Kids Staying Up Late - How Bad?

Filed under: Feeding & Sleeping

Got a couple of night owls at home? Photo:

Ever try to coax children to go to bed when it's bright as noon outside and the gleeful shouts of neighborhood kids are mixing in with the soft summer breezes blowing in through the open windows?

Well, just how bad is it to let them stay up as late as they want on summer nights, anyway? It's not like there's school the next day ... Right?

To find out, I called Parental Advisor Robert Schachter, a New York City-based psychologist and faculty member of Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Letting kids stay up late in the summertime is "not the worst thing in the world at all, he said. "However they will get in the habit of staying up late and sleeping in, so when you need to get them reoriented for school or camp you will need to give yourself some lead time, and it will be a bit of a slog to get yourselves back on track." If those late summer night ice creams are worth it to you (as they are to us) here are Schachter's tips for making your way back from no sleep schedule to on-time to-sleep for camp:

Routine, routine, routine. If you don't have a bedtime routine that you follow every night, create one and repeat it in the same order every evening for a few nights (or even a week) before you start backing up their bedtime. Once the routine starts, they'll be used to following it in order and the time switcheroo won't be as obvious to them.

Get the kids on board. In a matter-of-fact way that doesn't invite a heated debate (side-note: ha ha ha!) explain the plan to the children, so they know change is coming. Be brief about this, as in, "Camp starts in two weeks so we're going to start going to bed a little earlier so you can have fun and not be tired the next day."

Take your time. If they've been staying up until 10pm (or later), allow at least 10 days to get them back to bedtime at 8.

Make incremental changes. Take bedtime back 30 minutes at a time, for 2 nights in a row, until you're back at your usual go-to-bedtime range. (So if they've been going to bed at 10pm, do 9:30pm for 2 nights, then 9pm for 2 nights, and so on).

Don't go back! This sounds obvious but bears repeating: If you slack on your plan, you'll have to start it all over again so stick to your guns.

How much sleep do they need, anyway? "It really depends on the child," says Schachter. "Eight to 10 hours can't hurt, but the real answer is: 'however much they need to not be tired the next day.'"

Have you had a less-than-perfect parenting moment and you're wondering, "How bad"? Send it to and it could get addressed in this column.

Sabrina Weill is editor-in-chief of

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.