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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.

WTH?!

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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