It's a familiar sight in many Indian homes – the spectacle of kids awake well past their bedtime, either watching TV or driving their parents crazy by refusing to go to sleep. At the same time, the virtues of an early bedtime are trumpeted by various research studies conducted abroad that suggest that children who go to sleep early stay less obese and become smarter – a variation on the saying ‘early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’.
But is that really true? And can Indian kids keep to an early sleep time considering that in most urban households, parents arrive home only post 8 pm? "Absolutely not," says software professional Meenakshi Agarwal, mother of six-year-old Renuka. "Neither my husband nor I would get to spend any quality time with her," she says.
Set a pattern
Dr Sonu Udani, consultant paediatrician and head of paediatrics, Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai, refutes the notion that early sleep times make kids smarter or less obese, saying that there is no hard evidence to support this. "If sleeping early means that kids never get to see their parents, that’s not desirable. But kids should sleep for eight to 10 hours."
The only thing Dr Udani advises against is letting kids stay up late to watch TV. And she also cautions against letting older kids go to bed late and then catching up on their sleep in the afternoons. "No child above the age of six should take an afternoon nap," explains Dr Udani.
That view is supported by Dr Pulkit Sharma, consultant clinical psychologist and psychoanalytical therapist at Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (VIMHANS), New Delhi, who argues that the stress should be on consistent bedtimes. "Whatever time you set for your child to go to bed, stick to it on weekdays," he advises.
Maintain sleep hygiene
According to Dr Udani, parents should pay attention to what she terms ‘sleep hygiene’ to ensure that bedtime is not battle time for parents. “It involves three aspects – the place where the child goes to sleep, the time at which they sleep and the time at which they get up – and this should remain standard on most days,” she explains.
Dr Sharma explains that parents should also be aware that their kids might suffer from sleep anxiety. “Kids feel more secure in going to sleep when they know their parents are around,” he explains. Dr Udani agrees, saying, “Set a pattern every night with your kids. Put them to bed, spend 15-20 minutes easing them in, maybe read them a story. This will soothe them,” she advises.
TV host and mother of two Maria Goretti has a similar bedtime routine for her two kids, son Zeke, 8 and daughter Zene, 5. “They start by taking a shower, after which I read them a story, they say their prayers, and then it’s lights out,” she says.
And what happens when kids effectively ‘hijack’ their parents, and refuse to sleep alone? “Explain to your kids that just as they enjoy watching cartoons, you too want to watch a movie meant for adults,” advises Dr Sharma.
Freelance writer Sonya Dutta Choudhury very early on decided she needed to set a sleep pattern for her three kids to give herself and her husband some time together. “When they were very young, my kids would sleep by 6 pm in their own room,” she reveals. “They used to get up for a feed around 10 pm. I always did it in the dark, and did not talk to them, replying only in whispers if they insisted on my saying something.” Today, her daughter Analie (the youngest) sleeps at 8.30 pm, Aleya (12) by 9 pm, and Diviya (14) by 9.30-10 pm.
According to Dr Sharma, the process of getting your child to sleep alone should start by explaining why it is important to sleep alone. “Do it gradually,” he advises. “Maybe by placing them in a cot by the side of your bed. Leave a night light on, and place an alarm bell by the bed which they can ring if they have nightmares. As they get more comfortable with the concept, ease them out in sleeping on their own.”
“My daughter goes to sleep on weekdays at 8.30 pm in order to be ready for school at 8 am the next day. As a rule, I try and make sure she gets nine and a half hours of sleep at least. That means no going out to parties on weekdays for me, so that I too can do the school run in the morning.”
Model and mother of Nayantara, 9
“Zeke and Zene both go to sleep at 8.30 pm because they get up to go to school at 7 am. Lately, though Zeke has been
fighting his sleep time. I have to fight with him to get him to go to sleep.”
TV host and mother of Zeke, 8 and Zene, 5
“Kaveri’s bedtime on school days is 9.30 pm. But in the holidays, I allow her full freedom to do as she pleases. Sometimes, when she has her friends over for a sleepover or pajama party, they don’t sleep till 5 am and keep waking me up for late night treats.”
Actor, mother of Kaveri, 12
From HT Brunch, April 1
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