Should Kids Stay Up All Night?

Summer schedules bring a freedom to parents and children alike that can be addictive and dangerous. Many parents choose to allow their children to play all night and sleep in all day under the belief that because it is summer, there’s no harm and no foul. That may not be accurate.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, infants sleep 14-17 hours per day. In addition to allowing parents who wake at all hours to feed and change their diapers a little time to sleep, infants are also growing at a fast rate and using one of God’s designs for accommodating that growth.

Parents usually attempt to put their infants to sleep by rocking or singing or otherwise entertaining them. Like all other things, the way we treat our children forms their patterns for accomplishing these tasks in the future. Parents who put their child into the crib just before they sleep—while they are only drowsy—develop the ability within their children to soothe themselves to sleep without adult intervention. Establishing the pattern of responding to your body’s drowsiness by putting your head down on your pillow and slipping into a good night’s sleep is a gift to give your children. It speaks to the security of your home, your loving attention and your willingness to allow some control over their own sleep. Trying to keep an absolutely quiet house during sleep is another trap that some parents fall into, but I digress. We could run the vacuum cleaner while our kids napped because we let normal noises continue normally during naptime.

Imagine throwing all these years of patterns away for a sporadic, sleep deprived life cycle! Research on jet lag tells us that changing our internal body clock by one hour requires as much as a day to recover. Crossing 6 time zones can require 3-5 days to restore your rhythms. Jet lag can bring about everything from headaches to dehydration to constipation to depression. It can even trigger a heart attack or stroke in predisposed individuals (adding the effects of altitude, stress and immobility, of course). Shouldn’t that tell us something?

Ask your child’s teacher in August about how difficult it was to get your child to focus and learn after a summer of anything goes with the clock. Sleep is as important as diet and exercise to our overall health. Obviously, the combination of poor sleep, long video game sessions and lack of exercise is literally putting our children’s health at risk and damaging their ability to learn.

It is tempting to allow the kids to stay up late so we can all sleep in tomorrow. A better method for gaining some peace is to establish the Love and Logic recommended practice of bed ROOM time rather than bed time. About an hour before the time you hope your child will sleep, ask her to retire to her bedroom for some reading, some music or any calm, soothing activity. She will be ready to sleep in a while like the infant who was allowed to finish the task of putting himself to sleep. It gives freedom to him and an hour of quiet time to you.

Freedom requires discipline. Use freedom to communicate the limits and consequences involved in choices. Try saying, “Feel free to stay awake as long as you are quiet and stay in your room.” Kids actually crave boundaries. It eases their minds to know where they can exist and play freely. The fence isn’t the enemy; it’s what keeps the ball in play.

Enjoy your summer. Relax bedroom time if you want. But don’t fall into the trap of discouraging sleep. It will take months to recover their sleep patterns if you aren’t careful.

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