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Bedtime involves rituals made to help children feel more secure, and become accustomed toward a comparatively more rigid sleep schedule than they would otherwise establish. Such rituals may be involved to a greater or lesser extent.
Bedtime for children may become a positive ritual including:
- Bathing and Oral hygiene
- Bedtime story
- Songs, nursery rhymes or a lullaby
- Getting dressed in pajamas
In some families, bedtime is an important bonding period for parents and children. The routines of bedtime can be an opportunity to spend quality time with a child, discussing emotional concepts such as views of daytime experiences, expressing interests as plans for the next day, and learning, for example with a book. It plays a key part in many parenting styles.
Bedtime for adults may start as early as 8:30 PM, or in some extreme cases, even earlier.
Children refusing to go to bed, or unwilling to go to bed, or even scared to fall asleep, is a common problem. The causes of the reluctance may include:
- Fear of darkness also called nyctophobia,
- Inability to sleep also called insomnia which also results in boredom, often a symptom of hyperactivity or too long in bed,
- Curiosity about what is going on beyond their bedroom (such as what parents are doing),
- A circadian rhythm sleep disorder or another sleep disorder.
If people do not get enough sleep, they will function less well the following day. Growing children (particularly teenagers) need more sleep than others, but may be reluctant to go to bed at a suitable time, while their morning is scheduled by an alarm clock and appointments. This can become a significant developmental issue for months or years.
In adults, changes in sleep and bedtime may occur due to shift work, often creating severe problems with sleep rhythms. Natural sleeping rhythms lead to individually appropriate bedtimes, varying according to a person's chronotype.
Sometimes the term is used to mean simply "time for bed," similar to curfew, as in "It's past my bedtime."
In boarding schools and on trips or holidays that involve young people, the equivalent of bedtime is lights-out; a term also used in prisons and in sleep research.