The Impact of Lifestyles on Toddler Sleep Schedules

Though many parents will agree that an “early to bed and early to rise” sleep schedule is the most appropriate for a child, one of the difficulties of implementing such a schedule in this part of the world lies in the fact that we are inherently a “late to rise and late to sleep” culture.

Simply looking at the hours of operation and office work hours is indication enough for the kind of schedules we keep.  Shopping malls open at 10am and sometimes 11am, and they don’t close until 10pm at night.  Parents are officially at work in the office until 6pm but usually stay back late for OT and may not get home until 8pm or later.  In order to see their parents and spend time with them, children inevitably stay up late and sleep in to catch up on missed sleep.

I used to attend Fitfor2 where I knew some mothers who used to live in Finland.  Having been used to a very different lifestyle, their children were often awake by 6am or 7am.  They complained about the lack of activities available here since the earliest most businesses opened their doors was at 10am.  Back in their home country, shops opened earlier.  Parents could expect to be home early for dinner because the official closing time for the offices is about 4-5pm.

As a result, Gavin has always been late to bed and late to rise.  However, since starting him at school, we have had to make a massive shift in his sleeping habits to accommodate the school schedule.  It took us over a week to get him into some semblance of a sleep routine appropriate for the early start to school.  Even then we were still out by an hour or two on occasion.

The new change in his sleep schedule has also had a huge impact on our evening activities.  After dinner, there is only a brief window for activity before Gavin must begin his pre-sleep activities – bath, wind-down, story and sleep.  Since Gavin started school, hubby and I have hardly gone out in the evenings.  Gavin, too, has missed his regular days at the shopping mall.  This is most evident when he refuses to go home whenever we chance to visit one.  Most outings are reserved for weekends only.

After the difficulty and stress I endured to rearrange Gavin’s sleep cycles, I was naturally reluctant to make accommodations when Gavin’s holidays came.  I wanted to maintain his new schedule as much as possible so we wouldn’t have to readjust his sleeping patterns again when school restarted.  All might have worked out well if we hadn’t traveled down to Singapore for the weekend.  Being a new environment, it was only natural that Gavin would resist sleep with the kind of will power even a parent has to be impressed by.

Here’s the lesson that I learned:

There are times when you need to enforce the rules and times when you need to relax them.  The trip down to Singapore was clearly a time when I needed to relax the rules about nap time and bed time.


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

6 thoughts on “The Impact of Lifestyles on Toddler Sleep Schedules

  1. I dread when Jack has to go to school. Now with 2, it takes double the time to put them to bed so we’re sleeping even later and waking later.

    I’ll look out for an afternoon kindy when he is 5 though.


  2. Yes, it is very limiting! Hubby and I decided at the start to have bedtime at 7pm. However, we never go out in the evening as a result! Its hard too given life in KL – when 7pm is just the start of life!


  3. Mephala – Haven’t heard of afternoon kindy around here, but perhaps they have them in Singapore… I’m not sure how the addition of a baby will affect the sleep schedule though. I guess we’ll have to cross that one when we get to it… I would have wanted to keep Gavin home with me longer, but I guess I wasn’t brave enough to tackle it.

    Chin Li – absolutely. It has been a real adjustment for us to get Gavin to sleep earlier. I think it has been hard for Gavin, too, since he has been so used to going out at night. Being a bit of a night owl myself, waking up early has always been difficult for me, so it has required a bit of adjustment on my part, too!


  4. Well, with Jade in our lives now, bedtime is even later cos we need to get 2 to bed, one after the other… well, sometimes I have to nurse both if it is real late.

    I guess with Gavin, play it by ear and remember to be receptive to his needs. It is so painful to hear Jack ask repeatedly, “Mommy, do you still love me?”


  5. No wonder when i read childcare books written by US/UK ppl they always advocate bedtime at 7pm which is like the start of our activities for us!
    On days i work, bedtime for Eliza is 9pm = sleep eventually at 930-10pm. On days when i’m home alone, i can push earlier it to 8pm. I look forward to the days i don’t need to work :S


  6. Mephala – yeah… I realise it’s going to be a big change when the baby arrives and we’re all sleeping together… Tugs at my heart to read about Jack asking that. I’m sure it would even worse to hear it from Gavin…

    Grace – I think you’ve done remarkably well getting Eliza to bed “early” then. Gavin used to be up until 11-12am.


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