Just How Important Is an Early Rigid Sleep Schedule? More Than You Think!

I know I'm a pushover when it comes to my kids' bedtimes. After working all day and then running to an evening baseball practice or religious-school pickup, I'm happy to steal a few extra minutes with my kids. But an article up on Slate has me rethinking exactly what time I'm calling for lights out.

In her post entitled "In Defense of Absurdly Early Bedtimes," Melinda Wenner Moyer writes about adhering to strict 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. bedtimes for her almost-2-year-old and 5-year-old, respectively. She keeps her family's routine year round, regardless of the parties they are missing or the events she has to leave early. She writes:

"That's because my kids are happier and more fun to be around when I stick with a consistent and early bedtime. And ever since I've started looking at the science, I've become only more convinced that the earlier you say night-night, the better. Research consistently shows that putting kids to bed early is beneficial for their physical, emotional, and cognitive development. Not only do kids tend to sleep more when the lights go out sooner, but they also may get a greater proportion of restorative sleep, too. Early kid bedtimes are also great for parental sanity. Sipping a glass of wine in silence? Snuggling up with your spouse to watch a grown-up movie for once? It's really quite lovely."

While Moyer admits that her early bedtimes might not work for everyone, the research and experts seem to agree that it's the way to go. While I've been living under the impression that it is the total number of hours a child sleeps that matter, Dr. Marc Weissbluth, the popular pediatrician and author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, suggests otherwise, saying "when a child sleeps is probably as important or maybe more important as how much."

So is it time to give your kids an earlier bedtime? It might be. In the article, Dr. Weissbluth says parents should observe their toddler's behavior between the hours of 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. or between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. if their child is older. If they're grumpy, irritable, or lethargic, they may need an earlier bedtime. He suggests trying to put your child to bed 20 minutes earlier for a few nights in a row. "If he falls asleep easily, then chances are he or she should be going to bed earlier."

I'm still not sure if an earlier bedtime will work in my home, but I'm willing to give it a try. Because while those extra few minutes are nice, they're often filled with angsty behavior that just makes me wish we had put them to bed earlier. If you're not convinced that 7:30 p.m. is right for your child, check out this bedtime chart based on age and usual wake-up time that the administrators at Wilson Elementary School in Kenosha, WI, distributed to their families. It just may convince you that your child needs more sleep!