There isn’t an owners manual on how to raise kids. There are many different opinions on every parenting topic, including bedtime. You are left to shift through all of the opinions and decide what is right for your family.
Before my first child was born, a friend of mine told me she had her young kids go to bed by 7pm, and they would sleep until 7am the next morning. Twelve hours?! I was amazed, and decided this was something I was going to try to implement. Three kids later, I can confidently say having an early bedtime for our kids has been one of the best things we could have done for our family.
Young children need sleep. If you have dealt with any over-tired child, you know how much this is true. Children's brains and bodies are developing so rapidly in the early years that they need rest for healthy development. Research examining the correlation of child development and sleep has shown significant evidence of its importance. “The finding that short sleep duration in the first 3 years of life was associated with hyperactivity/impulsivity and lower cognitive performance on neurodevelopmental tests at age 6 is provocative and potentially very important.” The Bible says that our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made. God didn’t make any mistakes in the specific design he created for our children's need for adequate rest. “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:14).
As working parents, an early bedtime can be difficult because you want to spend time with your child when you get home. I am going to suggest the concept of quality time vs. quantity time. From my experience, when my kids don’t get enough sleep, our time together is a struggle. Without rest, emotions run high, fuses get short, and the need to discipline is increased. This isn’t fun for anyone. The Bible commands us to be slow to anger, and as a parent I get impatient when my kids are overtired. “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19).
On the other hand, when my children rest fully, our time together is more enjoyable. We can connect and interact deeply instead of counting down the hours left until bedtime. This quality time with my children is important for their mental health. I can see the difference in their overall confidence and happiness when we have time to talk, laugh, and play, being fully present with each other.
One of the biggest struggles when you become a parent is the loss of alone time. An early bedtime for children can recover time for yourself. Kids constantly ask for snacks, jump on top of you, and ask a million “why” questions. This is positive interaction time together. Kids are an incredible blessing. Yet the demands can be exhausting. An early bedtime routine creates a pattern of ending their day well together followed by silence and space for you to have time to yourself or as a couple. When you feel overwhelmed throughout the day, you can look forward to time to unwind and breathe a little after the kids are in bed. An early bedtime helps to also give you an opportunity to have time to do the things you love that there isn’t time for when the kids are around, reading, working out, etc. As they say you “can’t pour out of an empty cup.” The more you are able to take care of your mental health, the more beneficial you will be in supporting your children's mental health.
I have found this quiet time in bed is also helpful for kids' mental health. When you kids claim they aren’t tired, providing them the opportunity to settle down in bed alone with a devotional book can be a good way to encourage them to have their own quiet time with God, and help them wind down after a busy day. My oldest son used to fight bedtime, but when we offered for him to spend some time in bed reading books before he went to sleep, it became his new favorite routine. We even bought him a neck flashlight to help make this time alone reading in bed even more special. Quiet time with God is a enriching practice which will bless our children throughout their lives.
Finding time with your spouse can be a challenge when you have kids, but having an early bedtime for your children can help. When you put your kids to bed early, you open one-to-one time together, a moment to talk about all the things you aren’t able to talk about in front of the kids and even connect intimately. Having time together without kids gives you space to invest as just a couple again. The healthier your marriage is, the happier your kids will be. Investing in your marriage is one of the most loving things you can do for your family. “Let no one split apart what God has joined together” (Mark 10:9).
Having a date night and getting out of the house together is also helpful in keeping the connection in your marriage strong. My husband and I have often used the time the kids are in bed as a time to have someone come over so we can slip out on a date night. It’s easier to find a sitter to come hang out at your house while the kids are sleeping than to make them lead the bedtime routine without you. Sometimes family members are even willing to do so without a cost.
There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong in whatever bedtime you choose and different bedtimes work best for different families. As long as you are looking out for the physical, and mental health needs of your children you are doing an amazing job no matter what your bedtime looks like. Nevertheless, I have seen the amazing benefits an early bedtime has had in the life of my family and hope someone else can benefit from the same wisdom that had once been passed down to me.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra