Back to School Bedtime


A teenage boy sleeping.If your house is anything like my house, the chances are that your children’s bedtime has crept a bit (or a lot) later over the summer. Since the last school bell rang in June, my 11-year-old’s nightly pleading for “five more minutes” has turned into “another five minutes” and “just ten more minutes,” and on some nights, it’s been an hour or more before he finally, begrudgingly goes to bed.

Bending bedtime rules is a relatively new development in our family. I’ve always been a taskmaster when it comes to bedtime. As the mother of a once terrible sleeper (and because I make my living helping parents with their children’s sleep), I’ve known for years how important it is to have a regular, age-appropriate bedtime.

When my son finally started sleeping well at almost three years of age, I was determined to keep it that way – even a slight variance in schedule was enough to throw him off, and it just wasn’t worth pushing the envelope, even by 15 minutes.

We left before dessert was served or passed on sunset concerts at the beach during the first years of his life to be home in time for bed. Of course, my son never wanted to go, but it was necessary. He was a child that needed his sleep. I distinctly remember carrying him to the car one evening as he shouted “mean mommy!” at the top of his lungs.

Yes, it felt terrible to hear those words, but I knew in my heart that I was a mean mommy for a good reason. Going home robbed him of fun, but staying robbed him of sleep. So I continued to be a “mean mommy” and learned to be ok with it.

As he’s gotten older, we’ve both become more flexible. The occasional late-night doesn’t cause those overtired meltdowns and middle-of-the-night wakings that used to rear their ugly heads. After years of being a party pooper, I’ve enjoyed finally being able to bend the rules and score a few “cool mom” points while the weather is warm.

But my “cool mom” days are coming to an end. School starts soon, and it’s time for a crackdown.

I’m planning on adjusting back to his regular bedtime slowly to give his body a chance to get back in the groove. The average 11-year-old still needs 9.5 to 10 hours of sleep every night. Although he’ll balk at the idea that he’s an average anything, the reality is that only a tiny percentage of the population needs less than the average amount of sleep.

Up for the day at 6:30 a.m. means asleep by 8:30 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. at the latest – a challenging schedule to pull off with after-school activities, homework, dinner, and wind-down time, but completely non-negotiable.

He can still pitch a pretty impressive fit and probably negotiate, but I’m standing firm. I know how much he still needs a good night’s sleep. “Cool mom” will become “mean mom” once again – and I’m ok with that.


  1. We usually make our way to regular bedtime a couple of weeks before school start too. And while there have been a few nights where our daughter has stayed up way past bedtime, we only give her 1/2 an hour extra during the summer on most nights compared to school months. Instead of 8pm, it’s 8:30. Otherwise she’s a cranky butt, and then everyone is unhappy. Totally get it.


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