Bed Time Guide

This month, Sleep Sisters is focused on bedtime. We thought it best to start off with a review of age-appropriate bedtimes. As certified infant and child sleep consultants, we are often asked what time kids should be going to sleep and whether it really makes a difference.

The answer is YES, the time your child goes to sleep does make a difference. We all have a biological clock and our circadian rhythms can help us sleep if we honor them by getting to bed at the right time. In addition, maintaining a consistent bedtime (and wake time) helps keep our internal clock “set” and is a critical part of healthy “sleep hygiene,” according to Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine.

Granted, all kids are different and you know what your child is like if he doesn’t get enough sleep. Many of us have been duped into thinking, “If my child stays up late, he’ll just sleep late and make up for it in the morning.” How’s that worked for you?
A too-late bedtime may lead to:

  1. Difficulty getting to sleep. Once your child passes her natural “sleep window” her body will produce cortisol and even adrenaline (hormones that stimulate the body). Parents sometimes notice their child’s “second wind.”

  2. 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. It seems counter-intuitive, but often when kids arewaking very early in the morning, a late bedtime is the culprit.

  4. Less sleep overall. Research has shown that kids 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.

So when should your little one go down for the night? It depends a bit on your child’s sleep during the day. But here are some general guidelines by age:

Age

Hours of Sleep

Bedtime

Notes

Newborn 15-18 N.A. New babies don’t yet have any circadian rhythms, and they typically sleep in short spurts of two to four hours throughout the day and night.
1-4 months 14-15 8:00-11:00 These babies are still developing and feeding often throughout the night. Bedtime starts moving earlier by four months.
4-8 months 14-15 5:30 – 7:30 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 12-15 5:30 – 7:00 Babies this age may only take two naps (9am, 1pm). Bedtime should be no later than 3.5 hrs after second nap ends. Bedtime may move earlier to compensate for lack of third nap.
10-15 months 12-14 6:00 -7:30 Babies may be transitioning to only one nap in the afternoon, so bedtime may need to move earlier for a while. Bedtime should be no later than 4 hours after waking from nap.
15 months – 3 years 12-14 6:00 -7:30 Naps may end during this period, or be inconsistent. Move bedtime earlier to help adjustment to no nap.
3 – 6 years 11-13 6:00 – 8:00 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.
7 – 12 years 10-11 7:30 – 9:00 School age children are still experiencing enormous growth, are very active, and require a lot of sleep. Adequate sleep helps with school performance, behavior, attention, memory, and more.
Teenagers 9+ See note Many teens need to be up early for school. Count backwards from wake time to find the bedtime that ensures they are getting enough sleep. Keep in mind it takes kids an average of 15 minutes to fall asleep, and likely more if they have a lot on their minds.
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