8 Misconceptions About Children NOT Having a Bedtime

8 Misconceptions About Children NOT Having a Bedtime

“The things we know and believe are a part of us. We feel we have always known them. Almost anything else, anything that doesn’t fit into our structure of knowledge, our mental model of reality, is likely to seem strange, wild, fearful, dangerous and impossible. People defend what they are used to even when it is hurting them.” -John Holt

8 Misconceptions About Children NOT Having a Bedtime

When I talk of not having bedtimes in our family, I receive many fearful comments. It’s hard to imagine what sleep can look like for children without force if you’ve never experienced it.

People wonder how kids will get enough sleep, what age kids are capable of making this decision, that children are running the house, and what about routine? All understandable concerns considering our society’s beliefs about children and their capabilities. But children are so very trustworthy, capable, and deserving of respect. So why let fear hold you back? Let them show you!

8 Misconceptions About Children NOT Having a Bedtime…

1. No help getting to sleep

Having no bedtime does not mean kids are just totally left to their own devices! You still help your kids to sleep, if needed, it’s just that it’s not forced. There is no set time for bed that is determined by parents. When children are ready for sleep you help them in whatever way they require. Maybe lying with them, stroking their hair, or breastfeeding to sleep.

2. There’s no routine

One of the most common arguments for a set bedtime for kids is that ‘children need routine’. The thing is, if they need or want a routine, then why would you need to force it? Having no bedtime doesn’t mean no bedtime routine or predictable sleep times. You can still wind down together, have baths and read stories, etc. It’s just that sleep happens whenever each person decides. Just like adults do. Children can also become quite predictable with their sleep and waking times, it’s just that they are free to listen to their bodies and these times reflect their true needs.

8 Misconceptions About Children NOT Having a Bedtime

3. Children are the boss

When you give children control over their lives, people assume that it means children become the boss of you. Not true! Everyone is the boss of their own body. Making a choice that suits you does not automatically mean infringing on the rights of others.

4. You don’t communicate your needs

What about when another’s sleep habits DO negatively affect others in the house? You talk about it! Not controlling sleep doesn’t mean you don’t get a say if someone is causing you to get less sleep than you need. You just don’t coerce the other person into doing things your way or force them to sleep on your schedule. Instead of declaring that it’s ‘not working’ and rushing in with rules and force, you problem solve together. You express your needs, you listen to theirs, and then you come up with a solution that you are both happy with. Of course, this depends on age. When you have a young baby you kind of just have to accept you’ll be getting less sleep for a while! But trust them, sleep when you can, and get support and eventually things will settle.

5. Children won’t get enough sleep

8 Misconceptions About Children NOT Having a Bedtime

Whenever I talk about children not having a bedtime, there are many people who tell me how very important sleep is for children’s growth and development. I agree! Sleep is important for everyone. But, not having a bedtime does not mean that children won’t get enough sleep. In some cases they might not, the same as some kids with a bedtime might not get enough sleep either. But, in the absence of medical issues, there’s really no need to stress about a child not choosing to regularly sleep enough for their individual needs. There may be times when they choose less sleep, just as adults have things they want to stay up for at times even though they know they will feel tired the next day. But that’s ok! A few days of tiredness is not a health issue.

6. No giving advice about sleep

Having no forced bedtime does not mean you never give any advice regarding sleep. If you have an early start in the morning you might let them know that an early night could be helpful. If they’re obviously tired you may discuss how their body is feeling with them. You might have conversations about listening to your body, how to relax for sleep, and the importance of rest. Not forcing bedtime does not mean not discussing sleep at all, it just means you’re not coercive about it. You support their learning about their needs, without an agenda.

7. It’s only for older children

There is no certain age where you can begin to trust children to decide on their own bedtime. Children are capable of listening to their bodies from birth! In fact, it doesn’t make much sense to control bedtime in the early years and then expect children to suddenly be able to manage on their own when they’ve never had that responsibility. That’s not to say you can’t start later if you want to make a change in your family. Just that it’s often a more rocky process as children adjust to the freedom and learn once again to listen to their bodies.

8 Misconceptions About Children NOT Having a Bedtime

8. No time with your partner

This one is probably quite true in the early years. When you have a newborn, especially, evening time with your partner takes a back seat. When the baby is sleeping, you want to be sleeping too! As children grow, it’s easier to communicate your needs and figure out something everyone is happy with. But, respecting children’s autonomy means that everyone’s needs are equal. Forcing them to bed at a certain time every night to meet your needs would be infringing on their rights. Instead, open up a discussion! How can we live together in a way that respects everyone’s freedom, and meets everyone’s needs?


Removing bedtime might be scary and unfamiliar, but that’s no reason not to try. There are so many awesome reasons to ditch bedtime, and ultimately children deserve to be in control of their bodies.

Want to know more about giving up bedtime? You might find these helpful…

Why We Ditched Bedtime

8 Reasons NOT to Give Kids a Bedtime

What does bedtime look like for autonomous kids?

20 Ways to a Better Bedtime




8 Misconceptions About Children NOT Having a Bedtime


July 19, 2017 at 2:16 am

I feel like these 3 posts were meant to be for me because we are struggling with sleep so much right now. I have really tried to let go of control of a lot but sleep is so hard for me because we have to get up so early and wake her every day then she’s so cranky all afternoon and sleepy! Maybe it would be a transition period of being worse then she would listen to her body better if I wasn’t forcing her. But what do you think about kids that have to be woke up so early? I feel like we are cutting into her sleep so she needs to get to bed earlier so she can feel good and there isn’t crying all afternoon from fatigue.

    July 24, 2017 at 11:40 am

    Sounds like afternoon fatigue and crankiness is from lack of “rest time”, not necessarily a nap. But there needs to be an understanding of “hey sweetie, this is time to read a book, rest our arms, legs, and eyes, or simply nap time. I’ve noticed naps/rest periods after lunch prevent meltdowns in afternoons and around supper time! And having grown up in a home with mom who had a daycare, working in several as I’ve aged, naps are vital to everyone’s overall attitudes :o).

August 14, 2017 at 9:31 pm

This resonates with us so much. At our one year health visitor check, she asked if we “put him down to sleep before he’s tired”. It makes little sense to me to try to help him to sleep before he’s actually tired. So refreshing to read I’m not alone! And relieved it’s okay to trust him to know what he needs and when. There’s so much advice out there stating otherwise.

Ian Andrew
April 14, 2018 at 3:56 pm

Hello I found your approach to sleep a revelation .I whole heartedly embrace it .
Sadly our 2 year old has 2 seperated parents as it was revealed 2 years down the line that my partner has autism .Asberges on the autism spectrum.As a result his mother seems to be very controlling and strict about sleep patterns.
I would say that she is trying to stop his naps now .The result being that when I have him he is a very sleepy child and needs s catch up .I only see him for 2 days and a night ,where as my partner sees him 7 nights and 2 days .She has a childminder for 3 days which is more than I see him
I may get more access through mediation as it is my right.
How can I get this approach across with so little access.He is a relaxed and a happy child and as you say very entertaining at this time .I do despair at the rigidity of his sleep structure over most of the week as he tells me when he is tired. I hope he will be able to develop listening to his own natural instincts when it comes to night time .
Many thanks

April 18, 2018 at 12:01 am

Sad to say, this is only good for kids who are not yet in school, or for kids whose school schedule starts late. My son is 11 yrs old, and so he has to wake up early everyday to go to school. But he just doesn’t want to sleep early. We always fight about this eversince I could remember.. not having enough sleep sometimes is okay, but not having enough sleep almost every night is DEFINITELY not okay..

August 27, 2018 at 8:54 pm

I have friends that do this but I can’t bring myself to do this. My 7yo has issues with executive function skills and can’t seem to tell when her body needs things. If we just let her go she’ll stay up all night or till 5 in the morning. We’ve done this when she’ll be knee deep into playing by herself. She gets so lost and just goes and goes. But our almost two year old is capable of going to rest or bed when she’s tired.

March 17, 2021 at 11:56 am

Firstly, I LOVE your blog! We are growing in confidence as unschoolers who come from a very “schoolish” background. I am really ready to embrace more autonomy with bedtimes for every reason you’ve mentioned, but for months I’ve been stuck on the issue of private time with my husband. I am a “highly sensitive person” and get very, very spent by about 8:30pm. As much as this can be true, I “need” adults only time (and I’m the first to condemn the perceived selfishness of that!). Add to that the fact that my marriage is healing from a really rocky time, and my husband and I depend on spending a few hours of quality, private time together for the sake of our family, including the kids. We’re tried to find a balance by letting our very intense (but amazing) almost 7 year old stay up as late as she wants as long as she’s in her room, but she’s often not wanting to stay there; wanting, rather, to continue spending time with us. Allowing her free reign of the house would be best for her, but for the aforementioned reasons it’s so stressful for us. I want to believe that with some time she’d choose to retire to her room at a reasonable time, but she really does seem to be a night owl. I’d be so grateful for any ideas you can throw my way! I’m prone to over giving but this is an area where I truly feel like my sanity and marriage depend on finding a balance, and I’m not sure what that is.

April 30, 2021 at 8:33 am

How would you handle an 8 year old who gets up and plays in the middle of the night. I have had to install a lock on the kitchen door (He has attempted to cook in the night and I am frightened because while I used to wake up the second he stirred, I am so tired now after 8 years that I don’t always wake up immediately. He could be incredibly badly hurt if I don’t wake up in time. As it was, the night we had the problem he only got as far as cracking a dozen eggs in his bid to make scrambled eggs for a 3am breakfast). I try to talk to him about the importance of everyone getting enough sleep and how incredibly tired I am but it doesn’t seem to do anything. He is autistic and his enthusiasm for exploring and his risk perception mean it is not safe for him to be awake in the night without adult company (and may never be safe for that to happen, we don’t know). I am getting more and more exhausted but he does not seem to register his feelings of tiredness, even when he has dark circles under his eyes, is yawning, is struggling to relax, is bouncing off the walls (this is literal – he will throw himself at the wall seeking stimulation because he has hyposensitive sensory processing issues). I don’t know how to respect his autonomy on not being asleep and keep him safe and still function. How would you approach this?

April 4, 2022 at 4:38 am

To Linda above, I don’t understand how to reply directly to your comment. My 14 year old is a night owl and has been since she was small. She has ADHD, and like me (I’ve worked nights for years), she functions better at nighttime. She can safely cook now, but when she was younger, we had similar issues. We set some boundaries around it. She was allowed to use the stove only with adult supervision. So, if she was the only one awake in the house, no stove. She did learn to safely use the microwave at about 6-7 years old. So we kept foods that she liked and could prepare that way on hand. As well as premade, refrigerated favorites such as lunchables and boiled eggs (still a favorite snack for her). You can give your child autonomy and still have household rules in place for safety. A big one with us is explaining the reason behind the rules. As an adult, I would be frustrated if someone told me I couldn’t do something without me understanding why. Even though we’re in teen years now, we still follow this. If I have to say no, I follow up with why the answer is no. Maybe I don’t have the funds. Maybe the friend whose house she’s trying to go to has an unstable, unsafe parent. We talk about it and problem solve. I do say yes as much as possible, but when I can’t, I don’t expect her to just accept it “because I said so”.

January 16, 2024 at 5:50 am

This was a very intresting read. Online almost everywhere you look they say to put your child into a very structured lifestyle as if they were a dog and will never have to take care of themselves at some point so I’m really glad there’s information out there like this that supports respecting and treating your child like an actual person with their own needs, opinions, and feelings. I myself grew up like this (no set bed time ever) and I can assure you that it has really helped me in many many aspects of my life, one of which is knowing my limits and when I should or shouldn’t do something. My parents were always big on autonomy (but never really in an intentional parenting way, for them it came really naturally) and bedtime was one of those. We still had bedtime routines as me and my sister insisted on them (different for each of us depending on what we wanted) but they often varied and happened when we decided to go to sleep rather than a set time. This autonomy was in all other aspects of my childhood like clothes (we chose our own clothes when we got to buy instead of having hand-me-downs), foods (our opinions on dinner were asked and if there was absolutely nothing we liked we could ask for something else that was simple and quick to make or make our own as soon as we learned how to), and so forth. If our parents had to say no to things we always talked about them. Often I would argue with my parents when we had differences in taste or style, but never in a way were i felt my opinion wasn’t valued or dismissed, but rather in a manner friends do when they think the things their friends like are disgusting and ugly but you still love them anyway. This has helped me so much now that I’m an adult. In uni I’ve never struggled with making meals or looking after myself in any capacity without my parents advice, where as many of my friends find making decisions stressful and exhausting and are learning autonomy only now. Giving your child autonomy early on really builds their confidence, self-esteem, strength of character as well as allowing them to gain life experience gradually rather than having to do it all at once as soon as they turn 18.

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