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My 12-13 daughter currently goes to bed at 9:00 PM but lately she's been asking to go to bed at a later time, like 9:30 or 10:00 PM.

I know she'll be starting high school soon and might need a later bedtime but honestly I don't know what to do. If anybody has any advice, it'd be appreciated.

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    Seventh grader in the US is going to be 12-13. You have to be 5 to start Kindergarten (0th), so you're normally going to be 12 when you start 7th. – JPhi1618 Jan 22 '18 at 15:58
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    As a night owl, I have bad memories of lying awake in bed for hours every single night in high school because I was just not tired. I'm not sure what the best approach is, but you might want to consider whether enforcing a bed time is only forcing your daughter to lie awake in bed when she could be doing something worthwhile or at least enjoyable at night and still actually fall asleep at the same time. – Kevin - Reinstate Monica Jan 22 '18 at 20:31
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    @Kevin, I was endlessly creative in finding sources of sufficient light to read by: the glowing digits of my alarm clock, or reflected light from the bathroom down the hall, or moonlight concentrated by a large Fresnel lens. Heck, I even had an LED flashlight before those were a thing: jam the legs of a red LED in a mini-Maglight, and you've got something that will last months on a pair of alkalines. – Mark Jan 23 '18 at 7:15
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    I heard that the chemical reactions in a teenager's brain makes them stay up later and also need to wake up later. Which makes it seem kind of insane that school is so early for them. – Mark Rogers Jan 23 '18 at 15:25
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    If she's in her room after a certain time, gets up on time, doesn't get in trouble at school (IE: Sleeping during class) and gets good grades... what are the issues you are having with giving more freedom to her if she follows given rules (IE: In room at 9, lights out at 11, up at 6, etc)? Give responsibility... it makes for good adults... – WernerCD Jan 23 '18 at 18:39

12 Answers 12

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I think it's time to let go of those reins and I honestly think you'll get a very good reaction. I'd even go as far as to say don't restrict her bedtime at all. Granted, rules should be in place like:

  • No friends over after a certain time
  • A quiet time after a certain time so as to not disturb others who may be sleeping
  • Maintain a curfew for her to be home by a certain time

Let her be in charge of those natural consequences of whether she chooses to stay up too late (i.e. the morning schedule still remains the same so if she doesn't get enough sleep, it's on her).

Depending on the type of person she is, keeping those reins tightened could result in rebellion and, in this case, this may not be one of those battles that's worth it.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – anongoodnurse Jan 24 '18 at 0:37
  • I think this is the best answer. You're slowly letting your child have the responsibility of getting enough sleep, while still making sure you yourself won't be affected by it. – Stephan Bijzitter Jan 24 '18 at 12:42
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    I especially like this because at that age she should be beginning to learn how to moderate herself, not to blindly obey rules. Having a hard rule of "go to bed at X pm or else" doesn't teach her how to regulate her own bedtime, or how to choose a good bedtime, or the consequences of going to bed late, or anything like that. These are skills she should be learning, and limiting activity later in the evening aids this much better than a hard rule. – user30275 Jan 25 '18 at 9:39
  • Adding to what @Stacey has said: I've had hard rules such as bedtime since I was a child, and then later into early adulthood. Once I moved out to live alone, I spent many many (7 years, to be precise) struggling to develop the necessary discipline when it comes to sleep hours. Not to mention I had severe depression, and many professional setbacks, among other things, most of them directly related to this precise fact. – Marc.2377 Jan 28 '18 at 8:27
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The main thing is that your daughter is getting sufficient total sleep (not time in bed, but time asleep, and restorative deep sleep, not fitful sleep). Not getting enough sleep has been considered an epidemic in the U.S. by sleep researcher William Dement, and sufficient sleep is particularly important to brains that are growing and learning so much each day. Most sources right now give 8-10 hours as the range that teens need for sleep.

A lot depends on when she has to get up for school. If she gets up at 6am, to follow these guidelines at a bare minimum, she should be asleep by no later than 10:00pm sharp. But it's unrealistic to go to bed and instantly fall asleep. And that would be getting only 8 hours, whereas her brain and body may benefit by getting 9 or more hours (for example, consolidation of memories learned that day is thought to happen during either REM sleep or slow wave sleep, depending on the type of memory; sufficient sleep seems to play a role in emotional regulation). So, going to bed at 9pm may be better for her. If she gets up at 7am, though, going to bed at 9:30 or 10pm might be acceptable.

Unfortunately, if junior high starts later than high school, whatever trend you set now (say 10pm for a 7am wake time) will be the new norm and it will be psychologically very hard to go back to going to bed earlier if high school requires her to wake up at 6am. Some school districts are now starting about an hour later in response to the growing evidence that teens are sleep deprived.

Perhaps you can do a trial approach, where you allow a later bedtime on 3 nights a week, and see how she feels. I commend you for being careful about this. EDIT: Although someone reasonably pointed out that varying bedtime can have its own undesirable consequences. So, if you do try this, at least don't make the variation much.

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    Setting an early bedtime doesn't ensure sufficient sleep. In order for me to get enough sleep and still get to school on time, I needed to be asleep by 10:30 PM for a 6:30 AM wakeup, which in turn calls for about a 10:00 PM bedtime. Thing is, in high school I simply couldn't get to sleep before around 2 AM. Needless to say, I spent about a year and a half getting increasingly sleep-deprived before I informed my parents that they would be homeschooling me (with a sensible sleep schedule). – Mark Jan 23 '18 at 7:26
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    I would very much recommend against your last statement. Changing up bed-times is quite possibly worse for a person's sleep and restfulness than just going to sleep too late on a consistent basis. – Valthek Jan 23 '18 at 12:19
  • This is the most logical answer, and I really want to upvote it. However, I keep seeing studies finding that there's somehow something magical about being asleep vs. awake at certain specific hours of the day. – T.E.D. Jan 25 '18 at 15:39
  • @Mark would you actually lie in bed until 2am? How did you know it wasn't until 2am that you were falling asleep? Are you sure you weren't doing things like reading/being on a device? – theonlygusti Jan 27 '18 at 23:44
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Your brain tells you when to go to sleep by producing melatonin. Melatonin is what makes you feel tired, and prepares you for sleep.

The brain hormone melatonin is produced later at night for teens than it is for kids and adults. This can make it harder for teens to fall asleep early. – TeensHealth How Much Sleep Do I Need?

This has been noted by many, many reputable sources, here's one more:

Sometime in late puberty, the body secretes the sleep-related hormone melatonin at a different time than it normally does. This changes the circadian rhythms that guide a person's sleep-wake cycle. For instance, if you told your teen to go to bed at 10 p.m., she may end up staring at the ceiling until 1 or 2 a.m. waiting to fall asleep. At about 7:30 p.m. a teen feels wide awake and fully alert, unlike an adult who is starting to "wind down." – Adolescent Sleep (Stanford)


I think controlling your child's bedtime is unhealthy, you should let their body do the healthiest thing that it can, which it will dictate on its own.

Once you start forcing your child into certain circadian rhythms (sleep patterns) you may start detrimentally affecting their health (e.g. as Dan points out), and are definitely decreasing their productivity.


I think the best thing you can do is make a no-screens from 9 PM (her current bedtime) rule. In fact get her to leave her devices somewhere far from her room (but trust her, don't take them yourself.)

I am 17 years old at the moment and wish my parents had been stricter with this earlier in my adolescence. Now I enforce this rule on myself, and naturally won't feel like going to bed until after 11 o'clock, but when I was staying up glued to a screen earlier in my teens I would be unnaturally (and unhealthily) staying awake until 3 AM, 4 AM in some cases, destroying daily productivity and maybe (but hopefully not irreparably) my health.

If you encourage her to read books or do paper-based homework/tests past that time it will be extremely beneficial to her academic life.

We found that memory was superior when sleep occurred shortly after learning rather than following a full day of wakefulness. Lastly, we present evidence that the rate of deterioration across wakefulness was significantly diminished when a night of sleep preceded the wake period compared to when no sleep preceded wake, suggesting that sleep served to stabilize the memories against the deleterious effects of subsequent wakefulness. – Memory for Semantically Related and Unrelated Declarative Information: The Benefit of Sleep, the Cost of Wake. PLoS ONE 7(3): e33079.

Things you read and learn just before going to bed are more likely to be remembered, I wish I'd abused this more often when I was younger.

Also it gives a great opportunity to read books.

The benefits are plenty, which is especially important in a distracted, smartphone age in which one-quarter of American children don’t learn to read. This not only endangers them socially and intellectually, but cognitively handicaps them for life. One 2009 study of 72 children ages eight to ten discovered that reading creates new white matter in the brain, which improves system-wide communication. – How Reading Rewires Your Brain for More Intelligence and Empathy

I hope she'll come to love reading both fiction and non-fiction, since I set myself the no-screens before bed rule I've become happier and more productive in the day, and have fallen in love with reading. Learning about what other people think of the world, comparing theories you read in different books, is so interesting. And immersing yourself in the stories of fabricated worlds is great.


tl;dr

Don't enforce a bed time, just enforce a no-screens time. She will naturally fall asleep whenever her body's ready.

  • To be honest, at 17 you're still very young. I'm 24 (and I still consider myself young by the way), and trust me, you still have a lot of time to abuse of these tips. – Jean-François Savard Jan 27 '18 at 2:09
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I'm reading a book right now called "Why we Sleep". (I strongly advise everyone to read it too.) It has a whole section on the sleep changes we go through from infancy to old-age. One thing it very clearly states is that as children move from childhood into their teenage years is that their circadian rhythm SHIFTS. It moves from them "crashing" at 7pm or 8pm as young children to a cycle that actually has them feeling sleepy later than their parents. The exact example given is:

Asking a teenager to fall asleep at 10pm and wake up at 7am would be the same as asking an adult to fall asleep at 7pm and wake up at 4am.

Unfortunately, school start times do not take this into account. There was no proposed solution in the book for what to do other than shifting school start times to later in the day.

8 hours of sleep remains a necessity, but enforcing an "unreasonably" early bed time will just result in a grumpy/annoyed/not-sleepy teen.

Have a discussion with your daughter. Perhaps even read the book ("Why we Sleep") together! (It truly is an excellent book)

Have her propose a solution that keeps her getting 8 hours of sleep but gives her some control over her bedtime. (It may simply be that you stop "enforcing" a bed time but she still takes herself to bed at the same time. Maybe you guys agree that something like "7 hours minimum, 8 hours/night average over the course of a week" is acceptable. Whatever - just come up with something together.)

"Sleep hygiene" will also help her not to just lay awake in bed. Dark, cool-ish room. No light at all (including LED clocks, device charge-lights, etc). No LED lights with a strong blue spectrum in the half-hour before bed: No screens (unless they have a yellow-filter (Flux.io is a great computer program for this), no blue night-lights, etc. Blue is the spectrum that our bodies react to the most with regards to the "awake" effect it has on us.

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    That book, "Why we sleep" is fantastic. Mentioning the shift in natural sleep times during adolescence makes this the best answer. – axsvl77 Jan 23 '18 at 18:46
  • I like this answer a lot, this is the best advice I've read as a response to this question. Everything you say is spot-on and backed up by endless research, and the way you've formatted it is succinct and gets the point across so beautifully. I'm a fan of your last paragraph, I've personally noticed (I'm a teen) a huge improvement in my sleep since changing my sleeping environment to a "dark, cool-ish room. No light at all (including LED clocks, device charge-lights, etc). No LED lights with a strong blue spectrum in the half-hour before bed: No screens" – theonlygusti Jan 27 '18 at 23:51
  • @theonlygusti Thank you :) I've pulled most of it from the book I mentioned (give it a read!) I've only read about 1/3 of it so far but I was a solid fan-girl of it after just a few pages. EVERYTHING in it is backed up by studies. My coworkers are probably sick of hearing me go on about it but I've bought a copy for the office to try and get everyone possible to read it :) – BunnyKnitter Jan 29 '18 at 18:15
  • It is not hard to get used to going to sleep at 7pm and waking up at 4am, if 9 hours is what your body wants. The issue is social, not biological. – Zayde in NY Jan 30 '18 at 22:43
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Let her go to bed a half hour later for a week and see how she acts. If she is harder to wake up in the morning, forgetful, cranky, etc, move it back to the usual time. If, however, everything remains the same, keep it going for a month and then make bedtime 10pm. Do this again, for a week and see how it goes.

A week of too little sleep won't hurt her, and if she really doesn't need the sleep, lying in bed wide awake like that can cause insomnia later on.

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All through high school, my bedtime was about 9pm. That prepared me to get up the next day by 6am, and be one of the first students to arrive at school.

During the teenage years is a time when the child actually has considerable needs for sleep because of intense changes in the brain.

From the National Center for Biotechnology Information

"Scientific research shows that to function at your best, you need between 9 hours and 10 hours of sleep every day. This is more sleep than you needed before you were a teenager, and it is more than you will need when you are an adult."

From the UCLA Health Center

"Teens are at an important stage of their growth and development. Because of this, they need more sleep than adults. The average teen needs about nine hours of sleep each night to feel alert and well rested."

and from the "Sleep Doctor", Dr. Michael J. Breus,

"In adolescence, the brain is still developing, and sleep is essential to healthy brain development. The brain’s pre-frontal cortex—responsible for complex thinking and decision making, as well as emotional regulation—is among the last areas of the brain to develop, and undergoes significant maturation during teenage years. This part of the brain is especially sensitive to the effects of sleep deprivation."

"There are serious safety risks for teens who don’t get enough sleep. Insufficient sleep in teenagers raises their risks for sports injuries and other accidental injuries. One especially significant safety risk faced by sleep-deprived teens? Drowsy driving."

If the child can regularly wake up close to on time without an alarm clock, then they are probably getting enough sleep.

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    Can you cite some studies that say that sleep is more necessary during the teenage years? It seems much of this answer is anecdotal and doesn't really provide much of a reason why the existing bedtime is crucial, so if you could add some more information as to that, it would help the quality of the answer. – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Jan 23 '18 at 21:15
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    Those are great studies, but how did being one of the first students at school help or hurt your developmental progress? It's also well documented that later start times in schools is more beneficial to overall teen health, so a bedtime does not necessarily help or hurt a teen, but rather that the lack of getting the required sleep is a crucial component. – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Jan 23 '18 at 22:01
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    Neither of those however empirically says why the bedtime should be the way it is, but rather that it remain consistent. In your answer, are you assuming that the teen in question is unable to make the decision that a bedtime is an important part of their daily routine and success? It seems a bit overly pessimistic to assume that a teen is unable to make that decision for themselves. Also, you mentioned that you had perfect attendance, but I'm not sure how that's related to either bed or wake times as health is not significantly affected by sleep, and there is no mention of a trip in the post – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Jan 23 '18 at 22:16
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    Also, the teen isn't requesting a complete overhaul of their sleep time, but is rather requesting a small increase in the overall time that their parent is allowing them to go to bed. Similar to how you were awake and alert because you arrived early, I have had the opposite experience in that it was more difficult to wake up the more sleep I had. Placing any anecdotal experience to an unrelated teen seems tenuous at best, and may overall cause resentment if the teen is laying awake at night as a result of insomnia, or just an overall lack of being tired. – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Jan 23 '18 at 22:20
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    @GarnetR.Chaney On the other hand, I simply find no amount of regular bedtimes will stop me from laying awake for hours when I go to bed earlier and being drowsy in the morning. I have tried to do so consistently for months in the past. But with no success. Early nights and mornings always leave me feeling awful. And have done so since I was 12 or 13, now in my mid 20s. Eventually sleeping in at the weekends meant I got enough sleep at least sometimes, and was better than never getting it. – Vality Jan 23 '18 at 22:21
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How much sleep does she need? What time does she need to be up at to get ready to go to school? How long does it take her to fall asleep at night?

In 7th grade, she is quite capable of doing the math herself with some direction about what needs to be included. I would be surprised if the bed time answer based on math came out much later than 9:30.

There will come a day in the not too distant future when school and work start taking a combined toll and she will sleep whenever she can.

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As a 14-year-old myself, I wanted to give my own perspective on this question.

Don't set a bedtime, a stop-technology time, or anything like that initially. That's what my parents did, and I was super happy about it. I'm a nocturnal person, and I actually did a lot of productive things while staying up all night. My parents let me have my fun, and I think you should do so too.

But then she'll realise eventually, just like I did, that the morning after staying up all night or even sleeping late, you feel like total and utter crap. In the day, when people expect you to fulfil responsibilities and do work, you just won't able to process stuff clearly. Trust me, after enough instances of that, falling into a regular sleep pattern will happen. Not immediately, not even particularly quickly, but she'll find a pattern that doesn't make her feel like crap in the morning, and it'll end up being pretty close to a healthy cycle.

After that, observe her cycle for a bit, find what she ended up with, and then set the rules for bedtime and stop-technology time accordingly. Maybe shift it a bit if you feel it's not quite appropriate. She'll be much more open to it and it'll feel necessary. Plus, gradually getting that "good-morning" feeling back after a lot of crappy mornings feels awesome.

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    As someone who was given this freedom and didn't do well at self-regulating, this won't work for all children: I self-regulated into getting enough sleep to be functional, not awesome, which for me was 4.5 hours of sleep most school nights. – TemporalWolf Jan 24 '18 at 20:04
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    I was also given this choice and wasn't nearly as successful at self-regulation. At 35 years now, I still don't have a regular sleep cycle. I like the spirit of this answer, but it varies wildly by the child. – Forklift Jan 24 '18 at 21:21
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    As a 17 year old who was just like you at 14, I sincerely recommend against the course of action you're proposing. I found myself in a situation where I had the freedom to be on my laptop, devices, etc. as late as I wanted, and didn't feel enough like crap to bother controlling my bedtime. Most teenagers won't, we cope with sleep deprivation scarily well. The recommended time for teenage sleep is 9-10 hours, I was getting 4 yet still felt fine. My productivity was dropping though and my school work suffering. I regret this now, and am trying to enforce some "no screens from 10pm" rule – theonlygusti Jan 25 '18 at 19:57
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Similar to SomeShinyObject's answer but...

My parents always had a policy of good behavior grants both more privileges and responsibility. A direct result of this was a complete lack of bedtime by the time I was 12 years old. I could stay up as late as I wanted, play games as late as I wanted (as long as I disturbed no one), and basically do what I wanted at night.

This was never a problem for me or my parents and worked out well. I began to value my own self assigned bedtime very quickly because I knew when I needed to go to sleep.

So assuming the child is trustworthy and mature enough to self-govern to some extent I would suggest giving them enough freedom that they can blow your mind with their success or learn a great deal from their own failures. Just keep in mind that a potentially major drawback is that once you give them a taste of that freedom it may be hard to revert them back to a set of rules that includes that boundary again.

  • From my personal experience I disagree with this. Maybe that's because I was raised wrong prior to my teens, but I noticed that given this freedom I'd only have 4 hours sleep a night during the school week. I think teens shouldn't be given bedtimes, but I think parents should try to enforce some "no screens" rule. – theonlygusti Jan 25 '18 at 19:50
  • Also, in my early teens when I still had a bedtime I feel I performed brilliantly academically, especially compared to later. I was always motivated, and extremely productive during the day. It led to me taking the GCSE 2 years before my peers would. Once I was given the freedom to do what I wanted towards bedtime my productivity dropped significantly. I've since set myself a no-screens rule, forcing myself to read only books or do paper revision/homework from 10pm onwards, and I've noticed a great boost in all things academic again, and feel much happier overall too. – theonlygusti Jan 25 '18 at 19:53
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We've set standard bedtimes for elementary and younger, middle school, and high school. After certain goals in high school are attained we allow them to choose their own bedtime. Partly this is because they don't understand that insufficient sleep is bad for them, emotionally, mentally, and physically, so having a set bedtime ensures they are getting what they need. Partly this is to provide time for each of the older kids to have playtime without the younger kids around distracting them.

However there is one caveat - if they are not completely ready on time on any given morning, that evening their bedtime is set at least an hour earlier than usual.

We've found that the older youth often take naps after school to make up for sleep deficiencies, so we've decided to stick with this plan, having found they'll often resolve these situations themselves.

When my children have asked for a later bedtime, I usually sit down with them and have a conversation about what they intend to use that time for, and why it must be later at night. Most often I've found it's a temporary situation, or poor planning, and that with some guidance they'll find they can accomplish what they want to accomplish without altering their bedtime. It's a good time to introduce the concept of prioritization - they need to understand there's only so much time in the day, and they can't rob their sleep without suffering negative effects, so they need to look elsewhere.

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If she wakes easily in the morning, then she has enough sleep. If she doesn't, she doesn't.

Also, if she wakes up much later in the weekends it would be a sign of too little sleep during the week (waking up and staying in bed doesn't count).

After all, different people need a different amount of sleep - so you two should experiment with the amount of sleep, and find something that is agreeable to both.

Also, if the later sleep hour means taking time away from her parents (I will go to sleep later but won't let you have your normal evening program), you should all take this into consideration.

  • waking up and staying in bed does count, at least in my experience. I was severely sleep deprived during my mid-teens and would wake up on weekends at about 9 ish, but only because there was too much light. It made me feel worse. I'd fervently try to fall back asleep until 2 o'clock in the afternoon before I felt like I could even try getting out of bed without collapsing. – theonlygusti Jan 25 '18 at 19:48
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Set a (moderately doable) standard for her.

That is she has to be on time (perhaps 10-15 minutes earlier*) for school and be fresh when she wakes up and not be sleepy in her classes.

And if you wanted to go extra mile just ask one of her teachers if she's sleepy at school.

If she's not sleepy and is the same then let her stay awake till 9:30 or 10:00, but anything beyond that is too much.

*being organized and ahead of schedule is key. Some parents think children don't need that or its OK to learn that later. (Most students I remember having good grades were students who were very well organized). You should treat messiness as an illness, as a detriment to her progress. Being organized makes you 2-3 times more efficient and happy and less stressed for being late or not able to find things.

That being said, sometimes things (e.g. not sleeping late) don't really take much of a physical effort, but it takes a huge mental toll if a child is forced to do something repeatedly. Most childs are obedient to this rule, because most childs sleep early and need to wake up for school

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