed until around 11:00, she’s almost always already in bed. If she’s still up she usually either opts to go to bed herself or to play quietly in her room, and sometimes she simply takes the iPad into bed with her. We make it clear that we’re going to bed and don’t want to be disturbed, and it’s never been a problem.

I suspect that part of why this works for us is simply Sally, but I also suspect that a large part of it is that Sally doesn’t see staying up late as some sort of special privilege. Most kids have regular bedtimes, and if they’re allowed to stay up without a bedtime, it’s a huge special treat and they take it as a sort of challenge to see how late they can stay up. They’re not used to self regulating, because they’ve never had to. Instead, they binge. But Sally doesn’t feel the need to binge. She doesn’t see staying up as something special or going to bed as something to be avoided. Instead of trying to make her conform to some artificial bedtime, we’ve taught her to be responsible about sleep and allowed her to make her own decisions and self regulate.

Again, I’m not saying that this would necessarily work for every child, and even if it it would I’m not saying it’s something everyone has to do. There are lots of other tools in the positive parenting toolbox for making a set bedtime a positive and enjoyable thing. Indeed, I was originally skeptical the first time I heard someone tell me she didn’t give her kids a bedtime, and I set out to do the whole bedtime thing. All I’m saying is that as it has worked out for us, Sally doesn’t have a bedtime, and at this point in time we couldn’t be happier with that.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.fidesquaerens.org/blog/ Marta L.

    I love hearing your stories about Sally; as a perpetually single person, it’s a fun glimpse into a lifestyle pretty foreign to my own. And I think that you guys are doing a great job with her (and Bobby, too), as far as I can see.

    One thing that concerned me, reading this, was the lack of discipline. I grew up with a stay-at-home mum and a dad who was a sports journalist (meaning second shift hours + travelling most weekends), so our family routine didn’t resemble other families. Because of that, we didn’t have much of a routine at all, and while this gave me the great gift of not feeling peer pressure and being a true original, it also meant I didn’t have much use for others’ expectations when I got older. If schoolwork didn’t interest me then it was like pulling teeth (for myself as where as my rather beleaguered mum) to get me to do it – not because I was being oppositional, but because the concept of doing something because you were expected to was simply a foreign concept.

    You’re Sally’s mum, not me, so I’m hesitant to make suggestions on how you raise her. But I also wondered how (if all) this concern about developing a sense of discipline figures in to situations like this?

    • http://Patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      This calls for another post! :-P

      • http://www.fidesquaerens.org/blog/ Marta L.

        I figured it might! There’s at least one person who’d be interested to read it. :-)

    • Rilian

      I’m lacking in that skill of getting myself to do things that are boring also. Hence I am 26 and still in college. I could have done other things, I suppose, but I don’t know what else to do.

    • http://noadi.etsy.com Noadi

      I would imagine it’s teaching her a good bit of self-discipline if she can make the connection between when she went to bed and how tired she is the next day. I saw a lot of people when I was in college just have no idea of how to manage their own schedule because they were so used to it being managed for them.

      • minuteye

        I definitely agree with you there. The big scary revelation about adulthood for me was that no one was checking up on me! Self-discipline is probably a more valuable skill to have in the long run, and more difficult to acquire than the ability to follow instructions.

  • Sophie

    I didn’t have a bedtime, much like Sally I regulated my own sleep. It’s not done me any harm, in fact I think it was an asset when I was working at a nurse. I worked 12.5 hour shifts (plus 1 hour of breaks) 3 or 4 days or nights a week. Most people I knew found they never got enough sleep and found switching between day and night shifts (and vice versa) very difficult, I am used to just sleeping when I am tired so that wasn’t a problem for me. If I am tired I can sleep any time of day; with a lot of background noise, when it’s light out etc. It was and continues to be a useful skill.

  • http://valuesfromscratch.blogspot.com Marian

    I know you try to keep this fairly anonymous, but if you don’t mind my asking, exactly how old is Sally? Because I would love to try something like this with my hates to go to bed 2 year old, but she’s certainly not mature enough for something like this (and may never be… she doesn’t like to play independently and Lee and I NEED the couple time after she goes to bed.) How old was Sally when you started doing this?

    • http://Patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Sally was a young three when we started. At two we were still trying to do the whole bedtime thing, and I don’t know that letting her self regulate would have worked for the same sort of reasons you suggest. So maybe hang in there and try it in a year or so?

      • Vision_From_Afar

        I would love to do this with my 3 1/2 year old, but Mommy Vision works 3rd shift (from home), and Daddy occasionally has to go out of town, which means if the kiddo’s not used to being in bed at a certain time, it could mean very frustrated phone calls.

  • Makoto

    I know my older brother and I had set bedtimes and such when we were really, really young, but at a certain point those were removed, probably around age 2-3 for each of us.

    We also never had curfews, even as teenagers. My parents didn’t see the need – we knew they hoped we’d be home at a ‘reasonable’ hour because they’d worry if we were out too late, and it never came up to assign a specific time for us to be back.

  • http://brokendaughters.wordpress.com Lisa

    I do not remember having much of a bedtime myself as a child – I must have been too young to remember if I did have one. Maybe that’s also the result of a large family: There is always SOME excuse to stay up, and there’s always somebody else, somebody younger, to be tucked in. My siblings did have set sleeping times until a certain but varying age, depending whether the child was actually mature enough to express the need for sleep.

    I remember I was very particular about my own bedtime – in fact I set myself my own bedtime completely independant from my parents and without their input or encouragement, something my parents consistently thought was funny. I ALWAYS went to bed at 9:15pm. Not a minute earlier or later. If there was an issue preventing me from going to bed at this time (say, returning home late etc), I would get very irritated and feel an inner anxiety to miss out precious sleep. I must have set this bedtime really early, because I remember being 6 years old and doing it. I kept it up until my teens (14 I’d say). Then I realized that if I stayed up later, I would not have to hurry so much with my work for the day. If not for this, I doubt I would’ve abandoned bedtime.

  • Meg

    My kids are grown now (nearly 19 and 23), but when they were little they had “bedtimes” but that just meant they were done with us. They were welcome to play quietly in their rooms or read, but no coming out every 5 mins and nothing loud. Worked pretty well.

    • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com Ubi Dubium

      We did much the same with our two girls (now teenagers). “Bedtime” just meant that they needed to be in their rooms and quiet, so other people could sleep. Getting a glass of water was OK after that, but any other requests needed to be taken care of earlier. Their rooms were full of toys and books, but no TV, computers or video games.

      And we weren’t arbitary about when that time was, we adjusted it when needed. If we had trouble waking them up in the morning on days when there was someplace they had to be, that was a signal that we needed to move their “bedtime” earlier. That’s been a common factor in all the rules we set: we always made sure the kids were clear on why we had set the rules we did. And they were allowed to have input on the rules, and allowed to open discussions on when it might be appropriate to change a rule. It’s worked very well.

  • Stony

    My nine-year-old has a bedtime, both to give his father and I a quiet time before going to bed ourselves, and to get him horizontal. He’s a total night owl, like his dad, and there have been many non-school nights with the two of them staying up while mom hit the hay. He goes at full tilt, fourth gear, unless he’s physically prone, and then he usually goes to sleep quickly, so enforcing a lie down time is good for all of us.
    His bedtime is 9:30, which seems late, but we are not early-risers, even during weekdays, so it works out. Trying to force him to bed earlier was a seemingly endless battle that yielded crap returns for all of us.

    I’m tickled that this works for you and Sally. I’ve never heard this approach. It may or may not work for Bobby!

  • CT

    Our kids had a bedtime but they were welcome to play in bed. They just had to stay in their bed. We preserved our alone time and it gave them some alone time too. We do the same thing now — they are 17 and 15. They have to get in bed at 10pm but don’t have to go to sleep until they feel like it. We do the same thing if they are cranky in the morning, ask if they slept well then try to help them work out a way to go to sleep better the next night.

    • http://equalsuf.wordpress.com Jayn

      This was more or less how things worked for me growing up. I’ve had insomnia for as long as I can remember, so ‘bed-time’ meant reading time for me.

  • http://passingpinwheels.com Mrs. C

    Too funny! My husband and I were just talking about this! The three of us thrive on a schedule. We usually have some leeway but, in general, our daughter’s in bed by 8, he’s in bed by 10 and I am in bed by 11:30. We are trying to adopt and were wondering what in the world we’ll do if we have a little free spirit. It’ll probably be good for all involved. :) Even though I’m pretty schedule oriented, I love that this is so well thought out. I’ve always thought that as long as a parent is mindful around their choices, the kid is probably going to be okay. I don’t really get all the mommies who like to tell other mommies that they have to be just like them.

  • luckyducky

    This would be disaster at our house. My husband and I both had sleep-related issues… he has seizures, sleep deprivation is a trigger, and I come from a family, myself included, with sleep disorders and people who are particularly sensitive to being tired. So, we know how important establishing good sleep hygiene can be as a preventative measure.

    More immediately, my kids don’t just go to bed when they are tired, they both get manic as they get tired, always have. When they were 3, we knew there was a magic window when they were tired enough to go to sleep but not too tired to settle down and we could get them to go to sleep without help. After that, one of us had to lay down with her/him and lovingly pin (cuddle with a leg over the top to weigh them down, nothing violent) them to the bed until they relaxed enough to sleep. Neither are quite as difficult now but even now if we are away from home and miss bedtime by much, I can almost guarantee something is going to get broken or someone is going to get hurt. And of course, impulse and emotional control suffer with sleep debt and I don’t want my very active child to have more trouble behaving in the classroom that he has already and my other child, who is navigating the complexity of 2nd grade social hierarchy, have less capacity to let it roll off of her when the resident queen bee decides she “out” for the day (always difficult but when she’s well-rested it is much easier for her to try for “her loss, I’ll just play with someone else”).

    It would be one thing if they could sleep until they were ready to get up or would get the opportunity to nap in the middle of the day but between school and activities and homework, if they don’t get into bed very regularly by 8:30, they begin to build up quite a sleep debt and they still nap WHEN they get the chance on the weekends — one of them took a 4 hr nap on a recent snow day. And sleep is so important to their cognitive development and long term health (uncle developed a heart issue secondary to sleep apnea).

  • Anat

    Daughter never had a bedtime, but always had a routine where bathtime led eventually to bedtime. I doubt she was ever in bed before 10-11 or so. Always a very active person.

  • Derek

    This isn’t a one size fits all. In my experience some kids can and will go to sleep when they’re tired, others will not.

    For example our daughter’s personality is such that she will stay up at least as late as us and then be not only grumpy and tired but get migraines due to lack of sleep. She doesn’t want to miss anything and her mind keeps her from sleep. She needs routine and stability to be comfortable and to get to sleep.

    Our son on the other hand will put himself to bed when he’s tired. When I’ve had trouble getting him to sleep I just leave him to it and he’ll go climb into bed when he’s ready, usually pretty quickly. BTW, she’s 8 and he’s 4.

  • Christine

    I’m taking it that you don’t really need to have a bedtime routine with Sally? The need for a bedtime routine drove establishing a bedtime. (That and it let me keep a more constant bedtime, which makes me happier).

  • Kaitlin

    I wish my parents had tried some variation on this approach when I was younger. Not only was my bedtime rather early — at 6 years old I was supposed to be in bed at 7:30 — but I’ve always been an awful sleeper. No one associates insomnia with a grade school child, so my difficulty at bedtime was attributed to defiance. Had I been allowed to quietly read until my mind was calm it might’ve been a less fraught issue.

    • A Reader

      I always had a bedtime too–8 sharp for me. I didn’t have huge issues from it that I remember (although some of my emotional issues might have been more easily solved had my sleep habits been better), but I was almost never tired at that time. I slowly started stretching out that time, until finally my parents just dropped it. I think the idea of not giving kids a specific, hard bedtime is really cool (assuming it works for that child, of course).

  • http://ihaveboth.blogspot.com/ Valerie

    I didn’t have a bedtime growing up either, really, and I almost resent my parents for that. To this day, I blame them for my insomnia and complete inability to get into a regular sleeping schedule, even though for years (without a bedtime) I was often climbing into bed and falling asleep before any of my family, including my younger brother who did make it a game or a contest to see how late he could stay awake every night.

    I wish badly my parents had gently enforced a consistent sleeping schedule… And now, my baby sister who is 7, is living without a bedtime, and I get worried for her too. Because even though she’s generally in bed by 10-ish on school nights, she counts down the days until the weekend each week so she can really “stay up as late as she wants.” It’s still a big deal to her, a special privilege, even though she gets to do it every night.

    Of course, there are a good number of variables as to why this just didn’t/doesn’t work out for my family like it does for yours, but I do think it’s something to be careful about.

    Glad it seems to be working alright for Sally though.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

      Have you been checked out for Delayed Sleep-Phase Syndrome?

  • Reisel

    I don’t recall having a set bedtime. Then again, I like to sleep and my dad worked mid-nights most of my life so late afternoon/evenings was the only time he was awake. I do remember my grandmother trying to get us to take naps when she was watching us and I hated it despite my love of sleep. In part because my parents never made me take naps.
    8 – 8:30 sounds really early to me for some reason. On the other hand 9:30 doesn’t sound so early. It’s not that much later though. It’s probably just what I’m used to.

  • Rilian

    I never had a bedtime when I was little. But I normally went to bed at 10:00 anyway, because I wanted to get up at 6:00, so I could be the first one to the bus stop. But sometimes I stayed up till my dad got home so I could say goodnight to him, which was about 12:15.

    I had delayed sleep phase thingie for many years, and someone stupidly blamed that on me not having a bedtime when I was little. But I don’t see how that could be when I was perfectly able to sleep during the night up until age 14. And now I can again, phew.

  • http://sylvia-rachel.livejournal.com sylvia_rachel

    We’ve actually had the opposite trajectory with DD — when she was small she didn’t have an official bedtime, we put her to bed when she said she was sleepy or when she was obviously sleepy and needed to go to bed, and it worked fine, and she got herself up in the morning and that was fine too. (Mostly. There’s always that one time here and there where circumstances conspire to make everything go pear-shaped.) Then at some point, I don’t remember exactly how old she was, that stopped working — it became apparent that left to her own devices, on three or four out of five nights she would just NEVER GO TO BED. We have to get up early in the morning, and she was manifestly not getting enough sleep. So now she has a bedtime, earlier on school nights and later on Friday and Saturday nights. We’re not, like, fascist about it, but…

    Anyway I wish this self-regulating thing had continued to work for us, and I hope it continues to work for you!

    • Ibis3

      This would’ve been me had I not had a bedtime. Even with one I used to turn the hall light on and read in the semi-darkness if I could get away with it.

  • Karen

    My father worked in his home office from about 9 pm to about 2 am most nights. As I got older and didn’t need a set bedtime, I used to wait until my mother went to bed (maybe 10 or so) to talk to my father. If I tried to talk to him earlier, she’d shoo me out of his office, telling me not to bother him. But Dad was always willing to make time for me and he was helpful at problem solving, especially the interpersonal crap that schoolkids need to navigate. My mother was useless at this, so I really needed Dad’s help. But it did have me going to bed later than I should have. I made up for the weekday sleep deprivations on the weekends, which drove my mother crazy in the summer because she thought I ought to be up at 6 am with her to help with canning.

  • Gail

    The only bedtime I remember having was at 9:20pm, but I think that was pretty much gone by middle school, and after that we basically stayed up until we finished our homework (which could be until the early hours of the morning). I shared a room with my sister, so often “bedtime” would just mean chatting in bed. Sharing a room did make it difficult if one sister wanted the light out and another was still finishing homework, though.

  • Ashley

    My mom was pretty strict about bedtimes. At age six, I remember my bedtime was 6:30 PM and I was allowed to read until 7:00 before I had to go to sleep. This worked well for a few years, but by the time I was 9 0r 10, I learned to secretly defy the rules. I would hide stacks of library books under my bed and read by the light of my nightlight until I felt like going to sleep. Eventually, as a teen, I would go to bed then secretly get back up to chat with boys on the internet.
    So, yeah, the strict rules kind of backfired.
    I’m pretty lax about bedtime with my girls (4 and 6). I aim for 8 pm, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. The youngest usually falls asleep pretty quickly. My oldest has always had a difficult time falling asleep, so I make sure she has plenty of books (dictionaries, science encyclopedias, classic children’s novels) near her bed, and she is usually asleep by 10pm.

  • Rachel

    I swear that Sally is one of the most intelligent and mature children I’ve ever heard of — well done, you guys!

    My bedtime was enforced (first 8:30, then 9, then 9:30, then 10) until I was about 12, but I never really managed to adapt to it well. I often fell asleep reading (I was also afraid of the dark for several years, so I had a lamp on), and my dad would come in to turn out my light. There were a few years before I found out my lamp didn’t turn off automatically as I slept — I figured it out when he started falling asleep first!

  • Soren

    our boy is almost 6, and Alba is almost 3. She har bedtime at 19, and Nathan has at 20, sometimes we’ll put him to bed at 19.30.

    They bith sleep to about 7-7.30,except on weekends when bedtime is relaxed, and Nathan will stay up til 21-21.30, then they both wake up at about 6-6.30 ;)

    We figure, as long as they go to bed quitly and they wake up at a civilized hour, then it’s fine.

  • Kristen

    This sounds great. Really, Sally sounds pretty amazing. This would have worked for me. Bedtime was such an issue for me growing up. Even as a little kid, I just didn’t get tired until later in the night and was rested after 7 hours or so, so bedtime was a constant battle. You can’t force a child to sleep, so I always found some way to stay up as long as I wanted. I found various methods to read (flashlight, night light, nighttime “bathroom” trips, Christmas lights), or if nothing was available, I made up stories and play-acted in my imagination. I remember vividly as a teen how powerless and patronized I felt when my parents tried to enforce a bedtime. I was more than capable of deciding how much sleep I needed. It was frustrating that despite my good grades and responsible behavior, my parents still felt the need to decide when I should go to sleep.

    My son’s not ready for this yet, I think. He’s three and when he starts to get tired, he gets grumpy and clingy. He also craves interaction, even more so when he’s tired, so we would never get any quiet time if we let him stay awake and near us indefinitely. We get him into his room with a dim bedside light at 8:00, before he gets too tired, and he can play or read until he falls asleep. He’s usually out by 9:00. I’d love to try this out when he gets older and a little more self-regulating, though.

    • http://www.carpescriptura.com/ MrPopularSentiment

      I think you’re right that individual sleep needs play a huge part. My husband is one of those “down for seven, then ready to go!” people. It doesn’t matter when he goes to sleep, he’ll wake up after 7 hours even without an alarm clock. He starts work between 2-4am most days and has no trouble staying up until 2am on his days off.

      I, on the other hand, am totally trashed if I get less than 9-10 hours a night, and it doesn’t matter how long I get to sleep unless it’s at my routine-determined sleep time. If I stay up even an hour or two on my nights off, even if I sleep in the next day, I feel awful.

      And my son’s definitely taken after me. He goes to bed at 7:30pm and usually doesn’t wake up until 8am, then he takes a two hour nap during the day. He loves sleep, and he loves having it at his “pre-ordained” time.

  • Noelle

    I was more lax with my kids and bedtime before they needed to be up for school every day. Now that they’re in 1st and 3rd grade with a 7 am wake-up time, we have a school night routine. My son with ASD won’t sleep without meds, but with meds he falls asleep quickly. My neurotypical daughter won’t let me even call it bedtime because “what if I’m not tired”. So it’s “school night bedroom time” and she reads and plays with her toys until she’s tired. Non-school nights, she often comes down to hang with mom and dad after the beftime routine, as long as we’re not watching a violent movie or TV show at the time. So, 2 different versions for 2 different kids in the same house.

    I had a bedtime through elementary school, and it was one of the few things mom was strict about. I suspect that was because there were so many kids and she needed a break. By high school, I determined my own schedule.

    You’ll have to play it by ear when it comes to elementary school and your Sally. And you may find Bobby needs a different approach. Part of parenting is being flexible and working things out as you go along.

  • http://www.carpescriptura.com/ MrPopularSentiment

    I really like this concept, but I do think that a lot of it has to do with the kid. My experience was rather… odd, since I lived with my dad for a few years and then switched and lived with my mom. My dad had no structure and I could go to bed whenever I wanted, and I was perpetually tired. I was always falling asleep at odd times, such as during class or while we were eating at a restaurant. My mom technically had a strict bedtime, but she was a very inconsistent enforcer. So I’d be going to bed at 2am on some nights, and 8pm others, and I have tons and tons and tons of memories of lying awake for hours.

    I struggled a lot with depression, and I think that a lot of it had to do with just being tired all the time. When I moved out on my own, I gave myself a strict bedtime and how I’ve felt has improved quite drastically. Whenever I fall out of my routine, I start to feel very depressed/anxious/cranky again until I readjust.

    With my son, we started out letting him sleep whenever he fell asleep. I think that’s the right thing to do with a baby. But he pretty quickly fell into a routine where he was consistently falling asleep at the same times during the day, so we called those his naptimes and planned our schedule around them. We’ve adjusted as he’s grown, so his bedtime got a bit later and he dropped one nap (though his remaining one lengthened a bit), but we do keep a strict bedtime.

    With the exception of a handful of days where there’s been a lot going on and he’s resisted being taken out of the action, he LOVES bedtime. When 7:30 rolls around, I tell him that it’s time for “sleepies” and he’ll generally drop everything he’s doing, yell out “goodnight, dada!,” and run towards the bedroom. Part of that, I think, is that I only nurse him when putting him to bed now, so it’s a special cuddle/boob time for him. But I think, also, that he has a very similar temperament to mine and he needs that routine and structure that my body clearly needs as well.

    He’s only two, though, and we’ve always maintained bedtimes because they work for all parties. I’m definitely open to revisiting them as he gets older.

  • saraquill

    When I was wee, I thought I had a set bedtime of around 10pm. I’d usually drift off during the 10 o’clock news. Since I was physically in the bed, it didn’t count if I stayed up to watch something like 20/20. It wasn’t until late grade school/early middle school that I found out I didn’t have an official bedtime, as my mom hated having one when she was little.

  • HelenaTheGrey

    Different strokes for people, but I noticed that you said you didn’t see why a bedtime was important or why there was a reason for one. I don’t know if you have read the studies on childhood obesity being linked to children getting less and less sleep over the past 30 years, but they are very interesting. There have also been studies done linking teenage moodiness and attitude problems and teenage traffic accidents to them getting less sleep than they need. In teenagers, the sleep mechanism actually changes to where they need to go to bed and get up later physiologically, whereas in younger kids, they naturally go to bed and get up earlier due to brain chemistry. Obviously, some people’s circadian rhythms are different than other’s, but speaking of the general population, this is hard wired. While I don’t think that having a strict bedtime (as in you must be in bed by 8:30, not 8:31PM) is necessary, I do think it is vitally important to make sure your children are getting enough sleep, because chronic sleep deprivation has long lasting, not always noticeable in the early stages, consequences.

  • emjb

    If we could homeschool or had a later school time, we might try this, but for two things; our kiddo will actually exhaust himself by staying up as late as he can, and his bus comes at 6:45 every morning. His dad and I are both night owls and sympathetic, but the next day really hurts when he doesn’t get sleep. On weekends, we relax things a bit but notice that he doesn’t sleep in to make up time for when he went to bed late; he stays up late but still gets up early.
    It’s hard to know what’s best, honestly. I wish our schedules were more forgiving.

  • http://noadi.etsy.com Noadi

    When I little my parents tried to give me a bedtime but after catching me reading with a flashlight too many times they gave up and said they’d rather I use the lamp and not hurt my eyes. After that I was just expected to be in my room at bedtime, whether I chose to go to sleep then or not was up to me.

  • Erin

    This is an interesting perspective. It seems that Sally may be getting a lot of screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 2 hours hours or less per day – including IPad, TV, phones, and computers.

    • http://noadi.etsy.com Noadi

      I strongly disagree with that recommendation actually. I think it depends on the child, how much other physical activity they are getting (because that’s what the recommendation is mostly about, whether physical activity is replaced with screen time), and what they’re doing. Not all screen time is created equally, especially if some of that is spent on ebooks and other reading because I just cannot bring myself to consider reading to be “worse” if it’s done via a screen instead of a book or magazine.

    • http://www.carpescriptura.com/ MrPopularSentiment

      I’m with Noadi. We did restrict my son’s screen time when he was under 18 months (none at all except occasional use of educational apps on an iPhone), but since then we’ve found that an hour or so of a movie before bed helps everyone cope with that “end of evening” crankiness.

      And, as Noadi says, as long as there’s plenty of physical activity (and I would add that the screen time not include too many commercials, violent content, or excessively hyperactive content), I really don’t see a problem.

    • luckyducky

      As with most recommendations from the medical community, there is reasonable nuance to be applied that doesn’t come across in the headlines.

      That being said, it is more than an issue of whether they are sitting still in front of a screen of some sort vs. up and playing or even whether they are see violent or commericalized content. There is research about how a child <4yo or possibly even older, I can't remember exactly, doesn't have the capacity to process the rapidly changing images of say, Sponge Bob Square Pants, and exposing them to that prematurely may negatively affect said development.

      I would say you are likely okay with PBSKids shows… you know, the ones that seem excessively slow to older kids and adults and other materials explicitly designed for the p-K crowd though that isn't universal. The Baby Einstein stuff, if I remember correctly, was also found to do more harm than good.

      We substantially limited screen time until school but as schools move to online communication (on balance far preferable to the thousands of pieces of paper that get sent home otherwise) and enrichment, it gets harder and harder to limit screen time to recommended levels.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

    I didn’t sleep well as a child and would stay up all night. Then I would do that for days and sleep all weekend. My body never reset, if you will, and never had those cues that I should sleep. My parents never did anything about it and I’m really resentful of it because I was clearly sleep deprived and making me to go bed at a certain time didn’t make me sleep. I would lie awake and stare at the ceiling for hours until I figured out that if I claimed I was afraid of the dark that they would leave the hall light on. Then once they were asleep I would sit in the hall and read.

    I need at least 10 hours of sleep and on top of all that, I am bipolar which means sleep is even more essential to me. After lots of therapy and meds and whatnot, I am FINALLY waking up around 6am but only if everything the night before goes well. Otherwise it’s more like 9am.

  • JennyE

    Bedtime was a MAJOR issue for me growing up. I always had a bedtime, until I graduated from high school. In 10th grade, my parents “experimented” with letting my 9th-grade sister and I set our own bedtimes, but if we weren’t headed to bed by 9:30, they still insisted, so it didn’t make much difference. The next year, my dad read some article about teenagers not getting enough sleep, so they reinstated bedtime. When I was late, they would usually move the next night’s bedtime up 15 minutes for every five minutes I was late. Occasionally, if I argued or they were frustrated, my dad spanked me with his belt. When I was 18, I still had a bedtime of 9:30 unless there was some kind of special activity. It was, for me, humiliating and frustrating. And there was no transition to figuring it out myself, so I had a really hard time managing my time and sleep in college. It still makes me angry to think about it.

    My kiddos (4 and 2) more or less have a bedtime- at least on school nights, and definitely a bedtime routine, but it’s extremely flexible and they are always welcome to read or play quietly in their rooms if they aren’t sleepy. They don’t resist sleep like I did, though I don’t know whether it’s because of personality differences or because we don’t make it an issue.

  • Kristen

    The screen time issue needs a lot more research. Almost all the studies were done with passive TV programming. I let my son have a lot of phone/kindle time and don’t intend to stop. We taught him all the letter sounds, but didn’t think he was ready for sight words. Last week i about fell over when he read a few words on a store sale sign. Turns out one of the game packages I got had a sight word and phonics game. I usually get him games, vet them myself, and then let him self teach how to play them. He comes to me when he can’t figure out something, usually a menu screen, but he’s starting to even get patterns on those. As long as he’s getting a lot of physical activity and also playing with toys that help his coordination, I’m fine with letting him play age appropriate games and ebooks as often as he wants.

  • http://Love,Joy,Feminism Northstar

    Sounds very much like how we’ve brought up our 3: never had a bedtime for any of them, ever. And all of them, from ages 9-16, have been capable of going to bed when they felt tired. As a result, our evenings have always been relaxed and peaceful; we look with bemusement at parents who have “bedtime battles” and are glad that the emotional landscape of our family is a lot more at ease. And they don’t straggle out of bed and get to their studies whenever; one schedules her sleep very tightly and the other two make sure they are up well before our school start time of 8:00 in order to have a lot of free time.
    Positive parenting. It’s just easy.

  • Lauren F

    I was really glad to read this, just because it does help to know you’re not alone, even if you know you’re doing what works for your family!

    Our little guy (almost 2.5) has a sort of flexible bedtime – we generally try to make sure we’re starting pajamas and storytime between 8 and 8:30. Maybe we’ll all sit on the couch and watch Shaun the Sheep together before stories. Or we’ll just go in and sit in the rocking chair and read, pretty much until he indicates that he’s ready to go to bed.

    Didn’t realise the multiple stories might be unusual until one time when his cousins were spending the night and they came in to listen to a story with us. We finished it up (with great fun, they all looked at the pictures together and pointed things out and talked about the story), and the older kids started to head out the door. Our guy asked for another (specific) story and I said, “Ok, we can read this one next,” and the oldest boy turned around at the door and asked with surprise, “Two stories??”

    I don’t get a lot of comments about our bedtime routine, but my mom will occasionally say stuff to us about how late he’s up, if she calls at 9 or 9:30 or something and he’s still not asleep (which happens – and I don’t know about y’all, but parental criticism has a way of getting to me when I’d let it roll off from somebody else) and it bugs me. It’s just like, ok, this is what works for us and for him, why can’t you just let that alone?

    So yes, definitely glad to hear we’re not the only ones who think little kids should always be in bed by 7:30. :)

  • Composer 99

    Libby Anne discusses her suspicion in the OP about children bingeing on late nights when they get to stay up past bedtime.

    This reminds me of the book The First National Bank of Dad, where the author outlines a similar suspicion for children’s reputation for poor handling of money – they so rarely get money in any quantity which they control that they binge-spend it. The book, of course, is meant to encourage parents to teach children the value of saving money by giving them control of a large (for a child) quantity of money, and a “savings account” granting interest at a high enough rate (and compounded often enough) that children can appreciate what is going on even with a shorter time horizon.


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