We all know that kids need to get enough sleep at night, but new research presented last week at the Australasian conference Sleep DownUnder found that giving kids an early bedtime, before 8:30 p.m., is also a key element of a happy, well-rested family. An earlier bedtime for kids means parents have more hours to focus on self-care, catch up on obligations, and spend alone time as a couple, plus they get a good night’s rest — and that makes for a more balanced life and happier adults.
“This is valuable information for parents, many of whom will know about how important it is for their kids to get lots of sleep overall but not much about how significant the bedtime itself is,” said lead researcher Dr. Jon Quach of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the University of Melbourne. The study included 3,600 Australian children during their first nine years of life, and results showed that the mothers of kids who went to bed before 8:30 p.m. had better mental health than mothers of kids with later bedtimes. “These benefits were seen in all early-to-bed kids regardless of whether they woke early or slept late,” Quach said.
These findings are no surprise to Conner Herman, co-founder of Dream Team Baby, an infant and toddler sleep consultancy based in Manhattan. “Those last moments of the day are such intense family time, and you’re using so much of yourself to be present for your child, but after bedtime the night is yours,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “That’s when you can relax your mind and your body and focus on any last things you need to get done or just talk to your partner or read or watch a show on TV. Everyone needs that shutting-down time.”
Herman notes that when kids have a late bedtime, parents often stay up even later just to squeeze in a few quiet moments or finish up work, and that may impact their own sleep. “REM sleep helps us process our days and then deep sleep restores our body’s balance,” says Herman. “There is no substitute for sleep, and if you’re not getting enough of it then you’re not able to have a clear mind during the day.”
According to the study, earlier bedtimes benefit the kids too — those with bedtimes before 8:30 p.m. had a higher health-related quality of life. “For babies and kids, the closer you can align them with their natural circadian rhythm, the easier it is for them to sleep,” Herman says. “If you keep a child up late, you limit their ability to sleep as long as they need to. Sure, they can stay up till 9:30 p.m., but they can’t sleep till 9:30 a.m. on most days — people have to get up and get going in the morning.”
Early bedtimes sound like a win-win, but what about parents who have to work late and hope for a little time with their kids when they get home? “There’s a workaround for every challenge if you think creatively,” says Herman, who advises her clients to consider the work they do at the end of the day. “It’s not often board meetings or things you need to be in the office for, so why not come home, have a peaceful, connective, early bedtime and then finish sending emails or doing paperwork in a quiet house?”
If you truly can’t get home before an earlier bedtime, Herman recommends making the morning your family time. “Yes, I know, night is more relaxed and intimate while mornings are hectic and full of logistics, but there is another way,” she says. “Set up everything the night before — plan breakfast, lay out clothes, do anything you can to make the morning go smoothly so you can have a nice, leisurely family moment before you start your day.” And then get those kids to bed before 8:30 p.m.
(Photo: Jamie Grill, Getty Images)