Got a parenting problem? Parentdish's agony aunt Liat Hughes Joshi and author of Raising Children: The Primary Years, plus her panel of experts from child psychologists to nutritionists, can help.
Q: My six-year-old daughter sleeps well but only goes to bed at 9pm which seems unusually late for her age. I've asked around and all her friends have earlier bedtimes. My husband doesn't think this is a problem (and it's mainly down to him she goes up to bed so late). On occasions when I am not at home and he is 'in charge', it seems it can be after 10pm by the time she's in bed. I think we need to bring her bedtime forward and stop the late nights if there's school the next day. Who is right? Z.K., London.
Your daughter's bedtime is indeed later than average for her age group but what matters more is not what time she goes to bed but whether the total number of hours' sleep she gets per night is enough for her. And I say 'for her' as children's sleep requirements do vary.
Typically though, a six-year-old needs between 10.5 and 11 hours a night (see the link below for more on sleep at different ages). You don't say what time she normally wakes up in the morning but you should work back from this instead of focusing on her bedtime. Given she goes to bed at 9pm and assuming it takes maybe 15 minutes for her to fall asleep, if she's up at around 7.45, that would be spot on. If she usually wakes at 7am, or earlier, then yes I'd have concerns that she might not be getting enough sleep each night.
But even then, the most important thing to consider is whether she seems well-rested.
Signs that she isn't might include:
Falling asleep in the daytime. Kids this age really shouldn't need to nap unless they are unwell. If she regularly nods off in the car, whilst watching TV or even at school that would be quite telling.
Struggling to wake up in the mornings and being grumpy and irritable when she does (although plenty of adults, including myself, qualify under this one!).
Finding it hard to get to sleep at night. I know this seems counter-intuitive but some children get 'wired' when tired and then fight sleep.
An inability to concentrate at school.
Note that individually many of these behaviours can be caused by other factors - you'll have to use your judgment to decide if it is lack of sleep.
If you do come to the conclusion that she isn't getting enough sleep and want to bring bedtime forward, she might struggle to adjust initially if her body clock expects to only doze off later on.
I consulted Dr Pat Spungin, child psychologist and author of Silent Nights, a guide to children's sleep, about this. She suggests you move her bedtime forward by 15 minutes per night until you get to the desired time. This way she can adjust slowly over a few days.
For long summer evenings, also make sure her bedroom is nice and dark – black out blinds aren't just useful for babies' rooms.
When it comes to those even later nights under your husband's parenting watch, I'm taking your side! When there's school the next day, children need a good night's sleep more than they need to stay up until all hours, no matter how much fun the two of them are having. Bedtimes can be relaxed a little at weekends, and more so in the holidays with fewer problems.
If you struggle to persuade him about this, perhaps you can quote Dr Spungin who warns: "Long term, children with no sleep routine can become chronically sleep-deprived. Behaviour will suffer and learning and development will be detrimentally affected."
You can also remind him that research shows a lack of sleep in children is also associated with higher rates of obesity. Good luck with changing his ways...
Advice on the number of hours sleep a night children of different ages need can be found here.
Liat Hughes Joshi is author of Raising Children: The Primary Years.
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