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Sleep Problems Aren't Just for Babies


It's one of the Big 3 baby topics from Day 1. Is he sleeping through the night? Napping? Going to bed easily? Are you setting up the proper routine to encourage sleep?

But then, surprise, you wake up one day and sleep is no longer the topic du jour. In fact, as kids move beyond toddlerhood, sleep problems become taboo. They're deep, dark secrets, says Jodi A. Mindell, the associate director of the Sleep Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the author of "Take Charge of Your Child's Sleep."

Sleep problems in children are common, affecting 25 to 40% of children, according to the 2004 National Sleep Foundation's Sleep in America poll, which Mindell headed up. Almost 30 percent of elementary school-aged kids (ages 6-12) have a parent lie down with them to fall asleep. Forty-three percent of school-aged children had a television in their rooms and 41 percent of the children drank at least one caffeinated beverage per day.

All of these behaviors and other sleep problems, such as bed-wetting, mean that most elementary schoolers are not getting the 9-11 hours of sleep they need per night, Mindell said.

So, what should a parent do to promote a less sleep-deprived household? Here's Mindell's advice, depending on the issue:

Problem: My child can't fall asleep without me.

Solution: Parents should focus on bedtime rather than middle of the night wakings, even if those are occurring. Now that your child is older, you've got communication on your side. Reason with your child that it's time to make a change. Focus him on the fact that once he can fall asleep without you, he'll be happier about having sleepovers at friends' houses, that he'll be able to go on overnight school trips and to overnight camp. Then gradually make a change. Sit in a chair next to the bed instead of lying down. Gradually move the chair to the doorway, then outside.

Problem: My child wets the bed.

Solution: Bed-wetting is highly common and more likely in boys. When you're 4, it's fine. but when you're 8 or 9 or 10, it becomes disruptive by causing extra laundry, expensive for parents who are buying pull-ups and embarrassing for kids who start avoiding social situations like sleepovers. There are two types of bed-wetting: primary and secondary. Primary bed wetters have never been consistently dry at night. Their bodies have never matured enough to allow them to hold their urine at night. Secondary bed wetters are kids who have been dry and have developed the problem. These children likely are dealing with a urinary tract infection or a psychological issue such as stress.

Bed-wetting usually isn't treated before the age of 7. Medications are available and for some families, that's a good way to go. These can be used sporadically for special occasions like sleepovers. Another approach is an alarm system. These usually have a sensor that attaches to the sheets or underwear and wakes the child up at the first bit of wetness. Over time, the alarm teaches the child to awaken at the feeling of a full bladder. Eventually, the child won't need the alarm. It's very effective.

Problem: My child's teacher says he's falling asleep in school.

Solution: Often, parents don't know when their child is not getting enough sleep. But teachers do because the child is dozing in class. By school age, children should be raring to go all day. If that's not the case, the parent needs to figure out why. The reason is usually that the child isn't getting enough sleep at night. Maybe the cause is a bedtime that's too late. Maybe the child's being influenced by sleep stealers, such as caffeinated beverages, TV in the bedroom, late-night instant messaging, texting or electronic use under the covers. A good bedtime routine involves 20 to 30 minutes of wind-down time, a room without bright lights and a bedtime not later than 9 p.m.

How well do your children sleep at night?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  February 23, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers
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We had intermittent sleep problems with our two daughters -- especially thru ages 7-10. Realized three causes. Overtired. Stress (usually about something at school). And a mismatch between physical and mental tiredness. Overtired ? Get them to bed earlier: 8.30pm is good. Not physically tired ? Take them for a brisk walk --- listen for the nightlife; learn about stars; whatever --- after supper & homework. Stress is hardest to cope with. Beyond talking about the problem. Basic message, tho: going to sleep is a habit. For kids, as for adults, triggered by a ritual and unvarying series of actions. Useful if these take 10-15 minutes. (Brushing teeth; selecting favoured cuddly etc.) Parental bedtime reading we found was essential --- ten minutes worked. Also a warm bedtime drink: chocolate, Horlicks, anything sugary. Waking with bad dreams, as one daughter did ? "The wicked witch" plagued her. We found it worked to give her a couple of simple things to say in her half-waking dream --- "Witch, begone" etc --- which would empower her. That, reinforced a few times, worked.

Posted by: barrynewsweek | February 23, 2009 2:41 AM | Report abuse

Our son had the primary bedwetting problem and I found it very aggrevating that the doctors refused to consider it a problem until he was at least 6. When he turned 5 he flat out refused to wear pull-ups and was in constant denial about the problem. The amount of laundry we have with 3 kids is astonishing and having to wash sheets every day was overwhelming. We did some research and reading online and found that the alarm system got great reviews and the rate at which the system worked depended on age. The older the kid, the longer it took to work. We put that alarm on him about 3 months before he turned 6 and by 2 months later he was consistently dry. The big deal was getting if off when he turned 6. We put it on our 3 year old when she was able to be dry most nights but still had regular night-time accidents. It was less than a month for her to be consistently dry.

I don't understand why the delay - a 5 or six year old shouldn't be wetting the bed every night and needs help teaching the body to wake up. Our oldest boy was still having day time accidents (which no doctor seems to know what to do about) and getting him dry at night significantly reduced his daytime problems.

Posted by: cqjudge | February 23, 2009 7:00 AM | Report abuse

The paper this weekend talked about the Obama's routine. Their children are in bed a 8 - no matter what. I think that's a little early, but I agree that a constant bedtime is the best strategy. Sleep needs to be a habit.

The article mentioned that they read all the Harry Potter books out loud to their youngest. I think taking on a few pages of a favorite book every night before bed is a great idea and not only helps your child with reading but gives you close time together that isn't full of the parent trying to change the child.

I had one son who was a bed wetter until he was about 10. It wasn't every night but it still happened. He was a heavy sleeper and not real mature for his age.

His room was a little stinky. You just can't be washing comforters and blankets every single day. I had a plastic cover on the mattress and changed the sheets all the time. Sheets are cheap you can easily own a lot of them.

The good news is that he outgrew it by the 5th grade.

Posted by: RedBird27 | February 23, 2009 7:10 AM | Report abuse

I think sleep is a greatly overlooked issue for kids. Sleep has always been a priority for us. Kids are 6 & 8 and they are in bed w/o fail at 7:45 and asleep by 8. They are up at about 6:50. I am amazed by the number of children who don't get enough sleep and the cluelessness of their parents. People who wouldn't dream of their child skipping a meal, will deprive their child of adequate rest. They are learning and growing significantly every day and they need adequate rest to do that. I believe that a good number (not all) of behavioral problems stem not from ADD, but from lack of proper rest.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 23, 2009 7:38 AM | Report abuse

Caffeine is a big problem, avoid anything with chocolate in it after 5 pm.

Posted by: mosl31 | February 23, 2009 7:49 AM | Report abuse

Moxie, we're with you in the early bedtime category: our two (7 and 3) are in bed by 8. Biggest problem is that the older one needs more sleep than the younger! It wasn't a problem until recently, because the girl sleeps the sleep of the dead, so he could fuss and fidget in his room, and she'd sleep right through. But we recently moved the boy out of his crib into a toddler bed. So now, when he gets bored, he just gets out of bed and walks next door looking for someone to play with! We're really, really hoping the novelty of being able to get out of bed by himself wears off soon. :-) But I fear that naptime is pretty much done (big sigh) -- he needs a solid night's sleep, so if nap means he can't settle at night, it's gotta go.

Posted by: laura33 | February 23, 2009 8:05 AM | Report abuse

I am with all of you who stress an early bedtime. My 2 year old recently gave up naps (really frustrating for me)but by 6:45 she is out cold and sleeps until 7:30. My 4 year olds and 7 year old are in bed by 7:30 and my 10 year old is there by 8, but usually reads until 8:30 or so.

I do have a 4 year old bedwetter. So far this problem is not a huge deal. My 7 year old went from never having been dry a night to being acident-free right before she turned 6.

Posted by: thosewilsongirls | February 23, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

One thing that we are running into, now that the kids are older, is activities that start at 7 pm or later. I'm amazed at the number of activites for 8 year olds that would keep them out until 8 or 9 on a school night. So far we've been able to work things out, but as he gets older, I'm hoping that he will need less sleep. Whatever happened to activities right after school at 3 and 4 pm?

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 23, 2009 8:53 AM | Report abuse

My kids, ages 7-10, are also firmly in the 7:45-8:00 bedtime routine. Since they are up at 6:30, a later bedtime would not provide enough sleep. Like earlier poster, my older one needed more sleep than younger one (about equalized by now). I agree with others--many parents have no idea that their children aren't getting enough sleep. Many friends and I noticed that when our kids hadn't had enough sleep, they had a harder time getting to sleep at night and woke up earlier the next morning. You can see how easily this could be misunderstood for getting too much sleep, since the same symptoms can mean two completely opposite things.

Posted by: janedoe5 | February 23, 2009 8:56 AM | Report abuse

My son (age 11) was never a good sleeper as a baby - it took until about age 2 for him to sleep through the night consistently. He still occasionally goes through stretches where he wakes up during the night... then just as suddenly it's over.

We try to keep his bedtime consistent (Sun-Thurs at least) but for some reason I find that the later he stays up at night the earlier he wakes in the morning. I'm not sure if it's related to his ADHD (he takes Focalin) or not.

Posted by: lorenw507 | February 23, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

I've used the "let 'em fall asleep when they get tired" strategy for my kids, so there is essentially no pre-determined bedtime at the Whacky household. Of course, if it gets too late, or there is a special event early the next day, or for various other reasons, I will insist the kid(s) go to their room where they can read a book until they fall asleep. Rarely have I ever had to fight the bedtime battle. The downside to this method is that the 6 year old usually doesn't go to bed until 9 or 10 at night, but as long as he isn't grumpy, it doesn't bother me. The other 3 kids, 12 through 17 have established their own sleeping habits.

Funny thing, my 6 year old has reversed the bedtime routine by putting *ME* to bed. I'll tell him that I'm ready to go to sleep, then he'll go to my room and make my bed, then he'll read me a book (required reading for school) as I fall asleep. Cute! Reading, as it is challanging for children his age, is also very exhausting. Other things that help - activities, especially exercise, shower/bath, dim lights, prayer and soft music help make a person sleepy.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | February 23, 2009 9:32 AM | Report abuse

I have always had early risers. We had to fight for about 2 years to get a reasonable bedtime out of my oldest (he was happy to go to bed at 6pm and wake up by 5am). Things finally regulated when he started kindergarten and now he falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow (around 8pm) and is usually up about 6am. There is a limit to how early you can put kids to bed if they insist on early rising. We usually have about one night a month when we get them to bed about 7pm so that they can catch up on sleep, but usually getting everyone in bed before 8pm is not possible. Between dinner and baths and homework and reading before bed, we are lucky if lights are out at 8pm. There are things you can do to encourage your child to go to sleep, but if anyone knows a way of KEEPING a child asleep later in the morning (other than going to bed early) PLEASE LET ME KNOW!

PS In case you can't tell, my husband and I are not early risers and this has been the bane of our child-rearing existance!

Posted by: cqjudge | February 23, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Amount of sleep is associated with height, and kids who grow to be tall get alot of sleep. Growth hormone is activated during sleep. Notice your child's friends over the next few years--the one's who sleep the most hours get taller and taller and the ones watching TV at 10:30 are shorter.
Also sleep is associated with weight--the fewer hours of sleep, the heavier the weight.

Posted by: Yorktown | February 23, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

To cqjudge: Sounds like yours has what Mindell described as a "strong internal clock." Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like there's much we parents can do to change that.

I, too, have an early riser. He's now 7 and finally getting to the age that we can tell him to go downstairs and play without us -- and sometimes he actually does it.

Posted by: StaceyGarfinkle | February 23, 2009 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Stacey, send your 7 yo to my house, please! My 7 yo will read in bed for up to 30 minutes before coming to wake me up. After that, she misses me too much (hasn't seen me ALL NIGHT) and needs an audience to hear what she has to say, and she always has plenty to say, because again, she hasn't had anyone listen to her ALL NIGHT. She isn't interested in doing anything by herself. My mother told me that eventually dd will begin sleeping in, but by that time I will be so used to waking up early that I won't be able to sleep in. Sigh

Posted by: janedoe5 | February 23, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

We only have the kids on weekend nights so I can't comment on their school schedule.

We have a 4 and a 6 year old. They go to bed at 9pm if all goes to schedule. This usually means they wake up around 7:45 to 8:15. This weekend they went to bed at 9:30pm and 10pm and we actually got them to sleep until 9am the next morning. Praise the Lord.

The time they go to bed and the time they go to sleep can vary widely. They have a choice of watching a DVD or reading books. Many times they stay up for the entire DVD (on average about 75 min) but fall asleep as soon as it is over. On reading nights, they tend to go to sleep faster. I read them one book each and they are allowed to look over the books until they fall asleep.

The most important change we have made (which has disrupted my sleep immensely) is switching them from the pull-out couch to a air mattress in our bedroom. We have a one bedroom condo so the sleeping arrangements are cramped and won't be changing soon. Because they are now in a room that has a door, I can get up to go to work on Saturdays without waking them up. This has increased their sleep about 30 minutes or more.

The person with the sleeping problem is actually me. I suffer greatly from insomnia. I find it a struggle to both fall asleep and stay asleep.

Posted by: Billie_R | February 23, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

My 18 month old has never slept well. We have tried everything that we know of - more cuddles, the horrible "cry it out," more food during the day, more nap, less nap, bedtime routine, and on and on. Unfortunately, he sleeps like I sleep - diffculty falling asleep, frequent waking and difficulty going back to sleep.

Now, we stay with him until he falls asleep in his own bed. Get up and comfort/cuddle/rock when he wakes in the night. Get up and sleep in the couch with him when he wakes and can not get back to sleep. Any and all suggestions are welcome.

I just keep telling myself that it won't last forever...(some one PLEASE tell me that is true!)

Posted by: VaLGaL | February 23, 2009 11:18 AM | Report abuse

"Whatever happened to activities right after school at 3 and 4 pm?"

How would that work again unless the activity is AT the school? Kids have to come home on the bus before we can drive them to the field or other location, so there's no way an activity can start before approximately 4:30. For those of us without a SAH spouse, activities that start before 7 put too much pressure on the whole family. Rush home. Rush dinner. Rush homework. Jump back into the car to get to soccer during rushhour. No thanks.

Posted by: anonfornow | February 23, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

activities that start before 7 put too much pressure on the whole family. Rush home. Rush dinner. Rush homework. Jump back into the car to get to soccer during rushhour. No thanks.
I can understand your rationale, but i guess the flip side is that many of the children end up either excluded from activites or chronically overtired. I'd rather battle rush hour traffic than have a kid who can't achieve their full potential because they aren't rested enough to learn properly. What's wrong with a ham sandwich for dinner in the car?

Janedoe, there is hope. My kids would wake up around 5 or 6 for what seemed like the longest time. Keeping them up won't make them sleep later. At some point, around k or 1st grade it seemed to switch. On the weekends once the youngest was about 4 we would put filled sippy cups in the fridge where they could reach and make sure the t.v. was set to Boomerang and they would get cereal and watch some tunes while we slept in, actually, just slept until the reasonable hour of say 7:30 or so. Good luck. ValGal the only suggestions I have are to remember that it really won't last forever and #2 make sure that he is as active as possible during the day but not too close to bedtime. Good luck.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 23, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

I'm guessing (just because I've been through similar things) that sleep is always a problem, but the particular issue often changes. I keep a mantra of "This too will change" (even while knowing the change might not be an improvement). And it will get better eventually. I've already got plans to buy an airhorn when my kids are teens - it makes me feel better to dream about waking them up once those teenage hormones kick in and all they want to do is sleep in!

Posted by: cqjudge | February 23, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

moxie/anon -- we're actually in the middle of this, because we both work full-time and can't do immediate after-school stuff, but also have a daughter who desperately needs to be in bed by 8 and so can't do the 7-7:30 PM things. Our biggest problem was that the two things my daughter was most interested in started at 4:30, which I just couldn't make happen on a regular basis.

Our priorities are bedtime and work constraints, which pretty much means that we only consider activities that start at either 6 or 6:30 -- and we only do one thing at a time, at least for now. It makes for hard choices, since she likes so many things, but none of us do well when we're pulled in too many directions. For that one night, we cut corners elsewhere in the schedule so the important stuff gets done; homework is the priority, which means my daughter has to really focus on getting it done at aftercare, but dinner is something microwaveable, and bath is generally skipped. So far, so good.

Oh, and there are also a lot of after-school clubs at her school that she could do right at 3:30 -- I didn't realize it until a few weeks ago, but the aftercare folks do a second pickup for the kids in the clubs. We'll definitely do one of those next year, now that she's settled.

Posted by: laura33 | February 23, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

I"m just curious -- how are you all managing such early bedtimes? We can't for the life of us seem to get DD (3) in bed before 8:15-8:30, and she usually takes a good hour to fall asleep. I'd love to move her bedtime earlier, but it seems impossible -- DH doesn't get home from work until 7:00 most nights, and we need to squeeze in dinner, bath, story, etc. before bedtime. To get an earlier bedtime, we'd have to give up family dinners and/or DH would have to give up spending time with his daughter during the week. Is there some trick I'm missing?

Posted by: newsahm | February 23, 2009 1:41 PM | Report abuse

VaLGaL, you're in for a real treat for the next few years. Round about kindergarten is when the parents cut out the nap so the kid will go to sleep at a reasonable hour. Parents resort to all kinds of remedies such as poking their little one or blasting music while driving down the road so he won't fall asleep in the afternoon.
Parents of kids at this age basically have a choice: toxic evening from tired child, or bedtime battle around 10:30 pm from well rested kid. There will be times the kid falls asleep at 6:00 pm and sleeps all night, then there will be times the kid falls asleep at 6:00 pm and wakes up at 10:00 pm and nothing short of a shot of Thorazine will calm him down, much less get him back to sleep.

I think that exercise throughout the day for kids is the most effective way to get them sleepy in the evening. Also, video games, especially of the educational variety, will tire some kids out. I know, video games are blamed for sleep problems for today's youngsters, but while they are alert, they may as well be learning something.

One last note. I've observed moms (and a few dads too) who seem to be in the constant state of trying to get their baby to sleep. They nurse or bottle feed their child 25 times a day or so and walk on eggshells trying to keep everything as quiet as possible, then their day is ruined by something as common as a phone call that wakes the baby. I think some of these parents are actually *causing* sleeplessness for their baby simply by removing the stimulation throughout the day that the child needs in order to get sleepy. In other words, some children aren't allowed to get tired enough to get the deep rest that is satisfying for both child and parent alike. Everybody ends up exhausted.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | February 23, 2009 1:55 PM | Report abuse

After school clubs are great. DD has tried art and basketball and hopefully girl scouts next year when she is in second grade. She walks to the club herself and the kids walk as a group to the day care which they almost see from basketball. No more rushing to eat before nonschool clubs.
Her day care helps her with her math homework and I do the reading which I need sign personally.

I get her from her school after care between 5:30 and 6 pm. She is almost always in bed by 8 pm and asleep before 9.
My DH thinks 8 pm is way too early. She gets up at 6:30 am to see me off and is normally cheerful.

Posted by: shdd | February 23, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Ha! Did someone mention a shot of Thorazine! (For me, please, please!)

Thanks moxie, cqjudge and Whacky for the reassurance. At least I don't feel quite so alone - I can't wait to get home this evening and tell Mr. GaL that so many others have the same experiences.

We do run him around the yard if it's nice out and around the house if not. We have family dance party (a video of this would probably win us the $10K on that show.) We have a more or less constant routine, but since we have tried various strategies, the routine changes slightly form time to time - that seems to make absolutely zero difference.

My husband is advocating the Whacky approach - let him stay up until he falls down, but I am certain that will result in more trouble, not less.

Anyway, thanks everyone just for telling your stories and making me feel like it's just a "thang" and it will, at least, turn into another "thang" down the road.

Oh, and FWIW, my boss tells me that it's a sign of genious when a child doesn't sleep well. Keep the hope alive.

Posted by: VaLGaL | February 23, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

My mother gives me that "the smarter they are the less sleep they need" line. I don't really care if it is true or not, it is something good to say about a difficult scenario. My oldest also had classic colic as a baby and the same thing was said about that. As far as I'm concerned, certain things need to be told to parents struggling, regardless of whether they are true or not - you need to have something to cling to!

Posted by: cqjudge | February 23, 2009 2:28 PM | Report abuse

"Whatever happened to activities right after school at 3 and 4 pm?"

Working parents is what happened. My son use to be in cub scouts, and meetings were routinely in the evening, sometimes ending at 8 or later. We dropped out eventually because it was a monumental waste of time and energy for us, and deprived us of precious family time. These days, we stick to one or two activities that meet early and end by 6 pm.

Posted by: emily8 | February 23, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: newsahm | February 23, 2009 1:41 PM | Report abuse

newsahm, well, I think the question is why you're asking? Does your daughter seem to need more sleep? Is it a "should"? Or is it just an interested "how does anyone pull that off?"

If this is a "should," my advice is to ignore it -- if you're following her own body clock, and she's well-rested and well-behaved during the day, then go with what works, and don't second-guess anything. I have the flip side of that: the morning risers, who wouldn't make it past 5:30 AM for the first 2.5 yrs. Tried everything to please please please make them sleep later, but ultimately just had to acknowledge that this is how they're made (the engineer gene is strong in these ones), so it's my job to work around that.

On the other hand, if your daughter is cranky and seems short on sleep, then, yeah, something's gotta give. You just can't squeeze in everything between 7 and 8 every night. For us, the "give" was dinner is at 6, period. Most of the time my husband's home by then, but if not, the kids and I eat -- more of a defense mechanism than anything else, because their heads start spinning 360 by about 6:15. :-) That then gives us a full 1.5 hrs between dinner and bedtime. We also don't try to do baths every night (since they don't usually get THAT dirty every day), and have streamlined the bedtime routine significantly.

I'd love kids who slept later and stayed up later; evenings would be less constrained, and boy, wouldn't weekends be nice. But I'm a big believer in dealing with what you have, instead of what you wish you had. Family dinner, family time, baths, books, bedtime routines -- all important things, and they make for a really nice mental picture of what I want for my kids. But, alas, my life was not painted by Norman Rockwell. So I just try to get as much as I can of the stuff that matters most to me, and not sweat the rest.

Posted by: laura33 | February 23, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

One of our problems with an early bedtime (before 8 pm) is that I often don't get home until 6ish or a little later. Which means that by the time we are done with dinner, homework, baths, and a little reading before bed, it is usually 9 pm at least. Both my husband and I are kinda disorganized types and the evening routinely gets away from us. And it is not in our personalities to keep a rigid schedule on a routine basis (although we can do it in a crisis situation). We do enjoy our somewhat chaotic evenings, but we can't seem to get the kids to bed before 9. The other part of this is that if we were to rush the kids into bed every night by 8, we would really miss our family time with them. Or at least I would, since I would only see them 2 hours out of the day.

Posted by: emily8 | February 23, 2009 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Newsahm - my husband doesn't ususally get home until about 6:45. I eat dinner with the kids, make sure they are bathed and in their pjs usually right after dinner. That way, dad can just enjoy his time with them before bedtime. We try to start reading at about 6:30 so they can each read 20 minutes aloud and then 20 minutes of mom or dad reading to them which leave 15 minutes for fooling around and getting teeth brushed with kids getting into bed at 7:45 hopefully asleep by 8:15. If they wish they may read in their beds for 30 mins which helps to mellow them, gives them some autonomy and encourages reading. I've not had many bedtime battles, which I attribute to either good luck or the fact that we have been exceedingly consistent with their bedtimes their whole life, even in summer. Last summer we moved things back to 9 but that was only after they learned how to sleep later. I'm a huge advocate of sleep and while I understand where you are coming from emily, I think while they are growing and learning that sleep is more important than family time, but we can certainly agree to disagree on that.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 23, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

"Whatever happened to activities right after school at 3 and 4 pm?"

Working parents, like Emily said, and competition for resources. When I used to coach youngest DD's 8U basketball team, we had 8-9 pm practice on a regular basis. It was unavoidable - the schools had the gyms until 6 pm for aftercare/other activities. So we couldn't start practices until then. Two teams practice at 6, two at 7, and then two teams got the 8-9 shift. We rotated it so that nobody got the late shift every time, but still.

Similarly with outdoor sports. Softball practices can't start until 5:30 because parents/coaches can't get there and the fields aren't available. Somebody gets the 5:30-7 slot and somebody gets the 7-8:30 slot.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | February 23, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

For those of you having trouble with toddlers who are leaving their rooms, buy a wall clock. The kids may not be old enough to tell time, but they ARE old enough to learn where the hands have to be before they can leave their rooms in the morning--or you can add decorations to the outside of the clock to help them.

We did this with our daughter at age 2 and a half or so. At age 9 now, she is one of the few kids we know who does get enough sleep. We have her in bed with the lights out no later than 8:30 (we aim for 8), and she wakes up around 6:30-7 am.

Posted by: SolontheGreat | February 23, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Oh my, when I needed help getting my kids to sleep without me lying with them every night, I turned to Mary Sheedy Kurcinka's book, Sleepless in America. Wow, it is great and has so much good advice regarding children's sleep issues, especially in toddlers and older kids. I found the 8 page summary on as I didn't have time to read the whole book. You could say I was sleep deprived myself :) has summaries of other great books on this topic as well.

Posted by: parentsdigest | February 23, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

I agree that many parents seem clueless when it comes to sleep issues. They want their sleep problems to go away, but they aren't willing to change their lifestyles to make it happen.
We have a 2 year old and almost-4 year old and for the most part they are GREAT sleepers and have been since before they turned 1. What has made the crucial difference, for us, was extreme consistency (though as they have gotten a bit older we have been able to be more flexible on occasion) and being willing to make sacrifices in OUR lives so that our children can get the sleep they need.
For our family, this means that right now, unless we go out to eat or have a dinner event (happens maybe once a month, rarely more), the kids are in bed before 7. My (almost) 4 year old daughter recently stopped napping because it was making it hard for her to fall asleep at night. So now she doesn't nap but goes to bed at 6:30, happily. My 2 year old still naps 2-3 hours a day and goes to bed at 6:45. Both kids wake up in the 6:30-7:30 range. I have found that on days when they go to bed later, they still get up at the same hour in the morning so there is lost sleep on those nights.
Now, because of the early bedtime, right now we generally don't eat dinner as a family because Dad doesn't usually get home until around 6:15, and by then they have eaten and had their bath and are in pj's waiting for him. But we eat breakfast together most days, and I feel like their is plenty of time for family meals in the years ahead- right now they need the sleep!
I guess what I'm trying to say is that when parents say "my kid just doesn't seem to need much sleep" , I think they are kidding themselves. There may be a very small number of children who truly have different sleep needs. But the number of parents who think their child is one of those can't be realistic!
Yes, it isn't always easy when your kids go to bed early. You have to make sacrifices to your own lives to make it happen. But I find, when my kids get enough sleep, they are happier and less prone to make my life difficult! There is a connection there. I saw it myself, before kids, when I taught young children.

Posted by: nfowife | February 23, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

"I can understand your rationale, but i guess the flip side is that many of the children end up either excluded from activites or chronically overtired."

It's not a rationale. We each know our kids best. What's best for our kids is not to be driven by the almighty schedule and eating a ham sandwich in the car (indigestion, the heck with family mealtime). They are neither excluded nor chronically overtired. They get about 9.5 hours of sleep per night, which is plenty for their ages. They come home, do their homework, do chores, eat dinner and are excited to go to [fill in the blank of your favorite sport]. By the time they get home around 8 or so, they are delighted to read bedtime stories together, wrap up our day peacefully, and go to bed with wonderful endorphines floating around in their bloodstreams.

There are no after-school activities available to them at their school. Even if there were, they are ready to leave that place at the end of the day and have a few cuddles and home-time before the next activity. To each his own.

I wouldn't put my kids to bed at 7 p.m., though, for any amount of money. Where is family life if your priority is shooing the kids away? Kindergartners, sure. 3rd graders? 9 p.m. is plenty early.

Posted by: anonfornow | February 23, 2009 4:55 PM | Report abuse

Certainly, it's a struggle. Kid has school til 3, usually at bus stop by 3:20 or so, we get home by 3:30 - then homework, snack, and on days like today - well, he has kung fu, at 4:30. I consciously do activities that are close by, so it's not a huge hassle - and many times I drop off, DH picks up.
So he does kung fu twice a week (the other day it's at 5:15, which means a later dinner, cause he doesn't get home til about 6:15).
So we try to do dinners at 6. And I consciously did not sign him up for any more activities cause it seemed that he had a lot going on - and that he wanted playdates - and so - well, - I just wanted not every moment to be scheduled.
Well DH decided he should do soccer (actually, he asked) - so that will take another day of the week.
It gets very busy very quickly.
We have dinner about 6 or so (kids are hungry by then, anyway) DH is usually homy by 5:30 or so, so no big deal about that. Then they get to play a little - if it's relatively nice, then we take a walk around the block or go do something outside. So then when they have a bath - it's up at 7 PM and then to bed by 8 (after bath, teeth, then stories, etc). The younger one seems to need less sleep, so he's the one that will stay up later (to be fair, the older one is up at 6:30, and the older one doesn't need to be up til 8:30, though).
And even with that - I can hardly get the older one out of bed in the AM (so that's what, 10 1/2 hours sleep? And sometimes they are in bed before 8).


Posted by: atlmom1234 | February 23, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

I can tell you I didn't get to stay up til 9 until at least middle school. Seriously. I remember vividly, given that my friends would talk about the shows they saw at 8 the night before, and I was off to bed by then.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | February 23, 2009 5:11 PM | Report abuse

I remember staying up to watch "Bonanza" and "I Love Lucy" when I was a little one. I sat in daddy's lap and my brother sat in mommy's lap. Good times.

Posted by: jezebel3 | February 23, 2009 6:23 PM | Report abuse

It's funny, my kids (4 and 6) had "sleep problems" too until we visited my mother in law in the country. She kept us busy from sun up until evening (she lives on a farm). Running around, feeding the chickens, playing with the cats, helping in the garden, all the fresh air, fresh organic food (ONLY veggies and fruit to eat. No fast food around), at bedtime, it was like someone drugged them. There was no discussion of nightlights, music, mom stay with me till I fall asleep, nothing. Just a relaxing bath, a story, and then, they would pass out. I thought being away from home was going to be a bedtime disaster, when in fact, it was the opposite. I even slept much better in the country too - no typical city noises, just the sound of the ocean and complete darkness.

Now, everyone can't up and move to the country (we can't), but I did realize that a lot of things we parents use in our daily lives (lights, tv, radio, computers) jazz kid's brains up and it's hard for them to find their natural body rhythms. Something as simple as turning off the tv in the evening might make it easier for kids to wind down naturally.

Posted by: catweasel3 | February 23, 2009 6:26 PM | Report abuse

When my youngest was born I decided the best way to get him to sleep was to follow his natural sleep patterns and let him "learn" when he was tired. I adjusted my schedule accordingly. We did that for the first 2 years. He is now 5 1/2 and sleeps through the night every night. He is asleep by 7:30 and up by 6:30. His Ped says that 5 to 7 year olds should be sleeping between 10 and 11 hours a night. Reducing about 1 hour every 2 years until puberty when it starts to increase by about 1 hour every year or 2.

Posted by: debraf66 | February 23, 2009 8:54 PM | Report abuse

I have a child who wet the bed nightly (often several times) until he was 8 years old. We solved his bedwetting by using an alarm. Some parents feel an alarm won't work because their child sleeps soooo deep,the child will sleep right through it. I believe these are the children who really need an alarm. My son was a deep sleeper too. He could sleep right through his brother practicing the trumpet in the next room. Studies have shown they are unusually difficult to rouse. This sleep pattern is not the correct, normal sleep for a child. So they are kind of in a state of exhaustion all the time - they just don't know it because it’s the only way they've ever known. Parents don't usually see it either cause your child sleeps so deeply you think he's getting a good nights sleep. So PLEASE try a bedwetting alarm. You MUST wake your child up every time the alarm goes off. After a while he will awaken and get up on his own. My child was dry every night after two months, and I know children who have responded in a few weeks but the key is do not give up too soon. You are changing a sleep pattern that has been in place years - it might take a few months. But remember a few months of patience and perseverance should yield years of dry nights.
The book that really helped me was, Seven Steps to Nighttime Dryness. And my child loved, Prince Bravery and Grace - Attack of the Wet Knights. It is the story of a young prince who struggles with "the Wet Knights" and eventually defeats them .The book is full of dragons and knights which children love, and it provides a kid friendly look at the challenges of defeating "the Wet Knights." has links to the books and lots of positive information about solving bedwetting.

Posted by: gailann59 | February 24, 2009 7:45 AM | Report abuse

When my oldest was 4yrs old he started waking up everyday at 5am. His internal clock wouldn't reset, even changing his bedtime didn't help. We initially had tried using a regular clock and showing him the numbers and telling him not to get up before 6am. Even though it was only an hour difference it was significant in our house. The issue really was the whole house was disrupted by him getting up early. Telling him to go back to sleep didn't work or even trying to lay with him to go back to sleep wouldn't help. Finally, I came up with a device to teach him how to know if he could get up or if he should continue to rest/sleep because everyone else was still resting. Basically I came up with a visual cue night light for him to know when it was time rest he would see a moon illuminated and when he sees the sun illuminate it was okay to get up. In fact I encouraged him to wake us up and let us know the sun is up so we can start our day. It is designed where you set when you want the moon to turn on (great for bedtime negotiations..when the moon comes on time for more bad cop) and when you program the sun to illuminate it is time to get up.It is based off of a classic conditioning model. The product is called good nite lite, and you can see more on our site ( This may not be a fit for everyone but for those who have a child who is struggling with wake up times we have seen tremendous success.

-A once sleep deprived Dad

Posted by: anelson2 | February 24, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

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