bedtime routine, or not – not a case for either

At Owen’s recent dental checkup, the dentist asked if he was brushing his teeth every night.

“Most nights,” I said. She asked what was preventing our brushing every night.

I said, “Bedtime is occasionally fraught, and if we don’t get it done about half an hour before bed, and he’s too tired and gets upset, it doesn’t get done. Bedtime varies some, we don’t have a strong routine.”

She hmmed. “Why do you not have a routine.”

I sighed. Maybe it was audible.

I explained simply, but there’s more to it than what I told her. There’s all of this:

Among other things, we have three parents with three different schedules or sets of needs. Casey has to be out the door for work earlyish, he commutes on public transit to SF. Audrey leaves as late as 11 a.m. because she has to drive to work and her route is very trafficky during rush hour, so she waits until that clears, and comes home late. On days they have a lot of work, they both come home late, but otherwise, that’s staggered too. Owen prefers (but doesn’t require) that Audrey help him go to bed.

Right now, he’s waking up around 8 and going to bed at around 10, most of the time. But … most of the time. His energy usage during the day varies. How well he sleeps at night varies. Those things affect when he’s able to go to sleep or wake up in the morning.

Then there’s me.

Of the three of us, I have the most apparently flexible schedule. I could even use an alarm clock to be up by a particular time, then get Owen up, then get him down at a particular time. But that seems so silly given Audrey and Casey’s variable hours. And because of my chronic pain, I sometimes have insomnia (though I have meds for the pain and insomnia, it can still be a bear) and then when Owen sleeps in, damned if I’m going to get up early to wake him up. He can sleep in so I can.

(A lot of this habit, or lack there of, was set during his long transition from naps to no-naps. If he napped he’d go to sleep later. If he didn’t, he’d be miserable in the evening, then go to sleep earlier. It was nearly impossible to figure out which days he’d take naps but he still really needed them for a long time. It was a bit crazy-making. But the lack-of-firm-bedtime became … routine. Now he rarely naps and bedtimes are not fun when he does.)

I got to thinking about bedtimes more when I read about a recent study: Non-regular bedtimes tied to kids’ behavior problems.

I’m not really worried about Owen, but I do want to give him the better opportunities to be happy, not necessarily successful, but to feel good.

He’s doing fine now. He doesn’t have behavior problems. He’s happy and likable. He goes to sleep when he’s tired and wakes up when he’s not anymore, usually. When bedtime is fraught, it’s usually because he’s been especially busy just before bed and he’s just not ready to stop having fun so he can go to sleep, so we’ve been watching his moods carefully and slowing the house down as he seems to require, before bed, helping him into pajamas early on and doing other things to make it be Bedtime, but not at a specific time, rather on his schedule. And trying to get him to lie down and sleep before he’s actually tired enough is an exercise in powerful frustration.

I have friends who have relaxed or no bedtimes. (NO bedtime would be hard for me, I get tired and need to sleep too.) People have written plenty about it. I don’t have a huge emotional tie to whether Owen has a specific bedtime. (I do/did have one to “cry it out.” Forget it. No. Crying is a huge stressor for kids, as is feeling rejected or ignored, and though I don’t believe it can be avoided entirely or even a lot, I don’t like to impose a cause for it unnecessarily.)

I know people who believe and have decent scientific information that firm bedtimes are a good idea, and who have had success with them.
I know people who believe that flexible bedtimes are fine and have had success with them, and though evidence to the contrary is out there, it’s not necessarily about all children. Children vary. Families vary. Situations vary.

Is it worth messing with what, for the most part, is working? I actually have no idea.


I can’t figure out, on WordPress, how to wrap text around photos. This one’s too big, at any rate. But I can’t, or I haven’t yet. Gone are the days I just typed out my own danged HTML as needed.

There may or may not be an ad after this paragraph. If I ever manage to monetize this blog, I’ll use that to pay for WordPress and lose the ad at the bottom.


6 thoughts on “bedtime routine, or not – not a case for either

  1. These days we go brush teeth right after dinner because we ran into a lot of push-back if we waited too close to bed time. I understand that would be tricky if Audrey wasn’t there and he wanted her to do it.

    Those studies about non-bedtime almost entirely use children who must be up at the same time every day to go to a place. If you have a variable bed time but you always get up at the same time then you have sleep deprivation. *Of course* children with sleep deprivation have behavior issues.

    I have never read anything that has a good solid claim that children must sleep for exactly *THE SAME* 10-12 hour block every night. They just must sleep for a 10-12 hour block. If your morning schedule is flexible he probably isn’t really going to deal with the sleep deprivation/behavior issues. Probably. People have behavior issues for all kinds of other reasons too. 🙂

  2. I almost never imposed a bedtime on my kids; one of them kept his own bedtime fairly consistent and the other was more random. I sort of think that letting kids sleep when they’re sleepy is like letting them eat when they’re hungry – it teaches them to listen to their own bodies’ messages. There were times when they were obviously sleepy but fighting to stay up for whatever reason (wanted to see their father when he got home from work, having too much fun, etc.). I tried to remind them to check in with their bodies and see what kinds of things they were feeling, to help them be in sync with that.

  3. We are strict about bedtimes, but that is what works for OUR family. I think it’s incredibly arrogant of these studies to claim they know what’s best for ALL children. Just ridiculous, really, as children are all so different. You know Owen best – and if you feel he is happy & healthy, then he is.

    (I love the idea that someone suggested about brushing right after dinner – we’re having a lot of trouble getting kid2’s teeth brushed and this might make things go much smoother, definitely going to try it!!)

  4. WordPress has two tabs in its post composition window: ‘visual’ and ‘text’. In ‘text’ you can type your own HTML or edit that generated by HTML. If pictures do not text-align properly (usually from from external hosting sites rather than our WP media library) then we edit away the ‘alignleft’ or ‘alignright’ from the ‘class’ attribute(?) and use plain, old align=left or right. We also edit the height and width attributes to resize. It sometimes takes some experimentation to get WP out of the way.

  5. My girls have roughly the same sleep hours as Owen, though I think they are usually up a little earlier, because I am up earlier. We don’t have a hard-and-fast bedtime either, though we now finally have a bedtime routine. I still nurse -to-sleep, and our routine is based on that. A request for mama-milk after 9 will beg the question “is it mama-milk sleep?” If the answer is no, I send them off, because they’ve nursed 2-3 times in the previous 4 hours, and they probably aren’t very serious about needing to have milk. If the answer is yes, we go through the list of things that get done before milk: bish in the potty, brush the teeth, put on the diaper, put on the pajamas. If we get any real push back on what needs to be done, they aren’t ready for sleep, and they get to play until they request again, and we go through the bedtime routine list again. With this routine, they are asleep most evenings by 10:30. Probably at least one a week, K stays up later. Mama-milk goes to sleep at 11, and if she’s not ready for mama-milk sleep by then, she doesn’t get to nurse to sleep.

    We had tried other bedtime routines before, and none of them worked. I think this one works because it’s one that they initiate themselves.

    Also, they simply don’t seem to need as much sleep as other children. We’re still trying to figure that one out.

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