By Dr. Lisa Shives (The Sleep M.D.)
With school back in session for the majority of children around the U.S., the conversation regarding sleep and kids is mostly centering around making sure they get to bed on time on school nights. However, when we get to the weekends, even the younger ones have things they want to do. There are movies they want to watch, things to do outside, and even sleepovers to attend. Parents often wonder … how late should they be allowed to stay up?
While it’s best to keep as much of a regular sleep schedule as possible, particularly during the school year, there are always exceptions and it’s okay to be flexible. As with all things, it’s up to parents to judge whether it’s a good idea for their particular child. Some children can handle one late night and make up the lost sleep the next day with no ill effects. Others will be a cranky mess for a couple of days. No matter which type of child you have, it’s best to have a plan in advance if you’re going to let them stay up. We’ll use a sleepover (where there’s rarely a significant amount of actual sleep happening) as our example.
After retrieving your child from the sleepover, try to find out just how much sleep he or she lost. If it seems she barely slept, a nap may be a good idea as soon as you get home. While a little bit of sleep during the night followed by two or three hours in the morning isn’t optimal, it’s better than hoping they’ll get through the day on just those two or three hours.
If it turns out they got five or six hours of sleep, it’s still a good idea for the child to have a nap, but they may not be able to fall asleep right away. In this case, a midday nap might be a better solution. Do your best to ensure, however, that they don’t fall asleep late in the afternoon. A nap that late in the day can further confuse the child’s body clock.
In the end, allowing your child a late night involves a lot of common sense and a little bit of planning. Don’t expect your child to do anything strenuous the next day, nor should you expect him to be a little angel, as sleep-deprived crankiness could set in at any time. Additionally, it may take more than one good night’s sleep to get him back on track, so don’t plan any more late nights for at least a couple of weeks. Remember school-age children need 10-12 hours of sleep per night.
Dr. Shives works with SleepBetter.org to provide a medical view of sleep issues. She is one of only a few practitioners with a fellowship in Sleep Medicine in addition to board certification by both the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Sleep Medicine.