When my babes were littlies, bedtime was fixed: 7pm, no ifs or buts. This was partly because I really do think very young children need a lot of sleep – the experts say 12 hours for preschoolers, 10 when they get a little older – but also because the few hours I had to myself in the evenings after the kids went to bed were precious indeed.
In the early teens, most kids need about 9 hours a night – but this is exactly when many of them start petitioning for a later bedtime. If your schoolgoing child needs to get up at 5am (and this is a not-unthinkable hour for many kids, including my own who have to commute to school), 8pm should be the previous evening’s cut-off time. But to expect a 13- or 14-year-old to hit the sack when it’s still light outside (in summer) isn’t on.
And what if there’s a project that needs completing? Most kids have extramural activities and may not get home until late afternoon, leaving little opportunity for homework – not to mention showers, dinner and some vital family time.
Regardless of these strictures, I stuck to a 9pm bedtime for my kids until my son was 15 and my daughter 14. Then, my son pointed out – reasonably enough – that he alone among his classmates was ‘treated like a baby at bedtime’. He wanted me to extend the curfew by an hour.
This I did, but pretty soon the effects were showing in grumpiness, wandering concentration and general malaise – and that was only me.
Just as I was despairing of ever solving this problem, I noticed something interesting. Every few days, on those afternoons when they didn’t have extramural activities or much homework, both my kids went straight to bed when they got home from school and slept for the entire afternoon. They would wake up for the evening routine, then usually go back to bed as soon as they could.
So while they weren’t getting enough sleep every night, their natural body clocks were making sure that they regularly caught up on shut-eye. And of course on the weekends they did what teenagers do best – slept so much that I occasionally wondered if they’d slipped into a coma.
The experts say that ‘catch-up’ sleep is never as good as a regular 9 hours, but given the demands on teenagers’ time these days, I reckon it’s going to have to do.
What are bedtime routines like in your home?
Read more by Tracey Hawthorne.