image by Mack Male (lic)Basic human need that it is, restful sleep continues to be an important component of children's overall health and well-being throughout middle childhood and beyond. Well rested children are better able to focus attention and learn during classes or extracurricular activities. In addition, they are more likely to be in a better mood than are poorly rested peers, and more likely to follow rules at home and school.
In general, children in middle childhood require about 9 to 10 hours of sleep each night. By this age, most children will be able to get all of their necessary sleep in a single overnight session, enabling them to attend school and other after-school activities without need for a nap. However, each child will have unique needs. Some children may need more or less sleep to function at their best. Caregivers who have concerns about the amount of sleep their children are getting or seem to need, or who are worried about dramatic sleep changes should consult with a pediatrician.
Importance of a Consistent Bedtime Routine
It can sometimes be difficult for school-aged children to unwind in the evening and want to go to bed. Some children protest sleep out of a simple desire to have the freedom to stay up later watching television or playing games. Other children will find themselves so occupied by activities that they literally have no time for homework until later in the evening. As was also the case during earlier developmental periods, a well-planned bedtime routine, enforced by parents and through repetition, enables school-aged kids time to prepare themselves mentally and physically for sleep. It's vital that parents enforce this routine without exception most nights so that children come to expect it as an inevitable and ultimately calming feature of their day. Consistency increases the routine's calming effect, as children typically find comfort in knowing what to expect of themselves and of their situation. Parents who enforce the bedtime routine inconsistently will find themselves arguing with their children who will have come to see parents' call for the routine to begin as an opportunity for negotiation.
The goal of the bedtime routine is to gradually transition children from activities to sleep. The first step is to set a firm end time for stimulating daytime activities. For example, parents need to make a rule about what time television, computer games, and active play must end. Caregivers may also want to set an earlier time in the evening, before which homework and other required chores must be finished, and after which fun evening activities (such as television, computer games or active play) may start, in order to make sure these things get done well before bedtime. Setting up multiple deadlines in this manner (e.g, when work ends; when play ends) helps to insure that children will manage to get their homework done each evening without having that work cut into their evening playtime.
Many families find that once stimulating play activities are complete, a bath or shower is a good next step. Warm water and scented soap can set a relaxing tone and may facilitate a state-change in children's mood. After a warm bath (or shower) many children are happy to crawl into their comfortable pajamas and into bed. By this age, most children will be capable of bathing themselves and so should be encouraged to do so.
Children's bedrooms may need to be transitioned from an active state to a more restful nighttime state. For example, children may have bright lights on in their room while doing homework there. They may have a radio, television or computer on, and be communicating with friends via various media devices or watching a show. Parents should remind children to dim their bedroom lights, turn off televisions and computers, and put away school work. Some children may enjoy turning on soft music to listen to while they brush their teeth or to pick out their clothes for the next day. These kinds of activities are fine so long as they are restful in nature and will not interfere with the state-change in children's moods that parents are trying to encourage.
Though children are now older and the quality of the interaction will necessarily be different than in the past, night-time routines are still a perfect opportunity for parents and children to spend one-on-one or whole-family "quality time" with one another. Reading is an excellent "quiet" activity that can be encouraged during this period. Children might read quietly to themselves or to their caregivers or siblings. Some children may still enjoy having an advanced chapter book read to them by parents. Families may also use this time for religious education or to encourage religious practices such as nighttime prayers or reading/discussion of religious texts.