At the start of this last school year (2013), Albert Mohler examined some recent scientific research on children and their bedtime, concluding that a “fixed and consistent” bedtime was essential for a child’s academic performance and overall health. You can read Mohler’s insightful article here. Beyond the physical and intellectual incentives for why a regular bedtime is fundamental to your child’s overall well being, however, there are other reasons for why parents should establish and faithfully implement a consistent sleep routine. I will mention five.
1. It continues to remind the child that daddy and mommy are in charge. Although this important reality should be clear in the child’s mind and heart amidst each day’s activities, ending the day according to a schedule determined by the parents rather than the fickle desires of a tired-yet-resistant toddler helps provide a consistent picture of parental authority. If the child is allowed to determine when they go to bed, they will more easily flout parental injunctions in other areas.
2. It teaches our children self-control. If there is one thing that young children lack, it is self-control. Indeed, it is one of the primary components of loving, Christlike parenting is to teach a child, in ways appropriate to their age, how to control their emotions, their words, their eating, and their bodies. Maintaining a regular bedtime helps instill in the child the importance of routine and of sticking to a schedule. A regular bedtime can teach a child that despite the attraction of that new bike or dollhouse, or the attraction of simply staying up with daddy, they must set aside those good things in order to do what is best for them in a given situation. Sleep is best for them right now–not the bike, or the dollhouse, or even time with daddy. A consistent sleep routine teaches them to lay aside for a time what is good to embrace what is better.
3. It guards against parental laziness. Allowing a child to dictate when he or she will go to bed, or merely ignoring a bedtime plan previously established may be symptoms of laziness. The inevitable resistance from the child, the effort required to set in motion a bedtime routine (bath, read a story, pray, etc.), or simply the desire to continue to do what you’re doing, will conspire to keep you from putting your child to bed at an appropriate time. Setting a regular bed time and sticking to it helps keep parents cultivate a rhythm of diligence and consistency.
4. It helps maintain order in the home. It is true that a regular bedtime will not by itself transform a house of chaos into a home of order–there are probably other issues involved here–but it is certainly a step in the right direction, for it allows the parents to spend time together and reflect on the day past and prepare for the day ahead. It also affords parents the opportunity to retire earlier if they choose. How many parents are currently suffering mind-numbing exhaustion, not because parenting is exceptionally difficult (which, admittedly, it often is) but because they simply allow their children to stay up late into the night, consequently pushing the parent’s bedtime far past what is reasonable or healthy. It is amazing what consistent sleep will do for a parent’s overall productivity, resilience, and spiritual health, not to mention the child’s!
5. It teaches our children humility. Our need for sleep shows us many things, but most importantly it shows us that we are not God. Only God does not sleep nor slumber (Ps 121:4). Only God is a never-depleting, infinite well of energy, power, and strength. Me? I’m exhausted after a full day of work, some exercise, a round of cars and trucks with my boys, and a walk around the neighborhood with my wife. And there are no remedies: I need sleep to live and to carry out my responsibilities on the job and at home. To neglect sleep for an extended period of time will lead to poor work habits, a growing inability to persevere through trials, greater openness to sin, and even serious illness. Sleep shows us that we are finite and that God is infinite. It tells us that we cannot accomplish everything we would like to accomplish in a given day or week or month. It reminds us that we are weak and frail and in need of a merciful God who gives the gift of sleep to his beloved (Ps 127:2). These are precious lessons—lessons we can teach our children by establishing and maintaining a regular bedtime.
If you are a parent who has neglected to take control of your child’s bedtime, or if you have lately found yourself out of routine, consider the benefits—domestic, physical, spiritual, and pedagogical—of establishing (or reestablishing) a regular bedtime for your kids. It will be good for your children. And it will be good for you.