(NEW YORK) — It seems to be the Holy Grail of parenting: Getting kids on a regular, consistent sleep schedule so they rest peacefully through the night (and parents can have some downtime in the evenings). But what if we stopped fretting about nighttime routines and regular bedtimes and just let the kids decide when they would go to bed? That’s exactly what one mom did. It’s been years since Nicole Bescoby decided to give up on bedtime and she told ABC News’ Good Morning America the kids “love their lives of freedom.” Bedtime for her three kids, ages 8, 7 and 5, is anytime between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. “There was a period where we had to find our balance,” Bescoby said. “But my kids are happy kids, they’re healthy and they love their lives of freedom and we rarely have those bedtime frustrations.”The elimination of a regular bedtime is part of the family’s overall child-led lifestyle. “Autonomous living gives them a lot of freedom and enables them to learn how to listen to their own body,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it would work for every family, but with our particular dynamics it’s amazing. Some children truly thrive on freedom.”In a Facebook post about their nights, Bescoby wrote in part, “We had a few difficulties at first. My eldest in particular decided that it meant he never had to sleep at all. I guided him, taught him how to recognize his sleep cues, pointed out the effects when he stayed up too late. It wasn’t like I just turned away from my children or stopped parenting because we didn’t have bedtimes. It was a lot of work and support and guidance. (In fact bedtime at 7pm was much easier for me! – What is easier isn’t always what is best though!)”But the lack of a bedtime routine certainly seems to be out of the norm. A search on Amazon for books on sleep training yielded 674 results. So what do the experts say? Natalie Nevares, founder of Mommywise and a sleep-training expert, told GMA the lack of bedtime may work for this particular family because of their specific circumstance — Bescoby’s children practice “unschooling” which means they are not tied to a regular school schedule. But it’s not recommended for families who are living within the confines of schedules in other aspects of their lives. “All humans, and especially children, need regular sleep,” she said. “Children are always going to fight boundaries and transitions. It’s up to adults to be the leaders.” Younger children physically grow in their sleep, while tweens and teens’ brains grow socially and emotionally. Nevares said it’s acceptable for older children and teens to go to bed late, as long as they are able to sleep late too. But for younger kids, an early bedtime is critical. “They’re up by 7 a.m. no matter what,” she said, “and they need 11-12 hours a night.” One thing Nevares and Bescoby agree on: No screens at night. Both remove media from their kids as the sun goes down.
“It’s scientifically proven the blue light that comes from screens disrupts sleep,” Nevares said. As for Bescoby, she said “no screens” is the “only limit” she sets when it comes to bed. “We found they couldn’t focus on their body’s messages when they were busy on the screens,” she said. “Now they turn off screens when they’re getting tired and then play or read until they’re ready to go to sleep.” Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.