Why a Consistent Bedtime is Far More Important Than You May Realize
Having a consistent bedtime (and bedtime routine) may seem like common knowledge as well as a good general recommendation for when you have kids of any age. However, if you’re constantly worn out and feeling fatigued, it’s about time you apply the same principles to your own sleep schedule!
Trouble Making "Bedtime" Happen is Normal
It's often hard to get a child to do things when they're supposed to, let alone try to pull this feat off at bedtime. Whether it's their thousand excuses to stay up later or a little one dealing with sleep regressions, it's seems like it's always something. Even if you're currently struggling with finding what works best for your kids and you, just know that you'll see quite a lot of benefits once you do.
Structure = Happy Children
It's well known that children—despite their protests—do best when they're provided with a structured environment. Without structure, they will not only not know what to expect, but this can also cause them anxiety that may be displayed through nervousness, aggression, or even further trouble falling asleep and staying that way (when it comes to bedtime).
When you provide your child with a set time to clean themselves up, get dressed for bed, and prepare to relax before they're expected to sleep for the night, this provides them with the structure they need and makes bedtime a set of habits that they will eventually learn to repeat each evening, training themselves to know what to expect and thereby sleep better by having a calmer mind and body.
This may not be the case with every child since all children are different, but in general, structure leads to improved moods, improved independence, and an improved sense of peace within the household.
Preventing the Nasty Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Everyone has seen children of all ages—and many adults—be tired and get extremely irritable. No one likes to be tired, but it happens. Not having a set sleep schedule is a huge contributor to this problem.
When you become sleep-deprived, you'll begin to have trouble focusing, decreased mood, depression, anxiety, and irritability. For adults, you may begin struggling to focus on tasks at work or in the home, forgetting things, or doing things incorrectly and making mistakes. For children, they may struggle to behave during playtime or have trouble learning (if they're in school).
Additionally, a lack of good sleep can eventually cause physical symptoms as well and lead to health problems. Ever felt sick to your stomach the morning after staying up too late studying back in the day? Not sleeping well nor enough hours at night throws your body off balance, and your body will certainly let you know about it.
You Get More "You" Time and Peace of Mind
My spouse has incredibly early work hours (leaving at 3:30 am most mornings), so it's mandatory that we have early bedtimes up in this house as well. A shock to those of us that know us and just recently found out why we don't answer the phone in the afternoons: we get to bed at 6:30 pm each night.
Is everyone asleep at 6:30? No. However, this gives us time to begin letting our bodies rest to prepare for the early wakeup each day. Our preteen often crashes around 7:00 pm (despite her insistence that "she totally stays up late every night"), or she is allowed to quietly read some of her books if she isn't fully ready to close her eyes just yet. Our toddler is in the process of quitting her naps, so bedtime is still a bit like roulette with her: will she watch a few funny videos on our phones and go to sleep without a fuss, or will she scream like a wild animal and try to fist fight everyone in her state of complete exhaustion? It varies each day.
Once those two are settled though, my spouse typically falls asleep shortly afterward or reads a book until I hear him snoring. I, on the other hand, get those few moments and sometimes even hours of peace. After homeschooling the oldest all day, keeping up with the wild toddler all day, tending to the house and all of its 5,000 chores nonstop, and working from home, I finally get some time to myself. I might mess up and choose to get a bit more work done, but often, I will simply give myself some free time to practice a new language, read a book, or even just do some stretches while listening to the music I like. I struggle with insomnia—and have for most of my life—so I don't sleep easily nor deeply. Having the time to do things to take care of myself, relax, or even just goof off and scroll through social media on my phone until I doze off is such a huge relief after the excessive amount of stimulation every single day.
Note: This is also the prime time—once your kids are confirmed asleep—to bust out that good candy you've been hiding from them. You'll have plenty of time to hide the evidence of it while they're sleeping, too.
How to Inform Your Kids It's Actually Bedtime
So, you've decided on when you'd like bedtime to occur and how you would like it to occur. Most likely, your kids will have different opinions than you on this issue.
Every parent has their own way that works best for them when it comes to getting their children to comply with new rules, restrictions, or ways of doing things around the home. Do what you gotta do to make it happen, and stick with it to make sure the changes really happen—and I promise you, it will all eventually stick and happen.
With our two kids, we took the approach of informing them what was up and then starting our nightly "getting ready for bed" processes at the desired time. They put up a good bit of fuss at first—and there isn't much reasoning with a toddler—but the preteen at least whined and complained and then read a book in her room to let the rest of us get to sleep. I assure you that waking everyone up at the crack of dawn certainly helped us make these changes because the kids began to be exhausted early in the evening from starting their days so early.
We're now at the point that they're both still slow to get up when needed, but there are no more complaints or questions about "why are we going to bed so early?!" anymore, and going to bed at night has become a much more calm process that they both simply accept as "how things are" around here.
"Revenge Bedtime Procrastination" is a Thing
Have you found yourself staying up far later than you know you should just to get some semblance of "you" time?
If you would have been able to fall asleep and get a full night's rest, but you chose instead to force yourself to stay up to do some things at the expense of your sleep time, this is referred to as "revenge bedtime procrastination." This is simply making the conscious decision to sacrifice the sleep you could easily get by staying up and doing other things. Unfortunately, this is also very common among parents—especially the moms and dads that stay at home and are the primary caretakers of little ones throughout the day.
Although it may help some with our mental health to take those quiet post-child-wrangling hours to relax and mindlessly scroll through distractions, it's actually doing quite a bit of damage by not letting our bodies—and minds—get the rest that they need. If you find yourself engaging in this habit on the regular, you may need to re-evaluate how you spend your time to try to find some type of balance between getting adequate rest and also somehow finding the time to decompress and have those moments to yourself. I know, it's far easier said than done. However, as parents, we need to still make sure to take care of ourselves to ensure we can also take care of our kids.
When Exhaustion Doesn't Improve
If you make the changes to try to improve your sleep habits, provide your kids with better sleep structure, and have a more stable schedule in general each day but notice that you or your kids still struggle with what seems to be exhaustion, excessive sleepiness, or unusual irritability, it may be time to consult a physician.
Any physical or emotional changes that don't improve over time require the assistance of a trained healthcare professional. Your doctor—as well as your kids' pediatrician—will be able to run bloodwork to check for underlying health issues along with providing screening for possible mental health concerns if your physical and psychological wellbeing does not improve after fixing your nighttime sleep habits.