Ever wondered why kids hate bedtime so much? Why they’ll say and do just about anything to avoid it?
The kids I used to babysit came up with a million excuses to push it off as long as humanly possible: another story, water, a snack, a trip to the bathroom, more water, a tissue, a stuffed animal, different pajamas… They’d beg me rub or scratch their backs until they fell asleep, which usually took a long, long time.
When I was pregnant my friend gave me a book called Go the F**k to Sleep. Written as nursery rhyme parody, it’s intended to provide comic relief to sleep-deprived parents.
I was horrified. My friend assured me I’d understand later, but I never have.
Have children always hated bedtime this much?
I for one don’t think it’s natural for children to be as resistant to bedtime as they are in our culture.
My 6-year-old daughter Nora and I have never fought the bedtime battle that’s apparently waged every single night in most American homes. In fact, there have been several nights where she’s the one dragging me to bed. Once we’re tucked in, she typically falls asleep in two to three minutes.
I attribute this primarily to one simple factor — she sleeps in bed with her parents, every night.
It seems like such a painfully obvious solution to me, I shudder to think how many millions of nightmares could have been avoided if more modern-day parents had the common sense to follow their instincts.
Her whole life, Nora has cuddled in between us, pressing up against whoever’s warm body has more gravitational pull.
If she stirs or yells out in her sleep, I don’t have to go running into the other room to see what’s wrong or wait for her to come running to me in tears. I just pull her close, pet her head, whisper something comforting and we both fall back asleep within seconds.
People used to wonder how on Earth we have a sex life with our child in our bed all the time. Easy. In fact I imagine we’ve had an easier time than most people, who spend their last hour or two of energy trying to force their kids to sleep in their own beds.
Because Nora is so secure in our bed, she falls asleep fast and stays asleep. Once she’s out, it’s easier for us to sneak off to another bed than try to move her out of ours.
If we’re too tired at night, we can sneak out in the morning before she wakes up. As long as we’re back before she notices, all is well.
To me, the most important thing is we are raising an emotionally secure, happy, healthy child.
Science shows cosleeping for the first few years of life is crucial for optimal brain development, and in many less-stressed cultures around the world, children sleep with, or next to, their parents until they are teenagers.
It’s in our DNA to be afraid of the dark. We evolved that way because for hundreds of thousands of years we were vulnerable to being picked off and eaten by predators at night. Babies and young children instinctively know nighttime is a time they need the protection of their parents, and will fight for years to get it. To them, it’s a fight for survival.
So go ahead, next time your child asks if they can sleep with you, tell them yes. And keep telling them yes until they don’t want to anymore. Trying to make them sleep alone is unnatural. It’s a battle neither you nor they are going to win.
Other factors that have made “bedtime” my child’s favorite time of day:
1. Breastfeeding. Nora still nurses herself to sleep almost every night. If that freaks you out, read The Natural Age of Weaning. It’s between 4 and 7.
Breast milk, especially breast milk produced at nighttime, contains melatonin-producing ingredients like tryptophan.
Aside from cuddling, this is the main reason she looks forward to bedtime.
2. No bedtime. We don’t actually have a bedtime. I think that’s helped Nora learn to trust her body to tell her when it’s tired, rather than a clock.
3. Dim, natural light. As soon as the sun sets, we all put on our blue light-blocking glasses, dim our screens if they must be in use, and gradually dim our incandescent lamp until we turn it off and use only our salt lamp. Artificial light (especially blue light) after dark inhibits melatonin production.