Hank Ketcham, creator of Dennis the Menace, once wrote a summary of the “won’t stay in bed” problem from a child’s point of view: “This kind of kid is not bad; he’s just not sleepy. But for some reason, grownups [who are fine with getting up for a snack themselves] think a kid should go to sleep even when he’s not sleepy.”
If the kid is sent to bed because his parents are sleepy, or while adults are partying noisily downstairs, he may have cause to complain about unreasonable expectations.
Still, it does happen that kids think they aren’t sleepy, stay up late, and are groggy and nonfunctional the next day. How to ensure they get adequate sleep for health and alertness?
If they’re old enough to tell time, they deserve at least the chance to express their opinions on the matter—and, if their bedtime is still set earlier than they’d like, to know the reasons.
It shows them a lack of respect to arbitrarily schedule their bedtimes to your convenience. If you’re really exhausted, tell them you’re going to take a short nap and ask them to play quietly until bedtime.
(Of course, you may have to set an alarm to wake you up so you can remind them it is their bedtime.)
A nightly winding-down period (light snack, story time, hot bath) is a good idea in any case. No one—not even an adult—falls asleep easily after an abrupt transition from high busyness
If you’re sure a too-early bedtime isn’t the problem, try to pinpoint what might be keeping them awake. Is too much noise or light getting into their bedrooms? Are their rooms too hot or too cold? Have they been eating heavily, or watching television, too late in the evening? Are they worried about anything? Remedying these problems will often cure the getting-out-of-bed habit.
On the other hand, some people are naturally predisposed to night waking. If your kid is one of these, consider house rules that allow for getting up and doing quiet activities that won’t wake everyone else—and won’t make it difficult to return to sleep within an hour
Hours spent in bed aren’t really the best yardstick, as anyone with chronic insomnia knows. Consider:
If your answer to any of the above is “no,” your kids may be suffering from sleep deprivation—or from some other problem. Ask them what they think is wrong, and talk to a doctor if it looks like anything needs professional attention. But if you get a “yes” answer to every question—stop worrying about what “should” be “normal” sleep patterns, and rest easy yourself!