How much sleep do children need?
I ask this question following yet another difficult and emotionally charged evening episode of “Putting the Boys to Bed”.
It starts around 6.30pm. The witching hour as we used to call it. The boys have been fed and watered. They shower. Then they have a second shower – with soap this time. They do their homework. We take them to bed for stories.
Around 7.30 -8pm following their story, we say goodnight, give them a kiss, tell them we love them and turn their light off.
As I leave the room I hear the click of the light switch as they turn it back on. Here we go again. The fight to get them to lie in bed and go to sleep.
Our particular groundhog day has evolved over the years.
Our eldest, Max has always enjoyed his sleep. In the past, once we had read him his bedtime story, he turned over and fell asleep. What a joy.
Our youngest, Zak, couldn’t sit still if he was a statue. The saying “ants in his pants” was written for him. We put him down. He gets up. We put him down. He gets up. We have tried all manner of techniques with no success. Charts, goals, rewards, treats, bribes, gifts, begging, gaffa tape, handcuffs……….. Just kidding. I would never beg.
We went through a stage several years ago where they used to wake up mid-morning and climb into our bed. Despite the elbow in the face and the more than occasional kick in the ribs I really liked it. We were advised by other parents that we were creating issues for ourselves. That they would never be able to sleep by themselves. That it was a bad habit.
It was suggested to us that we should take them straight back to their bed as soon as they came in. Who can be bothered doing that at 2am? Well after a year or so it phased itself out. Now at the ages of 7 and 6 they rarely come into our bed. Once asleep that is them till morning. I think allowing them to sleep in our bed has in some way contributed to their solid sleeping pattern.
So for us sleeping through the night is not a problem. Getting them to sleep is.
Both my boys can now read. Max being a year older than Zak has just realised that he can read to himself. It is brilliant to watch him come home from school and grab the book that he was reading the night before and sit on the couch engrossed. I love that.
He loves to show off the latest book he has just finished. He then asks mum to buy the next book in the series, which in true mum fashion she has already bought. Sometimes it ends up under the pillow as a surprise for the next morning.
Since Max has started reading we have fully embraced and encouraged it. We leave him to it in bed. We ask him to turn the light off at 8pm – then when he tells us he must finish the chapter “please, please, please” we give him till 8.30pm.
Last night it was nearly 11pm before I had to prise the book from his vice like grip. Most nights it’s around 930pm
My dad brain tells me that this is wrong. My wife tells me that this is wrong. Its too late. He needs to sleep . My heart says “so what.”
How can you get upset with a boy that just wants to read. It seems a bit hypocritical. Particularly as he is still functioning well during the day.
So after months of this repetitive nightly routine we were getting nowhere. We were miserable. We dreaded evenings. It’s still an issue.
Not so long ago we made another deal with the boys. We told them they could stay up as long as they stayed in their own room and did not come out.
Max is fairly compliant. He stays in bed and reads his book.
Zak builds paper models, draws something and flicks through Captain Underpants. For Zak 8 – 9.30pm has suddenly became his creative time. We have a resident artist and inventor. It was, and still is, very hard to chastise him for being up at 9.30pm when he presents us with some really impressive art and craftwork. So we are slowly trying to bring this creative spurt forward to a more reasonable hour. Unsuccessfully so far.
But he too also seems to operate fine the next day.
So how much sleep do children really need?
The sleep foundation website http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/children-and-sleep recommends 10-11 hours of sleep time for 5-12 year olds. They offer the suggestion that:
“Poor or inadequate sleep can lead to mood swings, behavioural problems such as hyperactivity and cognitive problems that impact on their ability to learn in school”
My own limited research has led me to believe it is best to monitor how your children function during the following day and watch for the tell tale signs of not enough sleep.
Despite my wife’s reservations I am going to continue to give our kids the responsibility of reading until they feel tired. I will tell them I trust them to turn their own lights off.
Perhaps this will empower them to do the right thing.
Two boys aged 7 and 6. Who am I kidding!