If Your Kid Wants to Stay Up Past Their Bedtime, Science Says Let Them

Updated 07/19/17

Nothing sparks an argument quite like the clock striking 7 p.m. in a household full of kids. We'd bet that all kids between the ages of two and 10 shriek at the mere mention of the word "bedtime" and proceed to wage yet another tantrum war against their parents' wishes.

But what if someone told you that forcing your kids to stick to a bedtime simply wasn't worth the fuss? Such is the conclusion of FiveThirtyEight's recent installment of its Science Question From a Toddler series, as reported by The Science of Us. Kayla, age 5, asked why it's bedtime when it's still light outside, and Maggie Koerth-Baker, a science writer, admits that bedtime is more of a social construct than anything else.

"Research on American kids suggests that 'bedtime resistance'—that fist-in-the-air struggle against the oppressive forces of lights-out via tantrums—is common and increases as children age," she writes. "Kids need to sleep, and they generally sleep more than adults, especially when they're really young. But there's a lot of variability in what's healthy." For example, a toddler can need anywhere from nine to 16 hours of sleep a day, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

"What constitutes normal, healthy sleep changes between individuals, and kids are even more variable than adults," adds Oskar Jenni, a researcher at the Child Development Center of the University Children's Hospital Zurich in Switzerland. "That fact often clashes with the reality that bedtimes are sociocultural decisions based, at least in part, on parents' expectations of how long kids should sleep."

So if your child throws an all-out tantrum night after night when it's time to go to bed, it's possible that they genuinely aren't tired (and don't want to lay wide-eyed in their bed for hours). One longitudinal study out of Switzerland even found that this "sleep resistance" dissipated in Swiss households once parents had shifted toward later and later bedtimes. "In Switzerland, at least, putting kids to bed later meant less frustration for everyone," they conclude.

Head over to The Science of Us for more, and share how bedtime works in your household below.

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