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Is Your Child a Night Owl?

It's 11 p.m. on a school night. You're standing in the doorway of your 8-year-old's bedroom delivering a warning.

"If you don't get to sleep right now, I'm going to..." What? Let's face it: Parents cannot make children fall asleep on command.

If you're the parent of a night owl child whose inner clock tends to keep him or her up an hour or two later than other children, there's no sense insisting on the child falling asleep at an unrealistic bedtime.

Parents can spare themselves enormous frustration by being flexible about bedtimes. Aim for nine or 10 hours of sleep, but if the child gets an hour or two less on some nights, don't panic.

Here are tips for helping (not forcing) your grade-schooler to drift off to dreamland:

  • Keep bedtime rituals positive and no more than 30 minutes long. They should be firm and consistent.

  • Establish a winding down routine each night. For example, read a story to the child in the same place.

  • Encourage a pre-bedtime bath or warm shower. The soothing rush and sound of water often serves as a natural sleep aid for kids.

  • For younger children maintain the same bedtime every night regardless of whether it’s a weekend, holiday, or even summertime.

  • Keep TVs and other electronic devices, such as tablets or computers, out of your child's room.

  • Your child shouldn't eat a large meal within 4 hours of sleep. A light snack is OK.

  • Exercise can help your child get to sleep, but he or she should avoid vigorous exercise 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.

  • Keep your child's bedroom as dark as possible at night. Make sure he or she has bright sunlight early in the morning soon after waking up.

  • Keep your sense of humor. Remember that wrestling with kids over bedtime is a universal experience.

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Bass, Pat F. III, MD, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 1/4/2014
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