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Send your kids to bed. Now. I said NOW!

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The absolute best day in the universe EVER was the day I made an important discovery.  It was the day I figured out that those crazy Other Parents, the ones I secretly mocked and swore never never never to be like, were really The Most Intelligent Beings on the Planet.

And why were these mockable parents so smart?

Because they had figured out The Secret of Sane Parenting.  Which, in exchange for storing all the refrigerator art ever produced by your first-born (a more than fair trade, if you ask me, because hello, what were you going to do with it anyway?), I will divulge to you now.

Early bedtime.

I can tell you have a question.  Several hands shot up.  You there, in the back:  “For me, or for my kid?”

Either has its uses, but I mostly meant your kid.  Kid(s), plural, especially then.  And at 7:00 pm.

“7:00!!!” you protest, “But—that’s impossible!  We’re not even finished with dinner then, and we have soccer, and ballet, and homework, and and and—”

Silence your protests.  All in good time.

The Pros of Early Bedtime:

1.   Adults can parrrtayyy! Grownups need their alone time.  This is the perfect way to get it.  This may have been my #1 reason for maintaining an early bedtime once I joined the cult became a believer.  Imagine all I got done, too!

2.  Kids function better when they get more sleep. So what if it’s still light out when they go to bed?  That’s what room-darkening blinds were invented for, to BS kids into thinking it’s nighttime.  After a few weeks on early bedtime you’ll notice a decrease in tantrums, better eating, better school behavior, etc.

3.  Did I mention the alone-time thing? Because it rocks.  Remember what it was like before kids?  Well, this isn’t like that, but it’s more like the best of both worlds.

4.  You can be all superior to other parents who haven’t yet seen the light. *cough* No, that’s not actually a reason.  You wouldn’t do that, would you?

5.  They actually are cuter when they are sleeping. Who hasn’t stood there for a long moment, watching them sleep, just breathing in that moment?  And would you rather do it at midnight or 8 pm?

Okay, Some Cons:

1.  Sometimes going to bed early means they get up early too. Just be prepared.  You know you’ve been meaning to start getting up at 6 anyway.

2.  You can’t do family stuff in the evenings. It takes some reworking of the schedule.  I had to get used to having dinner by 6 in order to get mine to bed by 8 (the 7:00 thing works best for toddlers and preschoolers, but it’s pretty hard to convince a 10-year old to go to bed by 7:00.  If you can do that, let me know and I’ll gladly donate all that refrigerator art directly to you).  And team sports, activities, TV, etc, well, you’ll think of something.  It really is worth it to have that quiet evening time.

3.  Sometimes they fall asleep with their heads in their plates. Yeah, so late afternoons/evenings aren’t going to be the most stellar times for your kids, who will be tired by then from having gotten up at 5 am more like 6 am.  And if that’s your “quality time” with your kids, it’s going to be affected.  You need to find balance, so don’t be afraid to play around with it.

Are you an early-to-bed or a let-them-stay-up-late parent?  How does bedtime work in your family?

[img src Carla Peroni, with permission via SXC]

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24 comments so far...

  • I have to admit, I am one of the crazy Other Parents…My kids have ALWAYS gone to bed early. And yes, woken up early. But, with 3 boys (aged 6, 4, 2) it is the ONLY thing that keeps me sane! They are all in bed by 7:30, and absolutely, positively NEED to be in bed that early. I have to wake them up in the morning to get ready for school/day care.

    I have to admit, I have never understood why parents would keep their kids up late, when it’s obvious they need their sleep. (and the parents need their alone time!)

    Kimmad  |  September 10th, 2008 at 8:55 am

  • hmm my (2 yr old) son’s bedtime is 8pm but we generally arent ‘free’ until 9pm. still not bad, at least an hour or two before we go to bed! woohoo! party on!

    Plus, we still have to wake him up around 8 during the week and on weekends he sleeps until 8:30-9 (i think he is growing!) in the morning. (and still takes a 2 hour nap, i adore this kid!)

    Kate  |  September 10th, 2008 at 10:45 am

  • I have always done the early-to-bed thing with my kids. When they were infants and toddlers it was 7:00. Now they’re 4 and 7 and it’s 8:00. I think the key is we start getting ready for bed early. But I think I’m in the minority. I know plenty of people whose kids are still up a 10. I agree that early bedtime makes for better behavior but most of it my needing time alone!

    Sharon  |  September 10th, 2008 at 11:16 am

  • I am a night person, so the idea of getting up with my kids at 6 am is a non-starter. Luckily they accommodate me in that respect.

    I get off work (WAHM) at 5:30 and we eat around 6pm. I dont feel right putting them to bed right after they eat, and eating earlier really isn’t a practical possibility.

    We go for a walk from about 7-8 (ish) and they are in bed around 8:30. We have a pretty smooth bedtime routine so once they are in bed, I’m generally free to do my thing until I conk out around 2am. We get up around 7:30 on a good day, 8 on a lazy day.

    As they get older I’m more likely to keep the bedtime the same and move the wake-up time to accommodate school.

    SKL  |  September 10th, 2008 at 12:37 pm

  • We used to be stay up late parents (probably because we are musicians by trade), but this year my daughter started Kindergarten. Bed time is now 8:00. It takes her a while to fall asleep, but what a difference in her and in us.

    The morning crying has all but stopped, and she is more excited for school. Breakfast is relaxed and at the table, not in the car on the way to preschool.

    My daughter would prefer to stay in bed later, so she should probably go to bed even earlier, but we are working on that.

    Being a entrepreneur mom and dad, the alone time is good for both business and pleasure.

    Here here to all of those who have seen the light…or dark.

    Dara  |  September 10th, 2008 at 1:26 pm

  • We do around 8 in the summer and closer to 7 in the winter. Not intentionally, but that’s the way it seems to work out. We’re more likely in the summer to want to do something after work, or even possibly after dinner.

    For babies, I go 6 or 6:30, even (and they’d sleep until 6 a.m.). We just didn’t try for any sort of family dinner that included the littlest one — we ate after putting her or him to bed.

    I totally agree about the behavior changes — kids are biologically wired to sleep earlier in the day, and when they don’t do it, it’s like they have perpetual jet lag. I’d be cranky, too.

    Jan  |  September 10th, 2008 at 2:13 pm

  • I have 3 little kids, aged 6, 4, and 20 months. For various reasons I have pretty much always been a “let-them-stay-up-late” mom. I guess first reason is, their Daddy often doesn’t come home until 8 pm or later and I feel bad for them if they fall asleep before he gets home. Then, and I haven’t seen other moms mentioning this, since I’m the one to “put them to sleep” (i.e. nursing, stories etc.) and I don’t always want it to take a long time, I feel I’d rather wait until later in the evening, when they’re “really tired” so they will conk out more quickly and I can get my nipple out of somebody’s mouth (ha!) So my kids generally aren’t in bed until about 9 pm. I will admit though that my son seems to need more sleep than his sisters do, does anyone think that some kids need less sleep than others?

    Molly  |  September 10th, 2008 at 3:01 pm

  • Kimmad: Being in school does add an extra dimension. If kids have to wake up early, they do it more easily when they’ve had enough sleep.

    Kate: A 2-year-old who sleeps in? Awesome. He’s getting about 14 hours out of every 24, and if you wanted you could structure that in other ways (i.e. going to bed earlier) but it sounds like you’re doing what works for you, and that’s important!

    Sharon: It’s totally ok to be selfish in this. Parents shouldn’t feel compelled to spend every waking moment with their kids. Everyone needs some amount of alone time. Even kids!

    SKL: Again, sounds like you’re doing what works for you and your family.

    Dara: I know, making that switch is hard, isn’t it? My kids used to stay up until 10 before I made the change. It really impacted me positively when I did, though, because my kids were all happier.

    Jan: Hardcore! I never was able to get babies to bed that early. Any secrets on that?

    Molly: I did this as a single mom of 3, so it *is* possible. Making the change isn’t easy. And you are right about some kids needing more/less sleep than others, and that’s definitely a factor here. When they are little it can be deceiving though, so as with everything it pays to be observant and know your kid. I seriously doubt that anybody on this site *doesn’t* know their kid pretty well, though. After all, we’re here because we care.

    Karen Murphy  |  September 10th, 2008 at 3:10 pm

  • This is one of those issues where I was the smug perfect parent and everyone else was doing it wrong. Until I had my son. And he just Does Not Sleep. Some kids are just wired differently.

    My daughter is a champion sleeper so I guess on average we’re OK.

    rb  |  September 10th, 2008 at 3:56 pm

  • My daughter’s bedtime is 8pm. Bath at 7, a few books, lights out no later than 8. Funny thing is, sometimes I just go to sleep right with her. Since I get up at 5:15am, it’s GREAT to grab a couple hours of sleep every now and then!

    Robyn  |  September 10th, 2008 at 7:54 pm

  • I meant a couple EXTRA hours of sleep!

    Robyn  |  September 10th, 2008 at 7:57 pm

  • OMG, thank you. I was always one of those parents, meekly telling our friends that we had to go home before 7 so my daughter could go to bed, dealing with the disapproving stares. We had a horrible first year with her but as soon a we started to put her down at 7pm all crying and whining and unhappiness stopped. She is 4 and still goes to bed around that time, although now we can stay up on weekends with her and she will catch up. I tell you — I hated being THAT parent, but secretly I didn’t mind at all:)

    Nataly  |  September 10th, 2008 at 8:03 pm

  • My boys have been going to bed at 7 since they were born, earlier if it`s been a rough day or they didn`t nap. It`s the only way I stay sane. I`m a night person, so staying up till 1 am or so is when I work . . . kid-free. Very nice. :) I grew up going to bed at that hour, too, so I think it`s normal. lol.

    Genesis  |  September 10th, 2008 at 8:31 pm

  • My 9-yr old step-daughter goes to bad no later than 9:30 on school nights. And she wakes up on her own between 7:15 and 7:30 most days. Some times I have to wake her up at 7:30. I’ve tried getting her to bed earlier, but it just doesn’t work for her or us. Even just going to bed at 9:00pm means she’ll be up at 6am. Not good for me.

    I’m currently pregnant with my first baby and I have every intention of starting this one out with a bedtime of 7:00pm.

    Jenni  |  September 11th, 2008 at 9:59 am

  • We had a bedtime of 7 pm . it was great. But now they are conking themselves out @ 6 pm. I felt guilty at first but my hubby said lets take it we need alone time. I get off of work @ 2 pm and have them by 2:30 so I do get quality time with them . I am a full believer in 7 pm bedtime! it rocks!

    Michelle  |  September 11th, 2008 at 1:01 pm

  • rb: I feel your pain. But at least if you take an average of the two you get one complete kid.

    Robyn: I used to insist on naps for the same reason. For me, not them.

    Genesis: That’s a good point. It’s easier, or at least pretty natural, to continue with our own kids what we’re used to from our own childhood.

    Jenni: Congratulations! Do you foresee any problem with the difference in bedtimes? (My kids were all several years apart, so that was sort of an issue)

    Michelle: OMG, 6 pm! I had a friend who did 6 pm with her preschooler, and it worked great. I could never manage that myself.

    Karen Murphy  |  September 11th, 2008 at 1:22 pm

  • My 20 month old daughter’s bedtime was 7:00 PM or earlier (sometimes she was asleep at 6:15!) for out about a year until the last 3 months. Now she is ready for sleep around 7:30-7:45. It works out really well for us. I usually get home work by 4:30, we play for a bit, eat dinner around 5:15-5:30, and take a walk and then play some more. After she is asleep, my husband and I have time to do a few things around the house and then unwind. Sometimes I think our neighbors think we are crazy because of our little one’s early bedtime, but they are probably just jealous! Their kids are still playing in the street while our toddler is sound asleep!

    JMD  |  September 11th, 2008 at 6:30 pm

  • early to bed here too! During school the bus comes at 7:30, so I have to get them up at 6:45ish (5 and 7 years old). In order to get enough sleep they need to be in bed lights out by 7:30. and they almost always conk (as evidence: they are out and it’s 7:45 right now).

    In summer we are much more flexible (and weekends) and usually do 8ish, but do 9 or even 10 if we are doing something social.

    now, 7pm heading up to bed is easy for us, my husband teaches (so is home by 4 most days) and I WAH, so we get lots of family time. Friends that work until 6 or 7, obviously have to figure something else out that works for them.

    Gretchen  |  September 11th, 2008 at 6:54 pm

  • During the school year they go to bed about 7:30 or 8:00. But during the summer they stay up late (sometimes ridiculously late) and sleep late. That way, they get to hang out with their dad after work in the the summer (he’s a night owl so I let him put them to bed). I however, still go to bed at the same time all year round :)

    Sheryl  |  September 11th, 2008 at 11:48 pm

  • We tend to go to bed with the sun in the summer. In the winter, time is around 9pm. I always stay up at least an hour after everyone is in bed for my quiet time.

    As a kid, I hated going to bed when the sun is out and I don’t make my kids either.

    Debbie  |  September 12th, 2008 at 12:11 am

  • AMEN! We live in such a sleep-deprived culture. Staying up late, getting only 5 or 6 hours, is seen as a virtue. It’s “adult”. And then, because we adults have such terrible sleep patterns, we pass them on to our children.

    My three kids all had early bedtimes: 7:00 until they were seven or so, then a slow increase. (I breastfed them all for over a years. I single with them for a few years there, too.) My 15-year-old still has lights out at 10 on school nights. She gets up at 6 or 6:30, on her own, no nagging.

    I preach it to my daycare parents, too. A well-rested child is a happier child, less prone to tantrums, tears, and whining.

    MaryP  |  September 12th, 2008 at 6:35 am

  • My 3-year-old was sleep trained from the get-go, so 7 p.m. has always been in fashion - except for holidays and the occasional “I won’t sleep, but will stay up and play in my room.” It is the only time I get to myself, the evening. And even then I go to bed by 10. I savor 7.

    Julie  |  September 12th, 2008 at 10:32 pm

  • I am personally a night owl, but with our kids we have to put all of them in the same room (3 girls 6, 4, and 2). It does not seem to matter how early I put them to bed -at least ONE of them with goof around until 11pm. We have tried every thing and still cannot seem to change the internal clocks! They keep each other awake too! Our living situation leaves no option of separate rooms. Any help? Does anyone have any ideas?

    Dawn, and cannot seem to change the internalk  |  September 15th, 2008 at 9:49 am

  • Dawn -

    My boys (4 and 6) are in the same room too.. and sometimes get each other quite silly instead of sleeping.

    We have a “lights out, body in bed, be quiet” policy. Soft talking is ok, but I can hear them down the hall (which means they are getting silly) they need to be split up.

    I usually make the instigator stay in the room alone, and let the other fall asleep in my bed (I’m in the living room). It gets them to sleep, and since falling asleep in the big bed is a perceived reward, the instigator does not get rewarded.

    LaurenW  |  September 19th, 2008 at 4:42 pm