Is your toddler going to bed too late? Learn ideal bedtimes for your child, the perks of putting your kids to bed early and why late bedtimes can be bad.
Parents seem to fall in two camps. The first, which I belong to, believe kids should be asleep early and consistently. We’re the parents who will leave family parties—no matter how boisterous or fun—because any later would mean we’re cutting it close to bedtime.
The other camp includes those whose kids sleep at late hours of the night, from 10pm and onward. They have flexible schedules with kids are sleeping later because they can also wake up later the next morning.
Is your toddler going to bed too late?
The reasons kids stay up late varies with each family, but below are three common reasons:
Families have hectic schedules
With work, long commutes, and the “witching hours” to contend with, families struggle with hectic schedules. While a 6:30 or 7pm bedtime can be ideal for your child, sometimes work, extracurricular activities and long commutes don’t allow for it.
With such little time to get home and tend to daily tasks, much less spend time with kids, parents push bedtime back to accommodate a hectic schedule.
Toddlers “win” bedtime battles
In other cases, we’re too exhausted by the end of the day to enforce bedtime rules. With no energy to argue with kids, we figure a later bedtime is worth avoiding yet another battle.
And since most kids would rather stay up with us than turn in for the night, they usually end up sleeping later than earlier.
Toddlers need a parent to fall asleep
Whether it’s the infant who needs to co-sleep, or the toddler who needs mom to sit by her bed, some kids need a parent to fall asleep.
Parents find themselves with two choices: They either turn in for the night as early as their kids, or they have their kids stay up later with them. With so many things to do and few parents willing to sleep by 6:30pm, kids end up assuming their parents’ later bedtimes.
Is it bad for kids to stay up late?
According to sleep experts Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack:
“Most children do well with a bedtime between 7:00 and 8:00 PM; 8:30 is the very latest bedtime we recommend all the way up to age 10.”
Sleep experts tend to prefer earlier bedtimes over later ones for a few reasons:
- Late bedtimes don’t always translate to late wake ups. Our internal clocks are pretty strong, so that a child who sleeps at 10:30pm can still wake up at 6am the next morning. Compare that to a child who falls asleep at 7pm and wakes up at 6am, the latter will feel more rested and ready to tackle the day.
- Late bedtimes lead to inconsistent sleeping patterns. Kids with a set early bedtime not only clock in more hours, they also tend to have consistent and predictable sleep. They’re more likely to sleep and wake up at the same times every morning and night.
- Parents don’t always have the energy to deal with kids late at night. A late bedtime can have more to do with us than the kids. The later the day, the less patience and stamina we have to be our best. We all can benefit from the “after bedtime” hours to recharge, spend time with our partners, and pursue our interests and hobbies.
If your child’s bedtime doesn’t fall within that time frame, don’t worry—your child isn’t doomed. I’ve always felt each family needs to do what works for them. We can’t cast blame or guilt on others because they don’t follow recommendations or have different sleep habits than ours.
Plus, it’s generally more important that your child is getting enough and consistent sleep versus when he falls asleep. Check out this handy chart of how many hours your child should be sleeping a night, plus recommended bedtimes by age.
Is your toddler getting enough sleep?
How can you tell if your child is getting enough sleep? Your child may be sleep deprived if he:
- Falls asleep doing random activities (like eating, or playing)
- Falls asleep every time you drive in the car (and not because it’s near nap time)
- Is irritable and cranky
- Rubs his eyes
- Needs constant reminders to get going in the mornings
Want to determine whether your child is ready to drop a nap? Join my newsletter and download my FREE printable, Transitioning to Fewer Naps! Use it to record when your child is likely ready to take one less nap (hint: 5 days in a row is a good indicator!). Download it below:
Benefits of an early bedtime
Even if we all do things differently, including the times we put our kids to bed, I can’t help but be a fan of an early bedtime. Here are a few of the benefits:
- Less crankiness. Having a regular bedtime routine keeps our kids’ temper and fussiness at bay. They thrive with consistency and appreciate that they know what to expect and when.
- Time for myself. The early bedtime gives me something I look forward to every day: time for myself. With all three kids in bed by 8pm, I’m given the time to do things I enjoy: writing (hi!), reading, or spending time with my husband.
- Time to do chores. I’m able to do chores like preparing dinner for the next night or cleaning the house. The early bedtime (plus the full night’s sleep) has given me back some of the sanity I’d lost during the first newborn months.
- A full night of sleep for the kids. Rare is the morning when the kids will actually sleep in because they’d sleep too late the previous night. Sleeping two hours past their bedtime, for instance, doesn’t mean we’re able to enjoy an extra two hours of sleep the next day.
- Consistency. The repetition of waking up (and going to sleep) at the same time every day makes sure my kids don’t get cranky and remain alert throughout the day.
How to transition to an earlier bedtime
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If you’d like to adjust your child’s bedtime—or maybe even need to such as getting ready for school—keep the following tips in mind:
- Transition gradually. Adjust both bedtime and wake ups 15 minutes at a time, every few days. If your child typically sleeps at 10pm, make bedtime 9:45pm for the next few nights. If you need him awake by 7am every morning instead of 8:30am, start by rousing him by 8:15am. Continue this pattern until you reach your desired bedtime and wake up time.
- Create a conducive sleep environment. In certain places and times of the year, the sun might still be out, even at 7pm. Get your environment ready for sleep, including darkening curtains, subdued chatter and bedtime books. And avoid stimulants like television, roughhousing, or bright lights.
Sleeping too late has become common for many families because of hectic schedules and overtired parents. That’s why I’m a fan of early bedtimes for consistent sleep, more time for parents and a happier mood the next day. And if you decide to make changes to your child’s bedtime, do so gradually and by creating a conducive sleep environment.
If you can’t or prefer not to have an earlier bedtime for the kids, focus on getting enough and consistent sleep for your child. Those two factors are most important, regardless of which camp you fall in.
p.s. Check out Just Go to Bed by Mercer Mayer to help your child take to an early bedtime routine:
Get more tips:
- Help Your Kid Stay in Bed All Night
- 9 Children’s Books about Bedtime
- Your Child Won’t Nap? Read This.
- 6 Tips on Helping Your Child Sleep in Their Own Bed
Tell me in the comments: Is your toddler going to bed too late? Do you have a set bedtime every night, or are you flexible about bedtime?
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