By Dana Dougherty Reinke
From the print edition, April 2012
Pregnant and daydreaming about what life would be like after my baby, I had some vague idea that I’d be sleepless for a while. Little did I know that eight years later I’d still be shushing my eldest child to sleep at 11 p.m. I never imagined the near-nightly battles between my eternally wakeful child and me.
Charlotte is a night owl and, as a result, is never sleepy when bedtime rolls around. She inevitably creeps downstairs a couple of hours after we put her to bed, whether she just has to tell us something or only needs a glass of water. I suppose if I were a night owl too, it wouldn’t be an issue, but I am a morning lark, ready for bed at 9:30 p.m. and raring to go at the crack of dawn. Charlotte, on the other hand, is an absolute grump until about 9:30 a.m.
Slow to Snooze
Night owls, says Edmonton sleep expert Dr. Manisha Witmans, had an important role in humanity’s early years, when they were assigned night-watch duty while everyone else slept. Now, with our 24-7 society, it’s relatively easy for them to exist in a different time zone than the rest of us, she says. Not surprisingly, this is not ideal for school-aged children who may be getting less sleep than they need—about 10 hours each night, according to the Canadian Sleep Society.
West Vancouver, B.C., mom Sofia Kennedy and her son, Miguel, 9, are both night owls, but school starts at the same time every day for him—sleepy or not. “It’s funny,” says Kennedy. “I remember thinking when he was younger that I’d rather sleep in, so I let him stay up late too.” But when she tried to roll back Miguel’s bedtime to accommodate the earlier mornings that go along with starting school, she quickly realized her choice had little to do with when her son felt sleepy, which is around 10 p.m. “Mornings are tougher on him,” admits Kennedy.
Sleep experts call this tendency delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS)—when sleep and wake times are delayed by more than two hours based on what is considered normal. Have a night owl? If your little one’s sleep is routinely delayed, chances are the daily insomnia caused by DSPS affects her next-day function.
Here are six tips from experts about how you can help your child embrace an early-bird lifestyle.