Children and Bedtime

By Pam Henderson

When the clock springs forward on March 11, some children will struggle with having to go to bed an hour earlier. They can’t quite grasp the concept that morning will arrive 60 minutes sooner than it had the previous day. It calls for parents to summon all of their patience as the bedtime battle wages, waiting for the time on their children’s internal clocks to catch up to the time on the night stand clock. The challenge of putting little ones down for bed oftentimes intensifies in the summer, when daylight seems to last forever and there is enough natural light to read a novel outdoors at 9:00 pm. How can it be bedtime when the world outside is telling you it’s playtime?

Still, sleep is reparative and making sure your little one gets a good night of shut eye will help him be healthier and happier. It will also help you to be healthier and happier. Any sleep-deprived parent can attest to the decreased productivity and weakened focus that follows a poor night’s sleep.

Surprisingly, cultures around the world approach children’s bedtime differently. Researchers, in a 2-year study sponsored by Johnson & Johnson, analyzed over 29,000 families in North America, Europe, Asia and Oceania. They surveyed parents about bedtimes of their children ages 3 years and younger.

In the United States, parents’ responses found that the average bedtime is 8:52 pm. A world away in New Zealand, children are in bed one hour and 24 minutes earlier. Their neighbors in Australia get to stay up 15 minutes later. Yet, in Hong Kong, parents reported sending their little ones to bed at 10:17 pm.

Long-known for late night dinner times, families in Spain begin their social life when most Americans are already deep in the rapid eye movement cycle. According to BBC Travel, Spaniards’ lifestyle contributes to the late dinners –  the two-hour mid-day siestas keep them at work longer – until 8:00 pm. Consequently, dinner is much later, so bedtime is much later.

Professor Sarah Harkness, who has pursued a separate bedtime study in her work at the University of Connecticut, found out firsthand how late night is embraced by Spaniards. She was invited by a Spanish colleague to attend a preschool performance at a local festival – start time was at 11:00 pm.

It may work well for South Korean children to go to bed at 10:06 pm, but most American parents would be fighting a sleepy-eyed monster when 7:00 am rolls around the next morning. Generally speaking, we’re not accustomed to our young children being up so late. But, it demonstrates that there is more than one way to put a child to sleep. Families follow a bedtime schedule that works for their situation.

In any event, keep in mind these recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics to be sure that your little is getting the necessary sleep on a regular basis to promote optimal health:

We may put our children to bed at different times around the world, but one thing we have in common when bedtime does arrive – most mothers are coaxing, humming or singing their babies to sleep.