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What Happened To Bedtime?

teens sleeping
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It seems there are never enough hours in the day, especially if you're a kid on the move. Correspondent Katy Abel explains to Anchor Bryant Gumbel in an Early Show "Family First" report, often the first thing to go is sleep.
Some experts say sleep deprivation is becoming as much of a health crisis as tobacco. And the newest group affected by lack of sleep is school-aged kids, whose busy lives and changing schedules have them hitting the hay almost as late as Mom and Dad.

"We had a baseball game early in the morning, a softball game, later in the afternoon. There was another baseball game at 6 o'clock," says mother.

A look at the Veihmeyer family's daily planner reveals it's packed from dawn to dusk. Nine-year-old Eileen doesn't even start piano lessons until 8:30 at night.

"In the morning, it's a big deal for me getting up," says Eileen Veihmeyer.

Sometimes son Patrick has ballgames that begin as late as 9 p.m.

"We got home at 20 (minutes) to 1. It's just almost become normal to have kids extended to that hour of the night," says mother Beth Veihmeyer.

Patrick's older sister, Bridget, is often buried under mounds of homework until after midnight.

"Sometimes I get really tired in classes and falling asleep," says Bridget Veihmeyer, 17.

Ah, the lives of the young and the sleepless.

Patrick can be very cranky in the morning when he has to get up after he has put in a full day and night the evening before.

"I just won't pay attention to anybody talking to me; I just sort of sit there and be in my own world," he admits.

What ever happened to the concept of a bedtime?

"It's hard to balance getting up at the crack of dawn to get to school, going all day, coming home, hours of homework, sports and finally getting to bed at what we would consider to be a reasonable hour," says Beth Feihmeyer.

This mom is far from alone, according to renowned sleep disorder expert, Dr. Richard Ferber at the sleep disorder clinic at Children's Hospital.

"You'll have some families that don't get home till 9 o'clock or they come home, at least one member comes home right at the time the child would be going to bed, and that starts an interaction that then goes on much later," he says.

Like many parents, Beth and John Veihmeyer have surrendered to lost sleep and late bedtimes as reality for modern kids.

"My parents, they would go upstairs and go to bed," recalls John Veihmeyer. "Now, it's, 'Read with me. Lay down with me.'"

"You just know they need a little more sleep, but it's impossible to find the time to do it, find the way to do it," says Beth Veihmeyer.

Families are saying it's taking hours to get kids to bed. And in the end, many children just aren't getting the shut eye they need. And the amount varies from child to child.

There are some possible solutins, however.

1. Reconsider the benefits of bedtime.

A lot of people have lost sight of that because we see kids as needing all these skills. So Dr. Ferber suggests that after a kid wakes up naturally in the morning, backtrack it and consider when did he or she fall asleep? That will tell you what your child needs.

And reconsider the choices, the things stopping the child from getting to bed.

2. Adopt bedtime rituals.

We read the fairy tales to the preschoolers. But we say the older ones are too old for that; we tell them to go to bed. In fact, you can sit on the edge of the bed with children who are 9 and 10 years old and catch up on the day. It's nice for you, as well as your child.

3. Use appropriate bedtime language.

Instead of saying, "Honey, do you want to put on your pajamas?"

We need to use declarative language: "It's time for bed."

There's effective and ineffective dialogue.

4. Don't put television in the kids' bedrooms.

One-half to one-third of American kids have a TV in the bedroom. It's not the lullaby parents think. It actually keeps kids awake, Dr. Ferber has found, because they want to hear more of those stories on their favorite shows. So taking it out makes sense.

Experts say falling asleep with the TV on starts a bad sleep pattern.

Bedtime Psychology
John Rosemond is a family psychologist who has written nine books on child rearing. Visit his Web site.

5. Limit after-school activities.

Dr. Ferber and others say it's not the hectic pace that is necessarily a problem but it's the way the schedule is constantly changing. One night they're up to 8; other, until 10. John Rosemond, a disciplining type of child expert, says you should have your child choose one activity, and that's it.

If we think it's so important that they play soccer or the world would end, well, why is that? Make some choices and realize that their sleep is more important than some of the activities they're pursuing.