Updated: Dec 11, 2021
If you're following my Instagram page you will likely have seen me posting about how much I love early bedtimes. But, what is it that's so great about an early bedtime?
Getting your baby to bed before overtiredness sets in is one of the biggest benefits of an early bedtime. A lot of parents think that they need to keep their kids up until they are really tired in order to get a good night of sleep, or a later morning. In fact the opposite is true! It is best to get your child to sleep just as tiredness is setting in to prevent them from becoming overtired. When they become overtired, their bodies think that they need to stay awake for some reason so it floods their system with the stimulating hormones cortisol and adrenaline. This not only makes it difficult for them to fall asleep, but it can also lead to night wakings and an early morning.
The majority of deep sleep happens in the first several hours of the night when our natural melatonin levels are at their highest. After midnight we spend more of our sleep in REM as melatonin weans and our bodies get ready to wake up for the day. This is why we often remember our dreams upon waking in the morning, because they were just happening!
So getting to sleep earlier in the evening will allow babies and toddlers to get more of that deep, restorative sleep they need for growing and learning.
Allowing babies and toddlers to fall asleep and wake up at around the same time everyday will help set their "body clock" or circadian rhythm. The time children wake up in the morning is set by their circadian rhythm and it's rare for them to sway too far from that time. Therefore, it is important to make sure your child is in bed early enough in the evening to allow them the appropriate amount of sleep before they naturally wake up in the morning. You might think if you allow them to stay up an hour later that they will sleep in an hour longer in the morning but unfortunately it just doesn't work that way. They will wake up at the same time, just a little grumpier because they lost an hour of sleep last night.
So what is a good bedtime?
For most babies and toddlers a bedtime between 6pm-8pm is optimal. There are, however, a few exceptions:
Newborns - Newborns often don't settle for the night until 9pm-10pm but as they grow out of the sleepy newborn phase their bedtime will shift earlier.
Toddlers - When a toddler is nearing time to drop their final nap (around 3yrs) they will be getting too much sleep for an early bedtime. At this points parents can choose to either drop the nap and keep bedtime early, or keep the nap and temporarily have a later bedtime of approximately 9pm.
Naps - On a poor nap day, or during nap transitions it is often necessary to move bedtime even earlier. This is okay to do as a temporary fix to make up for the lost sleep.
Early morning - If for some reason they had an early wake, it is a good idea to put them down earlier that evening to make up for lost sleep.
While 6pm-8pm is the optimal time for babies and toddlers to go to sleep, there are some instances where this just doesn't work with the family schedule. In this case it is okay to shift the sleep schedule later, we just want to ensure we are still giving them the opportunity for a 12hr night ie. 9pm-9am schedule.