How to Manage Children on Different Sleep Schedules

Posted by Darian Dozier on Apr 25, 2022 3:21:00 PM

How to Manage Children on Different Sleep SchedulesThe hardest part about having children of different ages is that they are able to do different things based on their age, maturity, school schedules, etc. This can be especially hard for younger children who take pride in feeling older. When it comes to getting adequate sleep, this can definitely be a challenge. Younger children with earlier bedtimes may want to stay up because their siblings are able to. However, you don't want to revert the older children because they feel as if they have progressed from their "childhood bedtimes". It's a tough balance, but it's necessary to prioritize the sleep health of the children over their individual desires. Continue reading to find out some great tips for balancing the different sleep schedules. 

How much sleep children need?

Before understanding how to manage children on different sleep schedules, it's important to understand how much sleep children need. It changes rapidly between birth and older adolescents. Knowing the different sleep requirements may help you explain to children why they need to go to bed at a certain time, as well as provide you some guidance as you are creating their sleep schedules. 

  • Less than 1 year = 12-16 hours
  • Between 1-2 years = 11-14 hours 
  • Between 3-5 years = 10-13 hours 
  • Between 6-12 years = 9-12 hours 
  • Between 13-18 years = 8-10 hours 

Using school times and the numbers above, you can begin to calculate what is the best time to get children into bed at night. These numbers also include naps, so your child may not sleep several hours at a time, but within a 24-hour span. 

So now that you know what time each age group needs to go to sleep, it's time to learn how to manage it when you have children that fall into these different age groups. 

Establish rules for disruptive behaviors

The most challenging part about trying to put children to bed when others don't have to is when the older children are disruptive during the bedtimes of the younger children. It can be very hard when one child is requiring a lot of attention, but your attention is on getting one into bed. If you are alone at night trying to put children down, it can also be very difficult. 

A good way to deal with this is to establish expectations and consequences, both good and bad, for meeting or failing to meet those expectations. Children respond to structure and learn expected outcomes of their actions from early ages.

Establish expectations of what those children are supposed to do while you are putting the other children into bed. You can give them a task or chore to do, giving them a sense of responsibility. You can also explain how they can help their siblings get great sleep by staying quiet until they are asleep, providing them a "job" in the process. 

If children struggle to follow these expectations, establish consequences that they are fully aware of and follow through on each time. Perhaps losing the privilege of having a later bedtime and must go to bed early - demonstrating that later bedtimes demonstrate their maturity and if they cannot handle it, then it may be revoked. Other consequences could be the removal of a special bedtime snack. If you do a point or a reward system, then utilize that to establish good bedtime behaviors.   

Distractions for older children

If you are struggling with children who are disruptive, then don't be afraid to use distractions. Distractions such as a nighttime TV show, iPad, book, puzzles, etc., are great to occupy the older children while you try and get the younger children into bed. This may cause some issues if the younger children want to do the activity that the older children are doing, so it can be something that is initiated after the younger children are sent to bed. 

Do whatever you need to do to get some space for you to put the younger child(ren) to bed. Use that activity as a positive consequence for not being disruptive, and take it away if children are not following the nighttime expectations. 


While you are creating bedtimes, it's important to practice consistency. If you are lackadaisical with when children go to bed then it may be hard to establish an expectation and have your children meet it more often than not. Children like structure and routine, and will learn to fall into line with the established bedtime routines. However, life gets in the way and it can be really hard to maintain if there are nighttime events or gatherings that disrupt bedtimes. 

However, try your best to maintain it to the best of your ability. Use timers to help alert you to the time, establish a nighttime routine so children know when bedtime is approaching and can get their minds and bodies ready. End the night with a great family activity so there is a sense of togetherness before it's time to go to bed. Whatever you decide to do, just be consistent, and that includes the consequences as well. 

If you are having trouble with bedtime, and you decide to establish negative consequences for not meeting expectations, then it's important to be consistent so children are fully aware of the outcome of their actions. This gives them levying power when you give them a chance to make the right decisions and they know what happens if they choose to meet expectations or if they continue being disruptive. However, without consistency, they may not be able to appropriately weigh benefits and risks of their behavior which may inhibit decision making abilities.  

Use age as a goal 

When talking to children about the importance of sleep and bedtimes, use the age groups from above to explain to them why kids their age need sleep. But, use the change of sleep schedule in older children as a goal for children to strive toward. They like to have something to look forward to. Using age as a goal, with the stipulation that they need to follow the bedtime rules of their own age, may help children with their delayed gratification. 

Every time they hit a milestone birthday, you can have a discussion about their new bedtime, what they believe their new bedtime should be, and how you all can work together to make sure the new bedtime works for everyone. This can establish a pattern for other "coming of age" milestones that take place throughout their lives. 

Use bedtimes as rewards 

Altered bedtimes can be a reward for younger and older children. They like staying up late because it makes them feel older. Letting them stay up late ON OCCASION is not going to be a catastrophe for their sleep schedule. It can be a fun reward if they have established healthy sleep behaviors for a set amount of time, and don't have any early morning commitments. 

The important thing when managing children on different sleep schedules is to stay consistent, establish rules and consequences, and use what data says to help support your decision and conversations with your children. The other important part is to include them in decision making and let them feel as if their agents in their own sleep health. 

If you feel like your child demonstrates extreme sleep issues, then there may be some underlying issues. Please click the orange button below to speak with a sleep health expert. 

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