Does the time your child goes to sleep make a difference?

Who has never been duped into hoping “If I keep my child up late in the evening, he’ll sleep late and so will I!” Well, well… Actually, he woke up earlier, much earlier than expected …  

Indeed, just as we adult do, all children have a biological clock and their circadian rhythm will only be in sync. If we get them to bed at the RIGHT time. According to Havard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine, maintaining a consistent bedtime (and wake time) helps keep our internal clock “set” and is a critical part of “sleep hygiene”. 

So you ask yourself “but why a too-late of a bedtime just doesn’t work for my child”? 

Simply because if you get your child too late to bed, it will :

  1. BE HARD FOR HIM TO FALL ASLEEP: Once your child passes her natural “sleep window” her body will produce a stress hormone called cortisol and even adrenaline that will cause a “second wind” and makes it very difficult for her to settle down, relax and fall asleep. 
  2. Cause some NIGHT WAKING. Often when children go to bed too late, their sleep will not be as sound and they often wake during the night.  Cortisol causes poor sleep quality.
  3. EARLY MORNING WAKING. As counter-intuitive as it seems, often when children are waking very early in the morning, a late bedtime is the culprit.
  4. LESS SLEEP OVERALL. Research has shown that children with a late bedtime get cumulatively less sleep than kids who have earlier bedtimes, showing they don’t make up for the missed sleep by sleeping later or napping longer. SLEEP BEGETS SLEEP.

SO WHEN SHOULD I PUT MY LITTLE ONE TO BED? 

It actually depends on your child’s sleep during the day as well as his wakeful windows. 

But here are some GENERAL GUIDLELINES BY AGE: 

  • Newborn : a bedtime hour is non applicable as newborns don’t yet have any circadian rhythms, and they typically sleep in short spurts of two to four hours throughout the day and night.
  • 2-4 months: Many parents find a later bedtime works for their 2-month-old babies. That’s because, at this age, it still makes sense to time baby’s bedtime up with your own, in order to maximize your own sleep. However, you can start easing into an earlier bedtime once your baby is 3 months old.
  • 4-8 months : Bedtime starts moving earlier now and should be anywhere between 6 pm and 7:30 as their circadian rhythms are emerging. Regular naps (ideally around 9, 12, 3) and an earlier bedtime help these babies get the sleep they need for significant physical and mental development. Bedtime may be on the early side of this range if naps are missed or short.
  • 8-10 months : Bedtime should be anywhere between 6 pm to 7 pm. By 9 months, most babies have given up that brief, third late afternoon nap. Bedtime should be no later than 3 hours after second nap ends. 
  • 10-15 months : Bedtime should be anywhere between 6 pm and 8 pm. Bedtime should be no later than 4 hours after waking from the afternoon nap.
  • 15 months – 3 years: Bedtime should be anywhere between 6 pm and 8 pm. Transition from 2 to 1 nap may well occur between 15 and 18 month. Make sure your child sleeps consistently through the night before dropping that afternoon nap.  
  • 3 – 6  years: Bedtime should be anywhere between 6 pm and 8 pm. Your child will likely drop the afternoon nap. Once your child is no longer napping, he will need an extra hour of sleep at night, so adjust bedtime accordingly.

Each child is different. And each child has its unique sleep needs. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the clock but also on his sleep cues.

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