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My 7 year old son (and his brother, 5 sometimes) in winter generally demands to go to bed as soon as the sun goes down. We really wish he would stay up to 6:30-7:00 or so because when he goes to bed at 5:00pm he generally gets up at 4:00 am or the like (and gets us up).

If you tell him its too early, you get screams of "But the sun went down" and "BUT I'M TIRED"

Any suggestions for getting kids to stay up until bedtime

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    An afternoon nap, sometime around 2 pm should do the trick. – Mari-Lou A Dec 7 '14 at 10:47
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We got our kids (7 and 8) an alarm clock and said "You're not allowed to get out of bed until the alarm goes off." For us the issue is a little different. They have no trouble staying in bed on school days, but on Saturday mornings they have been known to wake us up at 5 AM, no matter what time they went to bed.

They wind up playing quietly in their room sometimes (or sneaking the iPad and watching YouTube, which I don't love) but they don't wake us up.

So thinking of the problem as "we would like him to stop getting out of bed at 4 AM" might help guide you to solutions to the real problem (he's waking you up too early) while you work on getting him to stay up later.

  • I was about to answer very much the same thing. For younger kids a clock that changes colour to show getting-up-time works well. Those worked well for us. They come with a little book about farm animals who have a lovely time playing just so long as they don't torment their parents by getting up too early. – A E Dec 8 '14 at 16:59
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I deeply sympathize. We have the same problem in deep winter, and gets to be something of an opposite problem in summer (staying up because the sun hasn't set yet)...

Specifically for short days, some possible ideas:

  • Look into indoor extracurricular activities like gymnastics, martial arts, music lessons, whatever he might enjoy. If it starts around 5 or 6 in the afternoon, he needs to stay up and active -- and that's easier if there's an interesting, engaging class.

  • Offer some bedtime preparation, but don't actually go to bed for a while. For example, he needs to get his backpack ready for school, help prepare lunch, do a chore, take a bath, brush his teeth, do some other chore...

  • Try to get him engrossed in a favorite book or TV show before sunset, and/or have the windows covered (curtains, blinds, shades, whatever) so he doesn't notice when the sun has gone down. Until you want him to, of course :)

  • I was also thinking of light-control. I recently purchased a daylight-bright LED bulb for our main lamp, and it's (positively) affected my energy levels. Similar strategies could be used to make the whole home feel more like daylight. Then, ensuring the child's room is very dark (blanketing windows and any electronics) will help them sleep more soundly, even as the morning breaks. Studies show that blue light (as in CFL, LED bulbs and TV/Computer screens) inhibit melatonin production, and thus delay sleepiness. – user11394 Dec 7 '14 at 20:48
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That sounds very natural! All other diurnal life does this too. And you would too if it weren't for electricity and light bulbs. The circadian rhythm, levels of melatonin, serotonin are dictated by the eye's first exposure to UV light from the sun. The approximate 16 hour time clock countdown to sleep starts at first light exposure for the eye. A full day of natural light means he gets to experience a powerful sleep drive AND stay asleep. [I love it when I have that problem.]

A suggested solution would be:

Decide the designated bedtime for the child. Go outside on an excursion with the child where there is no convenient place to lie down until shortly before the designated bedtime. He may complain that he's tired but you'll have to bear with it. Then, when the child goes to sleep, plan to wake him up between 8 to 10 hours afterward.

Subtract 16 hours from the designated bedtime. This is when he should first see the daylight. Stay with him indoors, preferably with the curtains/shades closed, until it is time to expose his eyes to outdoor light. Make sure he still gets a full day's worth of natural light to intensify the sleep drive and reinforce the new circadian rhythm. Low intensity exercise in the morning, e.g., a morning walk will set his body up for being more tired by evening. Repeat for several days. This also works for adults.

  • While this may be a natural bodily reaction, the question is asking about how to overcome it, not explain it. Could you please update your answer with a suggested solution? – user11394 Dec 7 '14 at 20:41
  • @CreationEdge okay, updated... – SavedByZero Dec 7 '14 at 23:02
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    I like the idea of keeping him out on an excursion. – Amanda Dec 8 '14 at 1:39
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It might be worth a blood test. Excessive tiredness could be a sign of vitamin D deficiency or low iron. Our son suffered both even though he is a carnivore living in a sunny place (Australia).

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    Although sensible, I'm not sure this is the case here: The child is sleeping for a fairly normal amount of time, the rhythm is just shifted away from when the parent would like: sleeping and waking 2-3 hours later would be a fairly typical sleeping pattern for a 5-7 year old child. – Jon Story Dec 9 '14 at 14:51
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More light, and take away the association with the sun. Basically, try to get them to respond to light when you want the day to be.

About an hour before the sun sets, close any curtains etc and turn all the lights in the house on (and, if possible, TVs and extra lights). This will increase the "perception" of daytime, and remove the "Oh look, the sun's setting" trigger

Allow the child to look outside if they wish to see that the sun is still up, but aim to distract them with games, toys, food etc: anything that takes their mind off what's happening outside. Be active yourself, too.

Then as it gets closer to the bedtime you'd like, start reducing light levels and noise, so you're settling them down in much the same way they did to themselves.

Keep their room as dark and quiet as possible in the morning until about half an hour before you'd like them to be up, then start increasing light levels.

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