Make Bedtime Early for Your Child

I recently had a dad tell me that he likes to keep his 4 year old son up to watch movies with him on the weekend until 11 or 12 PM.

A store employee told me about her frustration with parents in the store at 9 PM with children who are crying or running up and down the aisles yelling.

blog11Should a child who is older than 4 months have the same bedtime as the adult?      No

Each child needs their own bedtime from the age of 4 months. Children require more sleep than adults do. The growing body and brain need more hours of sleep for all the learning and development to happen.

At four months children are going to need about 14 hours of sleep per day. Three to five-year old children need 11 to 13 hours of sleep. School-age children continue to need 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night.

The early bedtime allows a child will receive the correct amount of sleep their body needs. A well-rested child is able to  learn and retain that learning.  Lack of sleep makes it difficult for a child to control their behavior, impulses and emotions. Sleep deprivation leads to behavior problems.


The sleep clock of a child is biologically set for an early bedtime. Sleep that is in sync with the body clock will restore and reset the body and brain. A consistent bedtime supports the body clock. The child will feel tired at bedtime and anticipate sleep. When you follow a regular routine and time for sleep the child will want to sleep rather than fighting it

Late bedtime leads to high Cortisol levels.

A late bedtime misses the body clock time when the body was preparing for sleep. The body temperature drops and chemical changes happen in the body at the correct time to sleep. If sleep does not happen when the body was preparing, the body responds by releasing Cortisol. Cortisol is a stimulant and wakes the child up.  Cortisol in an overtired child looks like they “received a second wind”. They become “hyper” and tend to run around and act out of control. The child will misbehave, whine, and be irritable. Children are prone to injury because their skills and judgement are impaired while in that overtired state. Research shows lack of adequate sleep “has been associated with increased levels of impulsivity, peer victimization, and social inhibition in kindergarten children. ” The high level of cortisol makes sleep difficult for the child. Cortisol stimulants the child to stay active and moving, the opposite of going to sleep.  It will cause the child to  wake up frequently during the night and  wake early in the morning. The elevated cortisol level interferes with sleep at every stage of the sleep process.

A chronically overtired child has a chronic high cortisol level. Depending on the extent of the over tiredness, it may take days or weeks to correct their lack of sleep. This chronic condition leads to behavior problems, learning difficulties and  various health issues. Adequate sleep is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

I worked with one family with a two year old going to bed at 10 PM, waking many times during the night and refusing naps. It was challenging to talk with the parents because the child was running, jumping on furniture and making a lot of noise. I coached the parents to help their son get the sleep he desperately needed. When I returned to their house a few weeks later he seemed like a different child. This time the only interruptions were hugs from him while I was talking with his parents. Their little guy was enjoyable to be around. Correct sleep turned him into an amazing little boy.

An early bedtime leads to a happier, well-rested child.

The solution is to chose a bedtime according to the child’s age and make that bedtime consistent and a priority in your life.

Helping Babies Sleep

Arlene Fryling

Arlene is a registered nurse and certified sleep consultant for children 0-5 years. She has cared for premature, sick, and many healthy babies. For over 15 years she has taught expectant parents how to care for their newborns through classes teaching basic baby care, infant massage classes, and moderating support groups for new moms as they deal with parenting issues.

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