Most mothers I know have their parenting "hill to die on" -- that one thing that they have determined they will not sacrifice for any reason.

Some moms have chosen nutrition as their "hill." If they have anything to do with it, a hot dog will never enter their child's mouth. Their children will eat one piece of candy at Halloween and the rest will be trashed. They will feed their kids only healthy meals at almost all costs.

Other moms choose TV as their "hill." Their children will only watch preapproved videos. TV time is limited to 30 minutes a day and only educational shows. These moms will never let the TV serve as a temporary babysitter.

I have chosen sleep as the "hill" I die on. I am pretty serious about nap and bed times. With few exceptions, my boys spend every afternoon in their beds at our house. My 2 1/2-year-old still naps for 2 hours every afternoon. My 8-month-old naps every afternoon and most mornings. (I am a little flexible with his morning nap because we run errands a few mornings each week.) They both sleep about 11 hours at night.

Why do I insist my boys spend more hours asleep than awake? Simply, I see a drastic difference in their behavior when they are tired. The baby cries more, eats less, and is less willing to play and interact. My toddler is more argumentative, disrespectful, and overbearing. And I think it's perfectly logical. When I am overtired, I am less patient, less creative, and less pleasant to be around. Why would I expect my children to respond any differently?

However, most children in America do not get the sleep they need. According to a 2004 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, the average child 10-years-old and younger gets .5-2.5 fewer hours of sleep per day than they need. The younger the child, the more sleep deprived they are, with the average infant receiving 1.5-2.5 fewer hours of sleep than recommended.

"It is clear from the poll results that we need to focus as much on the sleeping half of children's lives as we do on the waking half. Children are clearly not getting enough sleep," says Jodi A. Mindell, PhD, who served as Chair of NSF's 2004 Poll Task Force. "And a remarkable number of children have some kind of sleep problem. We need to help parents to become better educated about positive sleep practices so that their children can get the sleep they need to be able to function at their best during the day."

The Foundation's recommendations for improving your child's sleep include:
  • making sleep a family priority.
  • setting regular bedtime routines.
  • adhering to determined bedtimes and waketimes.
  • eliminating caffeine from children's diets.
  • removing TVs and computers from children's bedrooms.
I hope you'll evaluate your family's sleep habits as you think about what "hill" you're willing to die on. Please don't think any less of my parenting when I feed my kids cold cereal while they watch "Curious George." And don't worry about me judging your parenting decisions. I'll be asleep.
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