Your daughter goes to bed when? That is the response I most often hear when another Mom finds out that my daughter is in bed by 6pm most nights. The follow-up question is always, well what time does she wake up? Early bedtime equals early wake up time, right? They are then shocked to hear that she regularly wakes between 6:30-6:45am – a solid 12+ hours of sleep. This is a very common misconception, but in reality sleep begets sleep – so an early bedtime that allows your child to go to sleep before they become overtired actually promotes more sleep. In fact, a bedtime that is too late is almost always to blame when a child is experiencing night waking’s and early morning waking’s (think 5am).
Now, I wasn’t always a believer in this notion. When our daughter was 9 months old, she was still waking several times a night, usually for an hour or more at a time. We had read every book out there on sleep and were still struggling to get her on track. In shear desperation we hired a sleep consultant. We were hesitant as we thought, “she’s just going to tell us to let our daughter cry it out”. That was not the case. She made a few slight changes to our nap schedule and told us that our bedtime was too late. The bedtime thing we didn’t quite buy. She went to bed every night by 7:30 – how could that be too late? We adjusted her nap schedule and moved bedtime up by 30 minutes and nothing changed. Our consultant again told us that our daughter was overtired and desperately in need of a bedtime within 3-3.5 hours of waking from her last nap. As she was a cat-napper (most naps averaging an hour) that meant bed at 5-5:30. How would I get her fed and bathed by that time and into bed? Wouldn’t she be hungry from eating her last meal two hours earlier? Ok, I finally conceded – I put her down as instructed. That first night that she was in bed by 5:30 she slept a full 13 hours and didn’t wake up once. We were shocked – how could this be? This was a child who woke 3-4 times a night. I stared at the monitor several times that night…was she breathing? She woke up happy as can be. The next night we did the same thing and again no waking and 12.5 hours of sleep. This was crazy! Now my husband didn’t get to see my daughter at night when she went to bed this early, but we were all getting some much-needed sleep! And my husband and I now enjoy a few hours of alone time every night, which was great for our relationship and also our sanity. As she has gotten older her schedule has shifted, but getting her to bed before she becomes overtired has still been the key to our sleeping success.
I can go on and on with stories of the triumphs of an early bedtime. I recently worked with a client whose 11 month old had never slept in his crib. Co-sleeping had worked for them but they were ready to move him into his crib. He was also still nursing one or two times a night as he was in bed with them. They had tried for over a month to get him into his crib with no success. They tried the “Ferber” and “extinction” methods and he would cry for hours on end and they would just give up. When his parents came to me they were convinced nothing would ever work. This child took great naps at the appropriate times, but his bedtime was much too late. I explained that those methods of teaching him to self soothe were never going to work if he was extremely overtired (which he was). Part of our sleep plan included him being in his crib within 4 hours of waking from his nap. His parents were skeptical as most are, but as they were desperate they went right at it. The very first night they instituted an early bedtime he not only went right to sleep IN HIS CRIB, but he didn’t even cry. He fussed for about two minutes and went right to sleep. He slept though his feedings and slept a full 12 hours. His parents were over joyed and this is the new norm in their household.
What about parents who work? How will they get their children down this early? You can only do the best you can do, but there are ways to cut back on nighttime tasks to get your child down earlier. Can your nanny or daycare feed your child dinner? Can they take a bath in the morning? And how will I spend time with my child if they are going to bed so early? That is a tough one, but if your child (and you) are getting the sleep that is needed you will have better quality time together during their waking hours.
So, how do you know what time is the appropriate time for your child to go to bed? Your child’s bedtime should not be a set time on the clock; instead it should be based on the quality of sleep your child gets that day. Some days they will take awesome naps and will be able to stay awake a bit later and some days they will take a poor nap or miss a nap and will need to go to bed super early. The hours a child can tolerate being awake before becoming overtired is based on age and varies from child to child. But honestly, early bedtime can help if not solve, most sleeping issues.
Amy Lage is a Family Sleep Institute certified Child Sleep Consultant. She is co-owner of Well Rested Baby. For any questions please visits the Well Rested Baby website at www.wellrestedbaby.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Early Bedtimes Saves All – Written by Amy Lage of Well Rested Baby for Macaroni Kids
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