CBS Local — For most parents, telling their kid aged between 2 and 10 years old that it’s bedtime is met with resistance. Sleep is important for young children, so parents stick to the bedtime and take the headache that comes with enforcing it.
But, what if it’s not that important for kids to get to bed early? What if dealing with the tantrum isn’t worth it? According to science writer Maggie Koerth-Baker, the notion of a bedtime is more a social construct than a science-backed parenting strategy.
“Truly, bedtimes are one of the great injustices of American childhood,” said Koerth-Baker, via FiveThirtyEight. “Turns out, they’re also a pretty good example of how sleep — a biological need that we can’t live without — is intertwined with the much more subjective vagaries of culture.”
Koerth-Baker leans on research that shows sleep needs for every child is not the same. Some need to sleep a lot, and an early bedtime makes sense, but not all. Sometimes they’re resisting bedtime because they truly aren’t tired and will lay awake in bed for a few hours.
“Research on American kids suggests that ‘bedtime resistance’—that fist-in-the-air struggle against the oppressive forces of lights-out via tantrums—is common and increases as children age,” said Koerth-Baker. “Kids need to sleep, and they generally sleep more than adults, especially when they’re really young. But there’s a lot of variability in what’s healthy.”
Oskar Jenni, a Swiss researcher at the Child Development Center of the University Children’s Hospital Zurich, echoes what Koerth-Baker says.
“What constitutes normal, healthy sleep changes between individuals, and kids are even more variable than adults,” said Jenni. “That fact often clashes with the reality that bedtimes are sociocultural decisions based, at least in part, on parents’ expectations of how long kids should sleep.”