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Bedtime? But It's Still Sunny Outside, Mom!

By , Hillary Copsey
Every parent learns early to dread Daylight Saving Time and the longer days of summer.
That spring forward – or the fall back, for that matter – can wreak havoc in the sleep patterns of even the most settled baby. And things get even more complicated when the baby grows into a child who can talk and argue.
When we set our clocks ahead an hour each spring for Daylight Saving Time, the days seem to lengthen. We might get up in the dark, but the light lingers longer in the evening--and it only gets worse as the summer progresses. Bedtime comes and the sun still is up. Even your preschooler can see that. The question is inevitable.
If it's not dark, why do I have to go to bed?
I made the situation worse with my first child. When he was about 18 months old, he had a bad habit of getting up at 4 or 5 a.m., so we taught him "dark means sleep." This worked to keep him in bed until a decent hour – until that spring. He's a winter baby, so when springtime rolled around again, he had celebrated his second birthday, a milestone that came with increased verbal skills: storytelling and lots of questions. We tried to put him to bed as usual after our clocks sprung forward and he looked at us and said, "Dark means sleep. It not dark. I not go bed." We insisted, he resisted. It was a long, tired and cranky few weeks before he returned to schedule.
For us, sticking to the schedule – being consistent and firm – really has been the best way to keep the disruption of Daylight Saving Time to a minimum. I know some parents who  try to "trick" their kids by putting them to bed or feeding them early in the weeks leading up to the spring forward. Honestly, I just don't have the time or mental capacity to make those plans and calculations. My husband and I both work, which means we also would have to get our daycare on board with that kind of schedule trickery. It's not a feasible plan for us.
Instead, I go by this motto: The time it is is the time it is.
There is no winter bedtime and summer bedtime in our house. There is just bedtime and our schedule. We get home at 5:30 p.m., we eat by 6:30 p.m. Bathtime usually is about 7 p.m. and bedtime is 8 p.m.
Dark or light.
The light actually helps keep us on schedule. With the sun still shining after supper, we often head out to the backyard to play catch or chase or to our driveway to play basketball or draw with chalk. The boys, already tired from the day, run themselves ragged and usually are more than ready to curl up with their blankies by the time bedtime arrives.
On a few particularly restless evenings, we black out windows with thick blankets. Neither of our boys are light sleepers, so we've never had a need for permanent black-out curtains or blinds, but you can buy them at any major home store.
Just sticking to the routine usually is enough to at least get the boys into bed regardless of the sun. The boys know that we have dinner, play for a bit, have a bath, get into jammies, brush teeth, read a couple of books and then go to bed. They know that's how our life goes, so they do it – most nights.
Some nights, especially when the days are longer, they are restless and silly. They share a room, and we hear them in there, whispering and giggling. I try not to get involved unless I hear shouting, fighting or banging, which generally means dangerous gymnastic tricks are being performed. I remember my mother's rule growing up: You have to be in your room at bedtime, but as long as you're quiet and get up in the morning without fuss, I trust you to put yourself to sleep. I remember all the advice about putting your baby down sleepy but awake, so she would learn to fall asleep on her own. It's my job to make sure my children have the environment they need to get the sleep they require – typically 10 to 12 hours each night – but I can't make them sleep. (How to Keep Bedtime from Becoming a Nightmare)
In other words, I try to use my common sense.
If the boys still are giggling a half hour after bedtime, I split them up and darken their rooms. Usually, after that, they're asleep within 15 minutes. And I can count on one hand – with fingers to spare – the number of times I've had to do that this spring.
And on the nights they've been the worst, I try hard to remember that time truly is fleeting. This is just one night in their lives where they're not getting the optimal amount of sleep. This too shall pass.
Do your kids fight bedtime in summer when the nights are bright? What tips do you have to ease bedtime?
Hillary Copsey is a newspaper features editor in Florida with experience writing about everything from population trends to health-care issues. As the mother of two boys, she also is versed in searching for daycares, cooking healthy dinners on the fly and playing with trucks. She co-writes the blog Not raising brats. She writes about parenting for dailySpark and

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10-12 hours of sleep seems excessive to me, I looked it up in several places and while that is ok for babies, it is not the recommended amount for older children. When I was a kid we stayed up later in the summer, life is not black and white, change happens all the time and if you don't learn to go with the flow all those rules will not make a better or happier life. Report
Heck, I'm a grown-up and even I have a hard time making myself go to bed when it's still light out. *lol* I've put up black-out panels behind my already-dark curtains in my bedroom. I invested in a quality eye-mask. I shower before bed to get relaxed. I've even tried melatonin on occasion. I love summer, I love when it's lighter later, but it sure does make those early bedtimes for early work shifts hard. Report
Fairbanks Alaska, the land of the Midnight Sun, is a great place to raise a child. Even with the summer sun! Just go with it. The summer light and warmth is nowhere more precious, and enjoying such precious time is worth so much more than clocks. Report
Right now it's hard for my children to grasp that concept of when bedtime is since I work 12 hr shifts at night and my parents watch them. I tell them that 8:30 is bedtime but when I'm not home my parents let them stay awake til the hour that they want. Now my daughter is going to start 1st grade and I'm trying to instill bedtime but with others watching her at night it is not so easy when they let the kids stay up till they are tired and choose to sleep Report
Thanks for sharing this! I have twin girls almost 4 years old. We just converted one of their toddler beds into a full, which they now share. They've always played in bed after "lights out" but since the BIG bed, they've been terrible. The other night they came downstairs, turned on the kitchen light and started playing at their little table -- at midnight! We generally don't mind if they're quiet, but the crazy gymnastics are too much. I'll try to remember that time is fleeting... just like with food (they'll eat when they're hungry), they'll go to sleep when they're tired! Report
Oh...I do remember those days and the confusion. I, however, did pretty much the same kind of consistent routine with our kids and seldom had any real issues. Your motto: 'The time it is is the time it is' worked for us too and the kids learned how to tell time...believe me!! They would make sure they got every second of their up-time! They also spent quiet time on their own before falling works... Report
WEAR THEM the pool, on the trampoline, doing gardening, biking, etc. Anything outdoors, with proper sunscreen of course, and sunshine, will usually work. But, swimming is by far the best sleep inducing activity there is, for my family, anyway. Report
This spring started out OK, but the warmer evenings have been tempting. Last night was just straight, up explanation to our bright and questioning 4-year-old. "It doesn't matter that it's light outside. The time is what it is. The days are longer in the summer and shorter in the winter, but your bedtime is always the same." Report
Ugh! What bad memories this article brings me! My mother made me go to bed by 7:30. I'd look out the window and see the neighbor kid outside playing. "Why do I have to go to bed??!! Johnny is still outside playing!!! It's not fair!!!" I hated that. It really distressed me. In junior high school it was, "But Jeanie's mom lets her listen to the radio!! It's not fair!! Why can't I listen to the radio??" Then I was sent away to boarding school where the rules applied to everyone. That solved the problem for me. We all had to do things in certain ways. Any privileges could be earned by anyone. Unfainess was no longer an issue. Report
We have blackout curtains on our daughters' bedroom window not only because they face west and it would be the brightest room in the house in the evening but because it makes naptimes easier, too. When we found out she was great about taking naps at daycare in a dark room, but we couldn't get her to sleep on the weekends, making her room darker seemed like the best solution--and it worked!

The only thing was, cheaper blackout curtains didn't block out any light at all, and we had to get the ones that were $20 per drape. Those were pink, which helped her like them more as curtains, and by the time we found them, we knew enough to try them out at the store before putting any money into it. Report
Why not let the kid stay up a little later? It doesn't have to be until dark, but a little more time awake and about isn't a bad thing. Give a kid a break. If he needs more sleep, he'll figure it out and choose something closer to your preferred bed-time. Report
My 7 year old does not fight even though it's light still, he understands. My 4 year old understands but still has trouble adjusting. She will go to bed, but sometimes won't fall asleep, and then she still wakes up too early for a couple weeks. We have to get up at 6 anyway so she is used to getting up and will wake up early for weeks after. It's not the light so much as just her body clock does not adjust well or something. We have blackout blinds on the windows anyway as both are light sleepers and there are security lights all around he neighborhood. Report
Thanks for sharing! Report
This hasn't been too big of a problem with my two step kids (6&7), but I know it sure could have been. They have asked several times why they have to go to bed when it isn't dark, but I just look them in the eye, ask them what time is their bed time, they say 8, then I tell them to tell me what time it is, they say 8. So I say, ok, that means it's bedtime. They haven't really argued about it a whole lot yet. Fingers crossed it stays that way! Report
My kids do ask why they have to go to bed when it's still light out. I tell them that I go by the time not by the sun. Certain times of the year, the sun gets to stay up later...they do not. But honestly when the days are nice, the kids are so active they don't usually have a problem falling asleep. Not saying they don't still complain about having to go to bed, but once they are laying down they fall asleep pretty quickly! Report
And the Yoga lady chose to go negative here because? Report
I got a kick out of this one just because I am going through this situation right now with my 4 year old and my 8 year old. For the most part my 8 year old goes down without fussing too much but he gets it in there when he can. Now my 4 year old is another story. I too put her to bed regardless..I stick to the routine. But her routine is to get out of bed, play with whatever she can get her hands on and people or bird watch out her bedroom window. I will go upatairs sometimes after and hour or so and she is still awake. I try not to go in becuse the minute I do she has got my attention and then the fight is on.

So its true when you say as long as they are not getting out of bed or at risk to themselves and as long as they get up in the morning without fuss, then leave them alone. Report
This helps even for a grown woman. Sometimes, we just think we are Super Woman and can do it all. But I like the thought of structured routine, regardless. Report
THis article made me smile. As a child, we were to have our bath by 7pm and in bed at 8...regardless of what was happening outside. Usually what was outside our windows were our friends yelling our last name and betting we were in bed:-) Go mom, I bet your kids were never sleepy in the morning:-) Report
yes I remember strict rules even in Grade 7 i had to go to bed after Hogan's Heroes (8:30) I think a lot of kids nowadays don't get strict enough rules. Think this is tough- try working shift work in the High Arctic with 24 hours sunlight. THAT took some getting used to !! Report
When I was growing up, as long as school was in, we had a set bedtime...9:00 p.m. no questions. But when summer vacation started, we got to stay up for an extra hour, if we could stay awake. (Being allowed to stay up and being able to stay up were 2 different things!)

I raised my son the same way. If he had trouble falling asleep because it was lighter outside, I'd be sure to "blackout" his room...close the shades, pull the drapes, etc. so he'd get the picture that it was bedtime regardless of the sun being out. Report