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June 23, 2024

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Late Bedtimes: Not Good for Brain

Don't get into negotiations over bedtime. Kids need sleep and for many, earlier to bed is best.

While the American Academy of Pediatrics says kids ages 2 to 3 should get 9 to 13 hours of sleep each night, a whole lot of tots are actually permitted to stay up as late as they want to night after night. In fact, quite a few parents allow their kids to call the shots when it comes to bed times. While most sleep specialists wax unenthusiastic about late bedtimes for kids, the toughest part of staying up late is actually on Mom and Dad.
“In most families, parents just aren’t going to have the energy to deal with a 3-year-old at 10:00 P.M., but I can’t tell you how many families I hear about who allow it,” says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., author of Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night’s Sleep (HarperCollins, 1997).
In many homes, hectic family schedules and the reluctance of late-working parents to pack their kids off to bed early are driving the longer days. In other households, sheer parental exhaustion is allowing kids to win the sleeptime skirmishes.

Are you letting your child rule the bedtime roost? Here are tips for getting him down earlier for that much needed sleep:

•    Push back your child’s bedtime by no more than 15 minutes a day or, better, by 15 minutes every two to three days.

•    Manipulate your child’s exposure to light, which experts say affects the hormones that control our internal clock. To help nudge an internal clock backward, aim for lots of bright light in the morning. Activity and natural light help too. So head to the playground after breakfast. At the other end, dim the lamps as it gets closer to bedtime.

•    Avoid stimulating activities before bedtime, including rowdy play, television watching, and video-game use. Substitute quiet, soothing rituals: a warm glass of milk, a bath, a bedtime story.


• “An early bedtime benefits a child’s physical health, as well as mood and mental health, because it allows time for restorative sleep, which is important for the repair and recovery of the brain and the body,” says Reut Gruber,  director of the Attention, Behavior and Sleep Lab at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute.

• To get your child to go to sleep, don’t negotiate bedtime. “Bedtime is not optional, and just as parents should not negotiate whether a child has to brush his or her teeth, they should not negotiate bedtime,” Gruber says. “With younger children, create a pleasant and calm bedtime routine that involves bath and story time. With older children who go to bed more independently, set a time in which they have to start their bedtime routine and a time when lights are off for the night. … For children of all age, make sure to remove electronic devices from the bedroom in advance of the bedtime. Children and adolescents cannot be expected to manage this themselves, and parental involvement is mandatory.”


  • Babies 4 months to 12 months should get 12 to 16 hours
  • Children 1 to 2 years old should get 11 to 14 hours
  • Children 3 to 5 years old should get 10 to 13 hours
  • Children 6 to 12 years old should get nine to 12 hours
  • Teenagers 13 to 18 years old should get eight to 10 hours

About the Author

Susan Swindell Day, Editor

Susan Swindell Day is the editor in chief of Nashville Parent and the mom of four amazing kids.