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Why We Should All Be Putting Our Kids to Bed Super Early, According to Science

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

If you’ve been defending your stance on putting your kids to bed early for years now, man am I right there with you. But I’ve got some good news: It looks like a new study is finally proving us right. (Well, for the most part.)

The study, published in the September Journal of Pediatrics, provides new evidence that preschoolers with earlier bedtimes are at a much lower risk for developing obesity in their teen years. In fact, study authors found that “preschool-aged children with early weekday bedtimes were one-half as likely as children with late bedtimes to be obese as adolescents.” In other words, establishing good sleep routines early could be a major factor in preventing childhood obesity altogether.

As for the link between the two, lead study author Sarah Anderson had this to say when speaking with CNN:

“Other research has shown benefits for children’s behavior, cognitive development and attention. Regular bedtime routines, including an early bedtime, also are linked to fewer sleep problems such as nighttime awakenings or difficulty falling asleep.”

According to Anderson, it’s not necessarily about the exact time you put your kids to bed, but rather the quality and quantity of sleep they’re getting that has lasting effects on many aspects of their behavior. And surprisingly, everything from their ability to regulate emotions, mental health issues, hormones, and metabolism can be affected by not getting enough sleep.

If your kids are anything like mine, then you probably know firsthand a late bedtime often results in a kid who just can’t get their act together the next day. They’re cranky, they’re distracted, and getting them to the bus on time is a special kind of hell. It should come as no surprise that kids need their sleep — and lots of it. But according to the experts, they need way more than we do.

Earlier this summer, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine updated their sleep recommendations for kids according to age; and let me tell you, it’s pretty eye-opening. Here are the new recommended guidelines for parents, based on a 24-hour period (including nap times):

  • Infants 4-12 months: 12-16 hours of sleep a night
  • Kids 1-2 years of age: 11-14 hours of sleep a night
  • Kids 3-5 years of age: 10-13 hours of sleep a night
  • Kids 6-12 years of age: 9-12 hours of sleep a night
  • Teens 13-18 years of age: 8-10 hours of sleep a night

It seems pretty clear by these guidelines that the question parents should really be asking themselves isn’t simply What’s a “normal” bedtime for my kid? but rather, How early should I be putting my kid to bed for them to get the amount of sleep their body truly needs?

For my boys, who are 4 and 7 years old, we aim to put them to bed by 7:30 PM on school nights. My 10-year-old on the other hand goes to bed between 8-8:30 PM. All of my kids get up around 7:00 AM to get ready for school. So, maybe our early bedtime routine (that seems way too early to everyone on our block) isn’t so crazy after all?

Dr. Sumit Bhargava, a clinical associate professor of pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine, also suggests parents set a bedtime that will help kids get the amount of sleep they need to be functional the next day. (After all, who wants to deal with a non-functioning pre-schooler? Or teen? Or … really, a non-functioning kid at any age is pretty much the worst. )

“An early bedtime, per se, will not necessarily affect a child’s physical health or mood and mental health in a positive way,” Dr. Bhargava told CNN. “The goal should be, choose an age-appropriate bedtime that allows the individual child to get the hours of sleep the child needs.”

In other words, it’s up to parents to figure out how well our kids are functioning and adjust their sleep accordingly. Because we all know that every child is different, but it also sounds like a lot of kids out there aren’t getting the sleep they need.

“Sleep is just as important to human life as eating and breathing,” adds Dr. Bhargava. “We spend almost a third of our lives sleeping.”

So the next time someone rolls their eyes as I tell them we have to leave an outing to get our kids to bed early, I’m gonna go ahead and let them — at least science is on my side this time.

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