The Comprehensive Bedtime Guide

child bedtime guideA child’s bedtime is a significant part of their daily schedule. If the timing is off, it will influence the rest of the 24 hours. Bedtime is when your child will naturally produce the most melatonin, which makes it easier for them to fall asleep at this time of day. This is why we always begin sleep training at bedtime. These natural hormones will help the process along, and hopefully make it easier for their bodies to settle that first night.  The way a baby falls asleep at bedtime, sets the precedence for the remainder of the night!

Behavior at bedtime is also very important to observe, because it can tell us many helpful things about their schedule. For example, if they take a long time to fall asleep at bedtime, wake frequently before midnight, and wake up before 6:00am, that means that they went to bed overtired, and that their wake period before bed needs to be decreased. 

Bedtime (and naptime) Routine

One of the easier things that you can establish early on is a solid bedtime/naptime routine. I suggest that a naptime routine is only about 5 minutes long and a bedtime routine lasts about 15 minutes. A starting off point would be to read books (no more than two!) sing a song (always sing the same song) cuddle with them and their comfort item, and then lay them down (awake) and tuck them in.

A very common situation at bedtime, is that parents offer a bottle, or nurse their child at the end of the bedtime routine. If we want to break an eat/sleep association, (more details on this to follow) we need to teach your child that there is a time to eat, a time to sleep, and that the two are not connected. So even though we include a feeding during the bedtime routine, it is actually step #1. We offer a feeding outside of the sleep environment and then give them a bath. After the bath, go into their room and complete the rest of the routine.

Even if you are going through the routine and your child is not paying attention, still go through the steps by yourself, and then eventually they will join you. This routine will be what your child  most closely associates with sleep. As a result, it doesn’t matter which parent puts them to bed, a grandparent, babysitter, etc., the routine will always be the same and that familiarity is what brings the child comfort 

Below I have outlined common topics and concerns surrounding bedtime, explained the reason they occur, and offer suggestions on how to troubleshoot them!

First Wake-Up After Bedtime

A common occurrence during sleep training is a wake-up after the first sleep cycle after we put our child to bed for the night. We usually see this early on with our 4-6 month olds. This wake-up can be very discouraging, especially if we just made a big effort to get them to fall asleep. The thing to remember about this wake-up is that it is happening for one of three reasons.

  • Baby is overtired –  This is why we want to be really strict with our timing before bedtime. Start conservatively with a wake time appropriate for thier age (remember to adjust if born before 40 weeks) and then expand from there based on the signs he shows.
  • Habit – Your baby has been waking up after their first sleep cycle since they were born because they never had self soothing skills before now, so their body is simply waking up at this time out of habit. The only way to fix this is to ride it out and stay consistent!
  • Sleep Association – If your child needs outside help falling asleep, (rocking, feeding, bouncing, pacifier etc.) using a sleep association, then they will wake-up looking for this help every time. Breaking sleep associations is the only way to teach independent sleep!

The Early Bedtime

This is a “hop topic” when it comes to sleep training, and definitely something I have a conversation about every single day! Early bedtimes can be very hard, especially when it means that work schedules won’t allow for one parent to see their child before they are in bed for the night. However, early bedtimes are meant to be short lived. They are not part of the final product, just part of the process while reaching our end goals.

Early bedtimes serve three purposes:

  1. Save the overtired state at bedtime.
  2. Help make-up for lost day sleep, with extra night sleep.
  3. Begin the process of producing melatonin early-on in the night, which reduces night wakings and prevents early wake-ups!

If a child has a poor nap day, the best and only thing we can do is put them to bed early. Many parents ask me if this means that their child will wake up at 4:00 or 5:00 am. The answer is, we still have the same rules and expectations for morning wake-up, even if we use a really early bedtime the night before. Also, if there was a poor nap day, we want extra sleep the following night so that their overtired state does not perpetuate. 

One of the main myths/wives tales that is still being passed around today is that the later at night you put a baby to bed, the later they will sleep-in the following morning. However, the opposite is true!!! If you want your child to sleep past 6:00am, we want to make sure that they get to bed within plenty of time before reaching the overtired state. Once their body has crossed that line, it has now released cortisol which is the hormone that keeps us awake. If you have ever heard of the term: “I just got a second wind,” it is referring to a surge in cortisol production. This is why getting your child to bed early, rather than late, is very important to establish a healthy sleep schedule. However, with two working parents, sometimes it is impossible to put your child to sleep that early. If that is the case for your family, just do your best!! 

Eat/Sleep Association

Toddler Bedtime GuideWhen it comes to feeding our babies to sleep, we all do it during the newborn stage, which is perfectly fine. What no one tells you when you become a Mom, (at least no one told me ) is that if you continue to do that past 4 months of age, your child will develop an “eat/sleep association” and become dependent on that feed every time they want to go to sleep.

When addressing an eat/sleep association, our job is to teach the baby that there is a time to eat, a time to sleep, and that the two are not connected. It is helpful to feed your child as soon as they wake in the morning and from each nap. Offer the feedings in a room with television, noise, conversation, lights, etc., so that they understand that they need to remain awake while they eat.

About 80% of families that come to me have a child with an eat/sleep association. It is definitely the most common of all the sleep props/associations. However, once a child reaches a certain age, the night feeding is more disruptive to their sleep than it is helpful. Imagine yourself waking up several times per night to eat, your stomach would be upset, you would toss and turn and struggle to get back to sleep, and that is what happens to our infants. They only take the feed because they think that eating is the only way to fall asleep, and therefore, we need to teach them differently. This is why it is very important to break the eat/sleep association!

Here are some way to help break the eat/sleep association:

  • Offer bedtime feed at the beginning of the bedtime routine, instead of at the end. 
  • Never offer a feed inside of a child’s sleep environment.
  • If you co-sleep, or did in the past, refrain from feeding your child in your bedroom as well. 
  • Feed them when they wake-up from their naps, instead of right before.
  • Encourage them to stay awake while eating.
  • If they have woken up happy in the morning or from a nap, don’t go rushing to get them. Leave them for up to 10 minutes to see if they will fall back to sleep.

Shifting the schedule forward:

So we talked about early bedtimes, but what time is too early to put a child to sleep for the night? Many parents are shocked when they reach out to me after a poor nap day and I instruct them to put their child to sleep (lay down time) at 5:00 pm for bed. However, as we covered earlier, early bedtimes are not a long-term solution because they will cause the child’s schedule to shift earlier each day, and then you’re stuck in an early wake-up, early naps, early bedtime cycle that continues.

So how can we fix this?

This is when we use a “Schedule shift.” A schedule shift is when we determine a certain time in the evening not to lay your child down before, in an effort to shift their schedule forward. This is another example of a balancing act, while trying to not let your child reach the overtired state, but also not putting them to put too early for their age, and setting them up for a tough night. I won’t do a schedule shift until at least the second week so that my client has met their sleep deficit first, and therefore has more stamina to handle those longer wake times for a few days. Once the schedule is “shifted,” go back to using wake times to determine bedtime, but keep the schedule shift times in mind!

For a child on either a 1-nap, 2-nap or 3-nap schedule: 

  • Don’t lay them down for bed before 6:15 pm 
  • Every two days, increase by 15 minutes until you get to 6:45 pm. 

If the wake time that you are using before bed tells you to lay your child down later than the schedule shift times, please do. For example: A 9 month old with a 3.5 hour wake period between nap 2 and bedtime, wakes from nap 2 at 3:45, that puts bedtime at 7:15, which is great! 

Bedtime According to Age

**Remember to adjust if your child was born before 40 weeks. Ex: If your child was born at  38 weeks, you wouldn’t consider them 4 months old until they were 18 weeks old. These calculations are only for sleep purposes. 

Newborn Bedtime Chart

0-4 Weeks

Goal: 9:00 -11:00pm

1-2 hours from the last nap

Any sleep after 8:00 pm is night sleep.

Aim for 12 hours from when they woke

4-8 Weeks

Goal: 8:00 -10:00pm

1-2 hours from the last nap

Any sleep after 8:00 pm is night sleep.

Aim for 12 hours from when they woke

8-12 Weeks

Goal: 7:00 -9:00pm

1.5 hours from the last nap

Any sleep after 8:00 pm is night sleep.

No longer letting baby sleep past 8:00 am

12-16 Weeks

Goal: 6:00 -8:00pm

1.5 hours from the last nap

Any sleep after 8:00 pm is night sleep.

No longer letting baby sleep past 8:00 am

Infant Bedtime Chart

       

      Age

Average awake time before bed

Maximum awake time before bed

Bedtime Range

 (good day sleep)

Bedtime Range 

(poor day sleep)

4 Months

1.75-2 hours

2.25 hours

6:15 – 7:15 pm

5:00 – 6:00 pm

5 Months

2-2.25 hours

2.5 hours

6:15 – 7:30 pm

5:00 – 6:00 pm

6 Months

2.25-2.5 hours

2.5 hours

6:30 – 7:30 pm

5:00 – 6:30 pm

7 Months

2.5-2.75 hours

2.75 hours

6:30 – 7:45 pm

5:00 – 6:30 pm

8 Months

3-3.25 hours

3.5 hours

6:30 – 7:30 pm

5:00 – 6:30 pm

9 Months

3.25-3.5 hours

3.5 hours

6:30 – 7:45 pm

5:00 – 6:30 pm

10 Months

3.5 hours

3.75 hours

7:00 – 8:00 pm

5:00 – 7:00 pm

11 Months

3.5 hours

3.75 hours

7:00 – 8:00 pm

5:00 – 7:00 pm

12 Months

3.5 – 3.75 hours

4 hours

7:00 – 8:00 pm

5:00 – 7:00 pm

13-15 Months

3.5 – 4 hours

4 hours

7:00 – 8:00 pm

5:00 – 7:00 pm

16-18 Months

3.5 – 5 hours

5 hours

7:00 – 8:00 pm

5:00 – 7:00 pm

Toddler Bedtime Chart (solidly on one nap)

Age

Awake Time Before Bed

Required Night Sleep

  (Still Napping)

Required Night Sleep

(No Longer Napping)

18 Months

6 hours

11-12 hours

N/A

18.5 Months

5.75 hours

11-12 hours

N/A

19 -20 Months

5.5 hours

11.5 hours

N/A

21-23 Months

5.25 hours

11 hours

N/A

2 Years

5 hours

10 – 11 hours

11 – 12.5 hours

2.5 Years

5 hours

10 – 11 hours

12 – 12.5 hours

3 Years

5.5 hours

10-11 hours

11-12 hours

4 Years

5.5-6 hours

10-11 hours

10-12 hours

5 Years

6-6.5 hours

10 hours

12 hours

Bedtime Guide Tips & Suggestions

  • The wake period between the last nap of the day and bedtime is the most sensitive.child sleeping
  • Don’t wait for your child to start showing signs that they are tired to begin getting them ready for bed. Once you see these signs, that means that they are already overtired. We want them to be in their crib, in a dark room with white noise playing, when they start rubbing their eyes, yawning etc. 
  • Always make sure to end day sleep by 4:00 pm on a two nap schedule, and by 5:00pm on a three nap schedule, in order to allow your child to build up enough sleep pressure before bedtime. Sleep Pressure refers to the amount of time that your child needs to be awake (according to their age) in order to be tired enough to fall asleep at their next sleep period.
  • If your child is having a poor nap day, default to an early bedtime in order to make up for the lost sleep. The earliest I would ever lay down for bedtime would be 5:00pm.
  • A good eventual goal for an infant is to fall asleep consistently within twenty minutes at bedtime, with minimal to zero crying. 
  • If your child misses the last or only nap of the day, aim for bedtime to be an hour earlier than their regular bedtime. If your child doesn’t have a regular bedtime, aim for as close to 5:30/6:00 as possible.
  • When going through a nap transition and stretching wake times, stretch the wake period before bedtime last, and remember that an early bedtime is always more restorative than a short nap late in the day.
  • The feeding after the last nap of the day is much more significant than the bedtime feed, which is more of a supplement. Keeping this in mind also helps us navigate separating eating from sleeping!
  • If it takes your child 20 minutes to fall asleep (with little to zero crying) leave bedtime where it is! IF it takes your child longer than 20 minutes to fall asleep, and they wake before 6am, try pulling the wake period before bedtime back by 15 minutes.
  • For babies under 9 months, night sleep is superior to day sleep, so finding the right bedtime will get us off to a great start for the night!

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