The subject line of the e-mail from my husband was, “New Study Shows Why You Should Get the Kids to Bed on Time.”

But it could just as easily have been, “I told you so.”

Getting our children (aged 12, 9, 7 and 7) to bed in a timely manner is a constant struggle, especially during the summer, when our urge to take advantage of the long daylight hours conflicts with our various morning plans.

During the school year, it sometimes seems as though any planned activity can defeat our goal of 10 to 11 hours of sleep. With children who need to be up by 6:15 a.m., that’s bedtime at 8 p.m. — particularly tough on the 12-year-old, who can easily have every after-school hour eaten up by homework, dinner, driving time and a single sports practice.

But my husband is vigilant about it, and I have long since come around to his way of thinking. Sleep matters. It matters for health and cognitive ability, for grades and even for behavior.

Still, he e-mails me every piece of evidence he finds for why we should fight the good fight nightly. This latest suggests that the consistency of bedtime matters as well as the amount of sleep: children who have had consistent bedtimes throughout childhood perform better on cognitive tests administered at age 7.

I happened to open the e-mail (which my husband had sent earlier in the day) after yet another bedtime routine that had stretched far later than intended. “I don’t think our children got the memo,” I told him.

And then it occurred to me: maybe they hadn’t.

To us, the link between bedtime resistance and the early-morning temper tantrum or cranky dinnertime is crystal clear. And while we’ve certainly mentioned that to our children, it’s possible that the timing of our message (during the temper tantrum, or while trying to explain why we do not want to see “one more magic trick” after dinner) has been poor.

So I simplified the message, printed it and put it on the bathroom mirror. Will my “10 Reasons You Should Get Some Sleep” help?

1. You’ll be happier.

2. Mommy and Daddy will be happier.

3. You’ll do better at school.

4. It will be easier to be kind to others.

5. Others will find it easier to be kind to you.

6. Tomorrow will be nicer.

7. The cat needs time to play Lego undisturbed.

8. You’ll run faster, jump higher and have more fun.

9. Your stuffies are tired.

10. Research shows: Better nights = Better days!

It can’t hurt. Because whatever our intentions, as I’ve written before, bedtime still isn’t easy. Experience tells me how readers will respond: they will say that we cannot possibly be firm enough with our children; that good parents simply turn out the light and close the door at the appropriate time; that good children do not emerge from that darkened room, or station themselves by the light switch and begin flipping the light off and on to torment the siblings with whom they share the room.

That may be true. However, the fact remains that in spite of years of ritual, in spite of a solid lack of reward for failure to go to bed on time (no reprieves, extra books or after-dinner snacks here), in spite of parenting techniques ranging from the gently firm to the ranting, screaming, punishing banshee, every night, without fail, my children find something they would rather do than close their eyes and let sleep overtake them — or sleep simply fails to work its magic.

Sleep remains high on my list of areas where I think our family could do better, but I suppose I could find encouragement in this latest research and argue that “later than we hoped” is a constant of a different kind.

Contact KJ Dell-Antonia at:

[email protected]


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