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Why Are So Many Little Kids Up Till All Hours?!

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Elizabeth Kuster:I was walking through NYC's Union Square Saturday night at 11 PM. There, amidst dozens of skateboarders and bar-hopping drunks, I spotted lots of little kids (aged, I'd guess, somewhere between 4 and 9). The kids were all hopped up on adrenaline, running around and screaming with glee -- in short, they were just about as far from Sleepy Land (and their beds) as they could get.

kid yawning

Same thing happened on the subway not too long ago, too -- only it was even LATER. I was riding the train home after midnight (on a school night!), and there, in my car, were lots of bright-eyed little kids! They were rough-housing, dancing, playing and arguing while their moms either dozed or chatted with each other, seemingly unconcerned. It was almost 1 AM.

It's not just New York City kids who are up late, either, I've noticed. One of my dear friends lives in the Midwest, and we once agreed that 10 PM was a good time for me to call, "because the kids will be asleep." Only whenever I call around that time, they rarely are! Best-case scenario? They're tucked in for the night and my friend is calming them down by reading them a bedtime story. But often, I can hear the kids running around in the background, even though the entire household has to get up at 6ish. My friend's kids are 2 and 5 years old.


Up until I was 9 years old, I had to be in bed with the light out at 8 PM. My sister, who is three years older, got to stay up one precious hour longer -- of which I was insanely jealous. I distinctly remember being in bed one summer "night" while THE SUN WAS STILL SHINING. A neighbor girl tapped on my bedroom window and taunted me: "Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah. You're i-in be-ed! I'm sti-ill play-ing!" I felt humiliated for about five minutes, then ... zzzzzzzz. Fact: My sister and I shared a room, but I never heard her come to bed. I was always ZONKED OUT by then.

Don't the parents of sleep-deprived tots realize that kids need a lot more sleep than adults? According to momlogic expert Jill Spivack, MSW, author of The Sleepeasy Solution and cofounder of Sleepy Planet Inc., toddlers aged 3 and under need 10.5 to 12 hours of sleep at night PLUS 1.5 to 3 hours of naptime. Once children give up napping, they need even MORE nighttime sleep. Tweens need about 10 hours a night.

"Children need deep, restorative sleep in order to develop to their peak potential cognitively, emotionally and physically," says Spivack. "Brain development, learning and memory are all supported by good sleep nutrition. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, results in decreased alertness and coordination. Sleep-deprived kids can have difficulty paying attention, concentrating and are at increased risk for anxiety, depression and mood swings. This will affect them in their play, in social situations, in their ability to tolerate frustration and in their general behavior."

Seems fairly obvious. So why are so many little kids not getting the sleep they need? Is it because their parents are those holier-than-thou types who scoff at people who get proper rest, saying things like, "I only need five hours of sleep" -- like good sleepers are stupid and/or lazy? (Attention, holier-than-thou types: You are deluded. No one can "get by" on five hours of sleep indefinitely. Sooner or later, it will bite you in the ass, health-wise.) Or, is it because the family schedule's so cram-packed there's just never a 12-hour window? Or, is it because one or both parents work, and they'd never see their children at all if the kids spent half the day snoozing?

Whatever the reason, it's the children who suffer -- and they can't do much about it. "Kids don't understand the importance of sleep," notes Spivack. "They need adults to lay down the rules and monitor them."

Moms, do you have a hard time fitting sleep into your kids' schedule? How do you handle it?

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30 comments so far | Post a comment now
Natalie July 1, 2010, 10:46 AM

My kids are all, currently, sleeping. They are 7 months, almost 3 years, and 4 1/2 years. The baby takes three 1.5-3 hour naps per day, and the other two sleep for 2-3 hours after lunch. My oldest two go to bed between 7 and 8 pm EVERY NIGHT (except on super special occations like the 4th of July), and they’re up between 6 and 7 every morning. Their sleep is my most important priority. Any parent who does different is doing a real disservice to their children.

Kamille July 1, 2010, 11:37 AM

My twin 2 year olds have a bedtime of 8 pm. We do not deviate from it unless it is a special occasion. They need their sleep and it’s noticeable when they don’t get enough. They also take a 2 - 3 hour nap after lunch at daycare. I also take advantage of this nap when I’m at home with them….it’s good for the whole household! If children don’t get their sleep, they not only get grumpy, but it affects their immune system, and learning/social abilities.

Melanie July 1, 2010, 12:19 PM

My son is 4yrs old and has always had a bedtime schedual. Until recently he was always in bed and sleep by 8pm. We are currently living in the UK and it’s bright outside till almost 10! Lately even if he is in bed by 8pm he isn’t alseep till 9pm even after a long day of playing outside. The only time our son is up crazy late is if we are traveling.

I think a lot of parents are letting their kids stay up so late because it’s convient for the parents plans. We have had friends that took they 2 yr old to a pub after a late dinner because the group was going and they didn’t want to miss out. I had to pick my husbands jaw up off the ground.

Angi July 1, 2010, 2:41 PM

Our boys are up late but they also get up later because that is our schedule. My husband works 12-9pm and we homeschool. And even though our boys are up late, they still get the proper amount of sleep. So, just because the kids are up later doesn’t automatically mean they are not getting enough sleep. They might just be a night owl family like us.

tennmom July 1, 2010, 4:04 PM

It takes my daughters an hour or so to wind down at night. If school is in session I have them do their bedtime routine at 8 then settle in to bed. They don’t have to go to sleep right away, just settle in.
During summer or a school break I still have them get ready for bed at 8 b/c my husband wakes at 5:30 every morning. During school breaks, if they want me to tuck them in, tuck-in time is 9. If they don’t want tuck-in, they can stay awake until midnight if they don’t have activities the next day.

Pamala July 1, 2010, 5:26 PM

The only time we go past the 8pm bedtime for my 4 year old is for special occasions. Frankly I don’t know why so many children are up so late these days.

I will say when she was an infant her schedule just happened to work out to be 10pm for a bedtime but she slept in until like 9am (I’m a SAHM). When that was no longer something that should be done, I started slowly pushing her bedtime up by half hours until we went until 8:30pm. Then recently she was exhibiting signs of needing more sleep (she doesn’t nap) so we moved it to 8pm.

Too many parents don’t like to make rules these days or feel schedules are bad. Frankly kids need schedules and structure and parents.

sew mom July 1, 2010, 10:04 PM

On a school night, my elementary schoolers are to be sleeping by 9 if at all possible. Once, during baseball season, we had them out later after practice at wal-mart and saw the teacher. I was mortified. When we aren’t due somewhere early next day, They may stay up late and sleep late.

Lori July 1, 2010, 11:13 PM

Like Angi, we’re a night owl family. The toddler flips out if she’s up past 8:30 pm, but our 4 year old often doesn’t get into bed until after 10:00, and then tries to fight it a bit longer. But, my kids get plenty of sleep. They usually sleep until at least 9:30 am and sometimes snooze until 10:30 or later. Then the toddler will take a 2-3 hour nap in the afternoon. I feel like we’re sometimes looked down upon because we’re night owls/late sleepers (why do all activities have to start at 10 am anyway?!), but that’s just our schedule and the kids get plenty of sleep. We’ll have to adjust when the school years roll around, but for now it works for us, and my kids are definitely well rested. It’s okay to have a different schedule and it’s okay to love to sleep past the crack of dawn.

Micaela  July 2, 2010, 10:37 AM

My cousin has always made snide remarks to me b/c I have both my kids on a schedule (12& 6), & seeing as she has 1 kid who is 6-she is the mom of all moms & knows better than anyone else. Anyway, her kids goes to bed hecka late b/c she wants to spend as much time as she can with him (weird, i know). He is moody & just falls out asleep at random times.

AC July 11, 2010, 1:21 PM

My wife tries to keep our kids (ages 3 and 6) up as late as possible. She’ll never admit it, but I know it’s because she wants to sleep late every morning (she’s a teacher and doesn’t work during the summer). I work every day and don’t get home until after 7pm every night, and when I get home I realize the kids haven’t eaten dinner, taken baths, or anything. In fact, after dinner my wife usually allows them to play outside until at least 8:30pm or later. By the time my wife’s nighttime shows are over and she’s done wasting time on the internet, it’s usually almost 10pm and the kids are still wide awake. They only sleep until about 7am, so I know they’re not getting enough sleep. I rarely ever say anything because I know she’ll bite my head off, but it really does bother me. My kids are always in a terrible mood and seem emotionally distraught. It has to be related to lack of sleep combined with the sugary junk food she’s feeding them all day long…

cc August 15, 2010, 2:47 PM

I live in Boise id and have the same thoughts. My 6,4 and 20 month old are all in bed by 7pm 95% of the time. I hear and see kids there age up and about at all hours. I don’t know how they function. My kids are onry even with all that sleep…lol

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