In Which Bedtime is Banished

Posted: August 26, 2010 in Parenting

When Noah was little, he was an early riser. I mean early : he never let us sleep later than six a.m., no matter what time we put him down.

In the ramp up to puberty, which started around age ten for him, Noah began sleeping later. He also began having trouble falling asleep (something that we still don’t know whether to attribute to puberty or heredity, as his father still sometimes suffers from it). I figured that since his body had started letting him sleep later than the roosters, it knew what it was doing. We dropped his bedtime and simply let him decide when he was ready to sleep, and let him sleep pretty much as late as he needed to.

For several years now, that has meant he’s up til four, five, or six in the morning and sleeps until three, four, or even five in the evening. He’s responsible about getting up early if he needs to and plans ahead for those mornings. I know my mother worries that he’ll never be able to hold a job with a “normal” schedule if he’s allowed to live like this now. I wholeheartedly disagree, but I suspect the point will be moot: musicians aren’t known for keeping bankers’ hours, after all.

But my thinking on the subject of bedtime has always been: if he’s getting enough sleep — and if he’s not interrupting my sleep — he can keep any schedule he wants to. It’s not like he has to get up for school or anything.

Nighttime has since become Noah’s favorite time of day. He gets uninterrupted access to the XBox, peace and quiet, personal space, alone time. Like his mother, I think he savors being alone to do his thing.

But all that’s about to change: his little brother has apparently hit the puberty on-ramp now, too.

Aengus (who desperately wants to be like his brother) has been asking for ages now that his bedtime be dropped as well. My concern with that thus far has been that no matter what time he goes to bed, his body gets him up between seven and eight in the morning. Sleep is vital to good health, I’ve explained, so until his body starts letting him sleep in, it’s important that he go to bed a bit on the early side. I promised Aengus that once he’s able to sleep late any time that he’s stayed up late, we’ll drop his bedtime.

But even so, I think we’ve been pretty laid back: his bedtime, at nine years old, is ten o’clock. And not rigidly ten: as long as he’s up in his room before Jon Stewart, I don’t bat an eyelash.

The last two weeks or so have become difficult, though. He’s been having trouble getting to sleep and, in fact, now experiences a burst of energy when he “should” be settling down for the night. Were he younger, I’d say he’s getting a second wind that could be avoided if we got him to bed earlier. But, knowing what puberty does to a body, I’m pretty confident that would be fighting a losing battle at his age.

He’s also been sleeping correspondingly later in the morning, not getting up until after ten for a few weeks now, and not until almost noon for the past week. Though he hasn’t asked me to keep my promise, I knew it was time.

Today, we banished forevermore “bedtime” in our home.

Aengus will be given reminders, of course, about listening to his body’s cues and settling down when it shows signs of being ready for sleep. And we’ll have to talk a lot about going to bed earlier than usual when we have places to go the next day. And he most definitely will be lectured about the dangers of waking mom in the middle of the night. But being given responsibility is the best way I know to learn how to handle it. And so it’s time.

Noah is not going to like this.

  1. Dawn Alger says:

    It sounds like you have taken a really healthy and sensible approach to bedtime Adesa. I’ve learned something from this too. Fionn is nine now. I will be keeping an eye on him and his sleep patterns and adopt a routine more like this for him when it’s time.

  2. mecarol says:

    Thanks for giving me something to look forward to. This *double thumbs* night owl has a hard time with early rising youngsters.

  3. Our 2.5 yr old’s bedtime has been moving steadily later into the night (last night we all went to bed at 10:20pm – ugh). But ours is a function of teetering on that last nap – if he takes a nap, he’s up late. But if he doesn’t take a nap, he is a cranky kid for the rest of the day *and* he doesn’t get to spend quality time with Tom, who doesn’t get home til 6:30pm. I miss having adult time after 9pm, but I’m at a loss of what to do. (sigh)

    By the way – I truly appreciated your comment on the “a corporal punishment fallacy” post. Would you be at all interested in spinning the last half of your comment (starting with “hold kids responsible for their actions”) into a guest post for me? I’d love to host a piece from you!

    • homeboys says:

      Have you tried waking him up so that he gets just a short power nap? I know they say never to wake a baby, but these transitional times are so hard!

      But what *I* would have tried is to let him have his full nap. Then I’d explain to him that everyone goes into their rooms for quiet time at 9 o’clock. Do the regular bedtime routine with him (story, teeth, song, whatever), then he can look at books, color, or some other quiet activity, but he must 1– be *ready* for bed by 9:30 (no in-and-out for drinks, snacks, etc.); and 2– stay quiet. Then I’d go have my adult time and poke my head into his room at 9:30 and say, “Okay, lights out!”

      The point would be to add a step in his routine that includes time for you to have your adult time without sending him off to *sleep* before he’s ready. And once it’s part of the routine, you can adjust the times to suit all the family members.

      My kids are older, and I know I sometimes forget how challenging littles can be. But even at two they can start learning how to be on their own for a bit. In our family, it was the morning that was an issue. God, how I hated getting up early! But I showed those boys *real* quick how to operate the TV; Noah was just two and could put a tape in the VCR and get it going for himself.

      I got a little more sleep, the kids got my undivided attention while I had my coffee (my way of saying “thanks for letting me sleep”) and it no longer mattered that we were on slightly different schedules.

      When kids are little, we make sacrifices because they don’t understand compromising to make everyone happy. But as they get older, they can at least get into routines that accommodate everyone, until they eventually understand why.

      As for a guest post, let me ponder the subject more concretely and see if I can come up with something coherent. 😉

      Nice to “meet” you, by the way!

  4. I’m on the fence about bedtimes for the older kids. *They* aren’t morning people, but *I* need to be able to plan some family time in the mornings to keep my sense of balance and accomplishment. I have yet to figure it all out.

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