Parents: Naughty Kids Need More Sleep and Clever Kids Do Too.

Before the advent of electricity, most children on most days were in bed when the sun went down and got up when the sun rose. When you put it in perspective – that’s not so long ago – and that has been the norm for as long as people have been around. We probably aren’t, yet, fully aware of all the effects of electricity on our brains. In the big picture – it’s still new and exciting. Certainly it’s use is compromising the amount of sleep we all get. There are many other pressures on the amount of time our children get to sleep too:

#1 Parents have to work so don’t collect their children and get home until late.

#2 The children’s after-school activities don’t finish until late.

#3 Parents aren’t with their children during the day, so keep them up late so that they get to spend some time with them.

Mr Owl (age six years) and Mr Butterfly (21 months) have been a bit grumpier than usual. They’ve been having a few more tantrums. Mr Owl has been a bit meaner than he usually is: nasty words; setting-up his brothers to get into trouble; being mean to the others when they’re playing – that kind of thing. Mr Butterfly has been a bit more clingy than is usual; more grizzly; more inclined to be non-compliant. They’re usually asleep by 7.30pm, which seemed early enough. We were probably wrong.

Last Tuesday Craig had a meeting at work and didn’t plan to be home until 8.00pm. So in the manner of a solo-parent (hats off to you guys) I got myself super-organised, and because we didn’t need to wait for Craig, we started our evening meal at around 5.15pm. By 5.40pm we’d eaten. By 6.00pm baths were over and I had three shiny, pyjama-ed boys. By 6.15pm all of us were in bed: two big boys snuggled next to me listening to the story, the younger one bouncing on his bum on the bed next to us. By 6.30pm, Mr Butterfly had given up on the bouncing and come to snuggle with us, Mr Hare (aged nine) took himself off to his own room (in which he’s been sleeping alone for the past week or so) and drew pictures. By 7.00pm both of the younger boys were asleep. They didn’t wake until 7.00am-ish the next morning. Bingo. Pleasant children again.

In contrast, I mucked up Mr Butterfly’s sleep-time last night and ended up with a screaming, tantruming and nasty boy for around 40 minutes until he finally fell asleep. (Even though I was with him and calm.) Over-tired he couldn’t behave; he couldn’t be calm; he couldn’t relax. In contrast the older boys, for whom we had managed their bed-time well, were snoring happily: Mr Owl (six years-old) by 6.45pm and Mr Hare (nine years-old) by 7.15pm. And yes, they slept all night.

Most western children, I believe, are sleep deprived. I know it can be difficult to get them into bed early – for all of the reasons I’ve mentioned or others. Yet as was said in the book Nurture Shock, and as I’ve long believed: the more we are learning, the more we need to sleep.

That also means, I believe

the cleverer our children,

the more they need to sleep.

(I think this needs to be a series: I’ll talk about the amount of sleep children need another time.)

The things we usually do to make sure our children get to sleep as early as possible, which could be helpful:

#1 We have a strong rhythm (routine without a time-frame) that we follow almost every night.

#2 We eat as early as possible. (Usually Craig is in the door at 5.50pm, and we eat as soon as he arrives. We are now considering having the meal at 5.15pm as a matter of course and Craig eating later.)

#3 The boys bath/shower after they have eaten. (Reasons of: avoiding mess on pjs when they eat and relaxation of warm water.)

#4 Once they are organised they eat a small banana and have a small drink of milk. (Both of these encourage the release of tryptophan about 20 minutes later, which is a brain chemical associated with dropping off to sleep.)

#5 They go to the loo, brush their teeth and wash their faces.

#6 We go into the family bed-room together and snuggle in for story time. (When Mr Hare slept with us and Craig was in the room too, sleep time came faster for all the boys.)

#7 After story time, Mr Hare goes to his own room and Craig sits with him until Mr H. is asleep. (This is an important time for older children. We are often told all the really emotional parts to Mr Hare’s day at this time – the BIG issues he is dealing with at the moment. If we weren’t with him while he dropped off to sleep we would never hear about these concerns/problems/celebrations.)

#8 The family-room is made pitch-black. The alarm-clock is even covered with a pillow so there is no light whatsoever. I cuddle Mr Butterfly to sleep and Mr Owl snuggles into my back. This is the time Mr Owl feels he can tell me what’s going on in his world. After a short-time he is happy to stop talking and listen to the noises that Mr Butterfly makes before dropping off to sleep. And the pitch-black bit is important, I’ll cover why another day.)

#9 I climb out over the top of Mr Owl and go and do whatever I want to do. I climb out his way because he is more likely to stir and then return to sleep than Mr Butterfly who tends to stir and think it’s time to bounce.

#10 If any of the children wake before I am ready to go to bed, I go and snuggle them back to sleep. Sometimes it happens more than once, and sometimes it’s immensely frustrating.

I understand that a cooler room is better for sleeping too, but as it’s winter here it’s not currently an issue. When it’s the middle of summer I have no hesitation in allowing our older boys to sleep in a slightly moist (not wet) t-shirt and undies. They do make a noise when the shirt goes on, and they are asleep just as fast as on the cooler nights.

So, if you’re having some behaviour problems and can’t put your finger on the cause it might be worth the effort of making those bedtimes much, much earlier.

(This is officially how I help put food on the table. If you’ve found this article useful, please feel free to use the Koha button just above my blogroll. Even the smallest amount is appreciated. 🙂 )


About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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18 Responses to Parents: Naughty Kids Need More Sleep and Clever Kids Do Too.

  1. MamaWerewolf says:

    It is so true! As a teacher, I can tell within five minutes when a child in my class comes off their sleep schedule. The key to a regular and successful bedtime routine is to be willing to participate in it as a parent – including lying with them until they fall asleep if that is what that particular child needs.

    thanks for writing 🙂

    • Thanks for reading…and commenting…:) I agree, when I was teaching it was really obvious to me which children didn’t get enough sleep. What continues to surprise me still (and why I *don’t* know) is just how early kids need to be alseep to be able to manage.

  2. Jennifer Burden says:

    Hi Karyn!

    I get dinner going at around 5pm, too! If we wait for my husband to come home to work, then the kids get fed too late and to bed too late. I usually start to bring my daughter up just after 6pm. If she’s had a really busy day, then I do my best to get her into bed by 6pm. It makes ALL the difference!!

    Now…if I can only get MYSELF to sleep on time…that’s the next challenge! 🙂


    • Hi Jen,
      Yes, that’s the challenge for me also!
      I think often parents are really aware of early bedtimes with younger children, what has surprised me is how early our older boys can get to sleep when we get things right. Certainly, the later in the school term we get – the more tired they are and the more they benefit from those earlier nights. Thanks for your comment, lovely to ‘see’ you here. 🙂

  3. Jennifer Burden says:

    Do your kids wake up super early? I find my daughter wakes up early no matter what time we put her to bed, so an earlier bedtime is the way to go. And yes, it definitely effects her mood!!

    Jen 🙂

    • Yes, our kids are early risers, particularly our eldest who is often up at 5.30am in the summer months. We found the later he went to bed, the earlier he rose – so staying up late was never going to work for him. I used to be a night-person and have learned to be a morning person…I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s probably healthier although not always convenient!

  4. Marcy says:

    How do naps figure into your days for the various ages? I suspect Amy is almost ready to not have any sleeping nap at all in the day, because on days she sleeps she is often happily awake in her room at ten or eleven still. On days she doesn’t nap, though, she can be a terror and fall apart throughout the day. Husband is rarely home before 6, and really don’t want to give up the one family meal we have. Amy and I, during the school year, have to get up at 6:30 to get to school on time. (Montessori is far away.)

    • Children all vary in their need for daytime naps, Marcy. I would think that a child who can stay up until 10 or 11 probably doesn’t really need a nap – but they can be pretty foul during the daytime. You could try to get her to go without for a month and get her into bed as soon as you can after dinner, you might find that she wakes early naturally too. After a trial you could then make an informed decision about her need for that nap. (I must post on this fully…good idea. :))

      • Marcy says:

        *I* need her naptime… we’ve experimented a little with the idea of a quiet time, but I need to think more about how to structure that — what activities should be allowed for her, in a way that’s easy for her to comply. For whatever reason, I have a hard time on days when she doesn’t sleep in naptime and talks to herself in her room — I can bear that happy chatter in the evening, but not in the afternoon.

  5. adhdwith3 says:

    So so wise. I know that one of the main reasons my children are so grumpy is because they don’t get enough sleep. I just bought some thermal curtains. It’s tough because it doesn’t get dark unil 9:30 and it gets light at 5:30. Hopefully, they’ll sleep longer now!

    • Hi there,
      Yes, we struggled with the light in summer too. We found the thermal curtains certainly helped to block out with those extra hours of daylight – Mr Hare still wakes at 5.30am in the summer, but at least then he’s been asleep for 10 hours or so! Hope they work for you too. 🙂

  6. QueenArtLady says:

    Great post.
    With all the areas I feel I can approve, I somehow manage to stumble upon a good bedtime routine and early bedtime with my kids ;-). We follow a similar routine than yours except that we have our meal at 5pm and the kids have a honey sandwich before they brush their teeth – Mr 4-year old doesn’t like bananas. And we are lights out most night before 7pm.
    I havealso often found that the later they go to bed the earlier they are up.
    We have a nightlight on in our room – I hid it behind a wardrobe so it is very dim, because our boy doesn’t want to sleep in complete darkness. So I would be interested to read your post about the pitch blackness of the room.

    PS How are you doing with greeting the sun in the morning? I have followed your example but now sunrise for us is after 7am – I stumble around like Grumpy until ‘daylight’ and I can go out to ‘greet the day’ 😉

    • Yeah, I’m finding the later mornings difficult too. I have tried to stand on the front steps and just look at the sky, but being later there are all the demands of getting everyone out the door on time to balance too. Part of our regular routine is to walk Mr Hare to the bus-stop (when fine) and so I am trying to incorporate a moment of thanksgiving then at least.
      Our boys aren’t keen on the dark either, which is one of the many reasons we bedshare. I am currently trying to work out a system for Mr Hare who is generally sleeping in his own bed now, but wants the toilet light on. If I can find a torch and some batteries…

  7. Laura Weldon says:

    Funny, I just wrote a piece about recent sleep studies relating to kids

    But I do take issue with one proposal—to eat earlier even if Dad can’t join in. IMO, the importance of relaxed family meals is much greater than the importance of early bedtimes. But that’s just me.

    • Crikey, we’ve finally found a point of difference, Laura! I agree that eating together is hugely important, I’m sure I’ve posted on that before, but I have come to realise that the extra sleep our boys get from being in bed just that little bit earlier is immensely beneficial for them. We haven’t finalised whether or not we will have our evening meal without Craig, but I am certainly considering at least starting without him. The nights our boys are in bed super-early have resulted in somewhat calmer and happier children (being that they’re pretty calm and happy anyway!).
      PS Thanks for recommending the post you wrote on sleep – it’s a goodie. 🙂

  8. IfByYes says:

    This makes total sense… but what does one do when the child believes that Sleep is from the devil and to be fought at all costs??

    • Oh yes, we had one of *those* children – he slept in 20 minutes snatches during the day and was lucky not to rouse after more than an hour or two at night…we just kept the night patterns strong and at around the age of three and a half he finally slept a full night. I was very pleased to be bedsharing and not having to get up to him every hour during those first few years! For him it was very much related to his highly sensitive temperament. I do wonder if we had used a pacifier with him when he woke whether or not he would have roused and then settled more easily – there was some thought about him being sensitive to wheat and he could have had a sore tummy that we weren’t aware of. Hard to know with him at the time. Our toddler currently squirms, bounces and chats away in the dark for about 20 minutes before he falls asleep – I just stay with him and play possum.

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