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My sister-in-law and I had our first kids pretty close together. But where I was laid back (read: lazy) about schedules and sleeping arrangements, she made a plan in advance and stuck to it. From the day her son came home from the hospital, he had a bedtime. And it was early — before sunset early.
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My daughter’s bedtime was when she fell asleep in my lap and I put her in her crib. In fact, she didn’t really have a strict bedtime for years. She went to bed when dinner was over and the kitchen was clean and she was getting sleepy, which was 8 p.m. some nights and 10 p.m. others. I didn’t see what the big deal was about bedtimes, really, and thought my sister-in-law was crazy for cutting evenings short so as not to disturb bedtime.
Enter preschool. Suddenly, we had an awake time that we’d never had before … and it was early. Those first few weeks of wrestling her bedtime forward, minute by minute, were a special kind of hell. But once we had established an 8 p.m. bedtime, something amazing happened.
Everything fell into a rhythm. She woke up easily with a big appetite, ate breakfast, went to school, and came home at lunch with a big appetite. She ate and took a nap, and in the afternoons was full of energy and eager to help. She listened better and said no less often. Tantrums dwindled to nothing, as did pleas for snacks. Bedtimes were a delight. Life, in short, became easier and far more pleasant.
Since then, I have become an early-bedtime convert. No longer do I roll my eyes when my sister-in-law cuts an evening short to preserve bedtime integrity — in fact, I am right there with her. And it turns out that early bedtimes are not just anecdotally good for kids — according to Babble, they also lower kids’ risk for developing obesity later in life.
The study, published in the September Journal of Pediatrics, provides new evidence that preschoolers with earlier bedtimes are at a much lower risk for developing obesity in their teen years. In fact, study authors found that “preschool-aged children with early weekday bedtimes were one-half as likely as children with late bedtimes to be obese as adolescents.” In other words, establishing good sleep routines early could be a major factor in preventing childhood obesity altogether.
Early weekday bedtimes slash kids’ risk for teen obesity in half. That is a huge percentage — and when I read that, I couldn’t help but remember the marked difference in my daughter’s appetite when we finally started putting her to bed early.
A late bedtime usually included late-night snacking, and she was never very hungry in the morning. She would eat a little bit, then want a snack an hour later. And an hour after that. And a half-hour after that.
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An early bedtime not only circumvented late-night snacking, it also extended her sleep and improved it. She slept less fitfully, going to sleep easier and waking up with more energy. It seemed to me that a good night’s sleep stimulated her appetite and energy levels, so she was more willing to eat a large, balanced breakfast and then go for hours without feeling the need to recharge.
In fact, the study’s lead author confirmed that my lay observations were spot on. It isn’t necessarily about the time kids go to bed, it’s about making sure they get enough sleep, period. For preschool age kids, that’s 10 to 13 hours a night; for elementary school kids, 9 to 12 hours. Missing out on needed sleep can negatively affect their bodies’ ability to regulate emotions, hormones, and metabolism, as well as inhibiting cognitive development.
Simply put, sleep is as essential for our kids’ health as nutrition and exercise, and we should prioritize it accordingly. But if you need a little extra motivation to tackle bedtimes with a more discipline, just think of the benefits you’ll be getting in return: long, blissful hours of silence.