The answer is not that simple. There are cultural considerations, sleep requirements, and individual characteristics that come into play.
In many cultures later bedtimes are common for babies and children! But in Western society those evening hours are sacred. I think it has to do with the fact that we are such a fast paced, high achieving society.
We are just plain burnt out by the day’s end and need some quiet time.
So what does science have to say about bedtimes?
A research team, headed by Hoyniak and colleagues (2019), discovered something interesting.
They followed 500 tots over time, from the age of 2.5 to 3.5 years old. It was a longitudinal study looking at cognition, and socioeconomic status, but they looked at a number of other things as well – like bedtimes!
So what did they find?
They discovered that on average kids were not asleep until 9:30pm (even though the average bedtime was 8:50pm) Say…..what!?
Okay, why is this!?
To really understand, it’s worth taking a minute to remind you what averages mean (insert math class flash back here!)
In science there is something called a bell curve, which is commonly seen when researchers plot data from large groups of people. It helps us to understand averages.
Within the bell curve, “most people’ will fall within 95% of average. This 95% is generally thought of as “normal.”
Some people – the 2.5% on either end of the curve, will fall below or above that normal range. In general.
The bell curve applies to alllllll sorts of things. Anything from height, to weight, or even letter grades in school.
When we think about sleep this makes sense. Some kids will have early bedtimes, and others will have late bedtimes, but most will fall asleep around the same time (still with me?).
One thing to keep in mind here, is that our own sleep is an average too. We don’t sleep the exact same amount of minutes or hours each night.
We all have good nights, and bad nights.
Kids are no different!
So before you freak out that your child slept poorly, or was up late last night. Stop and think about the last few days. Or even the last week or month.
How do they sleep on average?
Later bedtimes have a lot to do with naps
Naps for toddlers and preschoolers are super beneficial, despite being under utilized in Western society.
Problem is….too long, or too late of a nap and your child might not be tired enough to sleep come bedtime.
Too nap, or not nap your child is an individual question. It really comes down to whether your child can tolerate a dropped nap. Many kids get cranky, wired, or emotional.
While your following child’s lead, and monitoring their mood and behaviour is always going to be your best bet. There are a number of sleep recommendations and guides spammed all over the web that can give a rough guideline on sleep. Like this one 😉
When reading guides like these, all I ask (or beg of you) is to pleeeeease keep those averages in mind.
Sleep is not one size fits all!
But, the reason I am sharing this with you today, is to illustrate another point. The kids in Hoyniak’s study were sleeping on average 8.18 hours a night at 30 months, up to 8.51 hours at 42 months old.
They were IN bed around 10 to 10.5 hours though. They just weren’t sleeping this entire time. The difference can be accounted for by the time spent falling asleep, or awake during the night.
Still, this is WAY different than recommended 10 to 13 hours of sleep (*in a 24 hour period) by the National Sleep Foundation.
In sleep and parenting groups, I often read about parents cutting naps short, or stopping them all together, so that they can get their child to bed “on time.”
On the whole there is nothing “wrong” with this practice. But, I really think our society needs to rethink this whole bedtime thing.
So the next time you “fight” to get your child to sleep by a specific time, so that you can enjoy that glass of vino in peace and solitude please keep all of this wonderful knowledge in mind.
Take home message – Don’t worry if your kid is up late.
It’s normal, and perfectly healthy to put your child to bed at a time that works for you AND your family.
When in doubt, look to your child. If they are happy and healthy you probably have nothing to worry about.
If you truly are concerned, then reach out and I will give you an honest opinion of whether I can help.
Oh any by the way, I have a FREE bedtime guide! Click HERE to learn more of my top tips.
Sleep well Mama!
~ Maisie Zzz
Hoyniak CP, Bates JE, Staples AD, Rudasill KM, Molfese DL, Molfese VJ. Child sleep and socioeconomic context in the development of cognitive abilities in early childhood. Child Development 2019; 90: 1718-1737.