Kids with strict bedtime rules sleep best: Study

Do you have a bedtime routine? New research suggests ways to help your kids sleep better.

Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

When Adam Mansbach’s not-safe-for-bedtime bedtime story Go the F**k to Sleep came out in 2011, I read it and laughed (the fact that the audiobook was narrated by Samuel L. Jackson made me laugh even harder). At the time, Gillian was 18 months old, Isaac was four and neither of them went to bed without a fight. Nor did they sleep through the night. As I chased my kids into their beds for what seemed like the hundredth time each night, I’d recite the book’s title in my head. I had thought that with a toddler and a school-age kid, my sleepless nights were behind me.

But my husband and I never stuck to a bedtime routine, preferring to follow the kids’ lead and put them to sleep when they were drowsy. Sometimes we’d watch TV with them or, as they got older, let them play video games. We always gave into last minute requests for snacks and drinks and extra books. In short, our bedtimes were a disaster waiting to happen. No wonder my kids didn’t sleep well!

Looking back at those bleary-eyed times and comparing them to how well my kids sleep now, I notice one important difference: I’m now a bedtime task master (I prefer tyrant, actually).

Research about children’s sleep always fascinates me, especially when I’m able to link what I see in my own children to new research. The findings in the 2014 National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America Poll, titled “Sleep in the Modern Family,” revealed a lot about parents’ attitudes towards sleep, as well as the most likely culprits of a bad night of zzzs. Researchers, led by Penn State associate professor Orfeu Buxton, surveyed 1,103 US parents with children ages six to 17 to learn more about their bedtime routines, sleep duration, obstacles preventing sleep and attitudes towards sleep. The findings were published January 26, 2015 in the journal Sleep Health.

Surprisingly, the majority of parents endorsed the importance of sleep, but 90 percent of children did not sleep the full amount of time recommended for their age group. Sleep obstacles included technology, neighbourhood noise, extracurricular activities and inconsistent sleep and wake times.

My own strict bedtime regimen started to take shape the year my husband was away for work and, to be honest, it had more to do with saving my sanity than with ensuring my kids got enough shut eye, but the improvements in my kids’ behaviour was noticeable. My bedtime countdown started at 6:50 p.m. and lights are always out by 7:40 p.m., fitting in snacks, teeth-brushing and book reading in that 50-minute window. Electronics are always shut off at 6:30 p.m. and we keep extracurricular activities (including homework) to a minimum.

I won’t say that Isaac and Gillian enjoy my no-nonsense routine, but they are more well-rested for it, which to me is worth the effort.

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.

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