How set bedtimes can change your child’s behaviour

Monday, November 4th, 2013

There’s no question that children need their sleep. Just as hunger informs our bodies that it’s time to take in critical nutrients and thirst suggests we are becoming dehydrated, tiredness tells us that it’s time to stop, rest and recharge. Sleep is vital for muscle growth, tissue repair and rejuvenation, protein synthesis, conserving energy, boosting immunity and dozens of other scientific reasons why we need regular doses of shut-eye.

All parents recognise those telltale signs when their child becomes overly tired. Even newborns send out distinctive signals that it is time to shut off, such as becoming increasingly upset and cranky. As your baby grows into a toddler, her behaviour will become more unreasonable, unpredictable and poor, not to put too fine a point on it! Alongside tantrums, physically there’s eye rubbing, ear tugging, thumb sucking and any other means your child can seek comfort without actually settling down to sleep.

As parents it’s our responsibility to teach our children a number of basic life skills, and how and when to sleep is no exception. Any child who is exposed to a set bedtime routine from an early age will benefit from the clear knowledge of expectation and the reassurance of certain boundaries. Older children who are rarely indulged in staying up late do not generally expect to be allowed to ג€˜bend the rules’, and if bedtime is the same time each night, then it becomes less of a situation whereby the parent is forcing the issue and more of the ג€˜done thing’.

Establishing a set bedtime routine is important not only for your child but for you. No matter how much you love being a parent, it’s important to carve out some time for you (and your partner) to recharge your batteries and maintain grownup activities and relationships. It’s important for your older child to learn to accept and respect this, eventually seeing Mummy as a person in her own right with her own needs and preferences (even if this does mean doing the ironing at 9.30pm).

As a rough guide, here is the amount of sleep experts recommend children need at different stages of their development:

1 month: 6.75 hours (daytime), 6.75 hours (night time)

6 months: 4 hours (daytime), 10 hours (night time)

9 months: 2.75 hours (daytime), 11.25 hours (night time)

12 months: 2.5 hours (daytime), 11.5 hours (night time)

2 years: 1.25 hours (daytime), 11.75 hours (night time)

5 years: 11 hours

8 years: 10.25 hours

10 years: 9.75 hours

Obviously as your child matures, the exact time of bedtime will gradually get later. Children of school age take great pride in being allowed to stay up longer just because they’re a year older ג€“ it’s especially important with older siblings to make them feel more grownup than the baby of the house.

Providing your child achieves the right amount of sleep each night and you stick to set bedtimes (and naptimes for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers), you should expect to enjoy better behaviour, an increase in alertness, responsiveness and rationality, and a general improvement in health and wellbeing.

Bryony Sutherland

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