As kids get a little older, bedtime can get a lot less demanding for parents. Gone are the days when every night was a saga of stories, songs, and frantic hunts for a favorite toy. Now your kids just want to be left alone and fall asleep cradling their smartphones.
But that shift can have a serious downside: Your kids may not be getting the good sleep they need. That affects just about everything else they’ll do during the day, like the food they choose to eat or deciding whether or not to exercise.
“Even older children need structure around bedtime,” says psychologist Roberta Golinkoff, PhD. “Kids that don’t have it are at a real disadvantage.”
Make an effort to get your family back on track by setting goals for better rest.
Goal 1: A Better Bedtime Routine
“All kids thrive on a routine,” says Natalie Muth, MD, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “If they have a regular bedtime, it’s easier for them to fall asleep and sleep through the night.”
No matter how old your kids are, you can start putting one in place:
Have a clear bedtime. The exact hour depends on your kids and their schedule. But keep in mind that the school-age kids need 9 to 12 hours of sleep and teens need 8 to 10.
Stick to it. Your kids might resist at first. But if you hold firm, they’ll stop the pleading and nightly negotiations for “just 5 more minutes!”
Start some good pre-bedtime rituals. Aim for about an hour of quiet time for everyone before bed, Golinkoff says. That doesn’t mean 60 minutes of computer games. Help your kids find calm ways to relax, like reading or drawing.
Goal 2: Less Screen Time
Experts say that screen time -- on phones, tablets, computers, and TVs -- is a serious barrier to getting a good night’s sleep.
“I see parents who come in worried about their kids being tired, wondering if they have anemia,” Muth says. “And then I talk to the kid and, nope, they’re just up late in bed texting on their phones.”
It’s a prime area to target when your goal is to improve sleep and relaxation. So set some ground rules to start:
Don’t allow screen time at bedtime. Turn off all your devices for at least an hour before bed, Muth says.
Limit total screen time during the day. Help your kids find ways to relax that don’t involve screens.Try using the parental settings on their devices, or on your router, to limit their screen time for you. Once they hit the limit, they’re cut off, and you don’t have to be the bad guy.
Make some parts of your home screen-free. They might include your dinner table, their bedrooms, and maybe even the car. That makes it easier for you to keep an eye on their use.
Goal 3: A Foundation for Better Sleep
A good night’s sleep isn’t just about changing bedtime rituals. The things your family does all day affect how soundly you snooze.
More moving. Kids who get enough exercise, at least an hour a day, sleep better at night. (The same goes for parents, too.)
Make time to relax. Methods like mindfulness meditation, yoga, or deep breathing can help kids learn how to de-stress and calm themselves. Or just spend time having fun as a family. Play board games or get outside together.
Keep their schedule manageable. Keep an eye on your kids’ commitments and help them choose wisely. Trying to do the school play, a team sport, piano lessons, and SAT practice is bound to make for sleepless nights and stressed-out kids.
Work Together as a Family
When you’re setting goals to change your family’s habits, experts say it’s important to include your kids in the conversation.
“If your kids are staying up too late, work it out together,” Golinkoff says. “Come up with a reasonable plan with their input.” If they understand why getting more rest is important and feel like they had a say in the solution, they may be more cooperative.
That also means that you may need to make some changes to your own habits or risk being outed as a hypocrite. “As parents, we’re all guilty of this sometimes,” Muth says. “But if your kids see you on your phone in bed, they’ll call you on it.”
So if your current way of unwinding at night is to binge-watch a TV series until the wee hours, it’s time to mend your ways. Do it for your kids. Maybe you’ll feel less like a zombie in the morning, too.