The early bedtime. Parents either love them or hate them. It's the much needed quiet time that parents crave at the end of the day, but it also means RSVP'ing, "Sorry, I can't make it", to most dinner parties.
Children need a lot of sleep. A lot. More than we realize. Often times, putting your child to bed early is the only spot in a 24 hour period that we can make up for lost sleep. A large number of sleep issues I see are the result of too of a late bedtime. As a result, pulling bedtime earlier will cure a lot of sleep issues. Did your child miss a nap? Put them to bed earlier. Is your child not feeling well? Put them to bed earlier. Is your child in the middle of a nap transition? Put them to bed earlier. Is your child waking too early in the morning? Put them to bed earlier (usually). Why you may ask? We have our most restorative sleep in the first 4-6 hours of the night. After that, we transition between lighter stages of sleep for the next 3 (ish) hours. Then, if bedtime is early enough, we have time to transition to deeper and more restorative sleep after that. Whereas if your child goes to bed too late, they won't have the chance to have that deep, restorative sleep at the end of their night sleep.
If you have to stay awake all night (where are my shift workers), you will then sleep during the day. But I'm sure as you can relate, your day sleep won't be nearly as restorative compared to if you had the same amount of hours at night. This is where our circadian rhymes come in, which is basically a 24-hour internal clock that cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals.Yes, your child will still be clocking the same amount of sleep if they sleep from 10 pm to 10 am but they would have a much more restorative sleep if they were to sleep from 7 pm to 7 am. A too late bedtime will cause your child to become overtired, which in turn will cause your child to have a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep. We have our deepest, most restorative sleep in the first 4-6 hours of the night and we then transition to lighter stages of sleep for middle duration of our night sleep. However, if we go to bed early enough, we will have time to transition back to deeper stages of non-REM the remainder of the night. Whereas if we put our child to bed too late, they won't have time to transition back to these deeper stages of non-REM sleep at the end of their night sleep. So putting your child to bed early may ensure that a higher proportion of their sleep is the extra-restful kind. If your child is waking frequently throughout the night, this is a strong sign that bedtime is, in fact, too late.
Ensuring your child is on an age-appropriate waketimes is important as this will ensure you are not keeping your child awake too long before bedtime. Below are average maximum waketimes:
<4 months: 1.75 hours
4-6 months: 1.75-2.5 hours
7-9 months: 2.75-3.75 hours
10-14 months: 3-4.5 hours
15-18 months: 5-6.5 hours
You want to be getting your child to sleep before they become overtired as their bodies are now producing cortisol (the fight or flight hormone) rather than melatonin (the sleep hormone). Signs that your child is nearing the overtired state are: rubbing/pulling at ears, becoming fussy, and having a zoned-out look.
Having a child with an early bedtime can be both a blessing and an inconvenience. Babies are only babies for so long, and you won't always be able to abide by an early bedtime. If your child could thank you for respecting their sleep needs, they most definitely would!
Lindsey Hennigar is founder of The Sleep Ranch and a Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant through the Family Sleep Institute. She helps exhausted parents and families get the healthy, restorative sleep they need. Your child can LOVE sleep!