These days, the word "schedule" feels a bit hazy... In these past few weeks, the world has been turned totally upside down, and almost everyone's "schedules" have gone upside down with it. For some of us, this includes our sleep schedules. They say to "never wake a sleeping baby," but what should you do if your toddler starts sleeping in? Is it OK to let the whole house catch some extra ZZZs, or do parents of littles ones need to try and hold on to regular bedtimes and morning routines?
Ann Marie Harriger of amSmiles works as a child sleep consultant, and she says that it's actually really necessary to keep your child on a regular sleep schedule right now. "Although you temporarily don’t have to wake up for school or work, it is as important as ever to keep bedtime and wake time the same," she tells Romper. "There is very little that is 'normal' right now, and kids always thrive with routine. Sticking to the same sleep schedule is essential for good well being."
She also points out that letting a tot sleep later then means a later nap, which can lead to "serious night disruption."
Victoria Tenenbaum is a board-certified behavior analyst who specializes in sleep problems, and she also discourages letting little ones party into the wee hours. Those "sleeping in" moments can affect their bedtime later in the day. "Late bedtimes leads to overtired-ness, which affects the overall quality of a child's sleep. It means more waking up during the night, and more interrupted sleep." Why? Because as Tenenbaum points out, when a child is overtired, they produce adrenaline to keep their bodies going. And adrenaline, as one might imagine, is very bad for sleep.
Tenenbaum says shifting a child's sleep schedule can have other very real physical effects on a child's health, particularly very young children. "Shifting their daily schedule can mean the child loses hours of very deep sleep, which comes in the first part of the night, and is extremely important," she tells Romper. "This deep sleep plays an important role for the body and the brain, as it's when a child’s body produces growth hormones. So basically, the child loses the opportunity to produce this hormone in the most effective way, which they would with a good night’s sleep."
Tenebaum also points out the obvious — the effect later bedtimes for your kids can have on you and your partner. If your kid is up until 11 p.m., this means you and your partner are still parenting at 11 p.m. And getting zero alone time together, or time to decompress.
I know my own son (who is well past toddler age) has started to sleep later and later since this all began. Which initially felt wondrous — he's usually a super early riser. So when he slept until 7 a.m. one day last week, it felt glorious... at first. Until we realized this now meant he was going to be wide awake at 10 p.m., trying to watch John Oliver with us. So now, we're back to setting an alarm every day at 6:30 a.m. in order to get him to bed at a decent time.
Yes, it's brutal to hear that alarm dinging every morning, but I know it's the best thing for my kid. He needs whatever sense of normalcy we can provide for him right now, and that unfortunately means rising with the birds, as per usual.
Plus, getting him up early ensures my husband and I still get a full 60 minutes together, during which time we are both so tired we usually just speak in monosyllables and wander in circles looking for our night guards. But I suppose it's something.
Victoria Tenebaum, board-certified behavior analyst, sleep counselor
Ann Marie Harriger, sleep consultant.