Baby Bedtimes: How To Find The Best Bedtime
Finding the right baby or toddler bedtime reminds me of Goldilocks. Not too early, not too late, but juuuust right. Babies who go to bed too late are overtired and have a harder time falling asleep. Babies who go to bed too early are not tired enough and also have a hard time falling asleep.
Chances are, you wondered at least once: "What time should my baby go to bed?".
There's no one-size-fits-all perfect baby bedtime, but there a few guidelines to keep in mind and two ways to know when you've nailed it.
Having the right bedtime, plus having a consistent bedtime routine and a sleep-friendly bedroom will go a long ways towards both helping your little one sleep better as well as sleep through the night.
During the newborn period, your baby's bedtime will be quite late. Often, newborns go to bed around 10:00 PM - 11:00 PM.
Use this to your advantage and go to bed yourself at the same time as your newborn so you can hopefully get at least a couple hours of sleep before your baby wakes to feed.
Newborns spend the majority of the time sleeping and their days often look like an endless cycle of naps, feedings, and diaper changes. This cycle continues through the afternoon and evening, often with a longer period of awakeness and fussiness in the early evening hours.
Then, newborns will have a final nap or two before their last "day" feeding and going to bed in the late evening.
Moral of the story: don't stress about finding the ideal baby bedtime during the newborn period. These brand new babies just aren't mature enough for a consistent schedule yet and that is okay. As they get closer to 3 months, you will likely notice bedtime starts to move earlier and earlier.
(For more on baby sleep schedules the first 4 months, check out this post: The Ultimate Baby Sleep Schedule Guide for 0-4 Months)
The Baby and Toddler Bedtime Sweet Spot
Once babies hit 3 months, they are ready to work on finding their bedtime sweet spot.
I like to call it the sweet spot because it is just that....the time that bedtime is nice and easy. At least, as easy as convincing a kiddo who just wants to play that it is time to sleep can be, ha!
You’ll know you’ve nailed bedtime when your baby typically falls asleep within about 10-15 minutes.
Falling asleep super duper quickly often means your child is overtired. Taking more than about 15 minutes to fall asleep often means your kiddo was not quite tired enough for sleep at bedtime.
Please note, those are averages. If your baby is under or over that 10-15 minute window, is generally happy, and you are pleased with his or her sleep, then chances are your baby is just fine and there is no need to try to "fix" their bedtime timing.
Picking The Right Baby Bedtime (Toddlers too!)
When you are trying to decide what time your child should go to bed, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
First, the bedtime should allow your baby or toddler to get enough nighttime sleep. While some do well with as few as 10 hours of nighttime sleep; most babies or toddlers need a solid 11-12 hours of nighttime sleep to be at their best.
You know your baby is getting enough sleep if he or she generally wakes happy in the morning, can easily make it until nap time without melting down, and can easily make it from nap to bedtime without melting down or becoming hyper.
Of course big emotions are inevitable and are part of growing up, as is seemingly endless energy, but overtired children tend to be either very fussy/emotional or hyperactive especially in the evenings.
Second, bedtime should be an appropriate length of time from when your child wakes from his or her last nap.
That period of time is called a wake window or wake interval. In short, it is the length of time your child can remain happily awake before needing sleep. It starts off very short as a newborn, often around 60 minutes, and slowly increases to about 4 hours at 18 months of age.
Here’s a quick cheat sheet for the interval between nap and bed:
- 4 - 6 months: 1.5 - 2.5 hours
- 6 - 8 months: 2.5 - 3.5 hours
- 9 - 12 months: 3 - 4 hours
- 12 - 18 months: 3.5 - 4.5 hours
- 18 - 36 months: 4 - 5 hours
Again, those are averages. It is okay if your baby needs a longer or shorter interval!
With infants, the line between bedtime being "too early" and "too late" can be as short as just a few minutes. Keeping track of what time you put your child down for bed and also what time they fall asleep for 4-5 days can be helpful as you try to figure out the sweet spot bedtime for your baby.
Most babies and toddlers do best with a bedtime between 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM, so make sure your child's last nap of the day ends in time for their bedtime to hit within that window.
Setting Your Baby Up For Success
Once you’ve nailed down what you think may be the ideal bedtime for your baby, plan to start your bedtime routine early enough that you can finish by bedtime.
Why? This allows your baby's bedtime routine to do its job of preparing your baby's brain for sleep just in time for you to put your baby in bed at his or her sweet spot for falling asleep.
It can be tricky to start the bedtime routine on time, I know! It is easy to get caught up in the business of the day. It is worth it in the long run to have a smooth bedtime and a rested baby.
You've got this! When making changes to your baby's sleep schedule, give it at least 3-4 days in a row before saying it doesn't work and moving on to the next thing.
Here's a quick summary: the ideal baby bedtime...
- your baby falls asleep within about 10-15 minutes
- allows for 10-12 hours of nighttime sleep
- is an appropriate interval from the last nap
- your baby wakes happy and rested at 6:00 AM or later
Once all of that is happening, then you can give yourself a big pat on the back!
Remember, bedtime will shift both earlier and later as your child grows and his or her naps change. Even during a given week, it may shift earlier or later if your child has a particularly rough nap day or sleeps more than usual.
You know your child best and with time, will know how sensitive your child is to sleep schedule changes. That will help you decide when or if to move bedtime in response to an off nap day.
Bring on the easy bedtimes!
Are you ready to make sleep a thing at your house, but feel stuck or unsure how? Working with parents 1-1 to take the stress out of baby and toddler sleep is my joy.
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