Before you had kids going to bed was a forgettable event. Now bedtime is a glorious nirvana that you fantasize about throughout the day. Bedtime is also really important to your baby or kid. Bedtime that is too late, unpredictable, or inconsistent can set you up for a long slog of a night. And figuring out when bedtime should be and what it should look like isn’t always easy. Lots of parents seem to be wondering, “What is a normal bedtime?”
Newborn babies generally have a very late bedtime frustratingly staying awake far past the time where you are actually enjoying their company. It’s not uncommon for newborn babies to have a long period where they are awake and fussy (by which I mean they are all but inconsolable but WILL NOT SLEEP). This is called the witching hour and generally falls anywhere between 6:00 PM – 11:00 PM. And while it can leave the whole household in tears, it’s normal and temporary. The witching hour is also, blessedly, followed by the largest chunk of uninterrupted sleep you are likely to see for the first few months. So if you aren’t going to bed immediately after your newborn baby, you’re missing out.
Other things you probably want to know about newborn babies and bedtime include:
Bedtime is late.
Probably later than you would like. Anywhere between 7:00 PM and 12:00 AM.
Don’t spend 3 hours trying to make bedtime happen.
Trying to get a non-sleeping baby to sleep will leave you both feeling exhausted and resentful. If you’ve been at it for ~30 minutes and it’s not happening then it’s time to graciously accept defeat. Move on to some other soothing activity (warm bath, stroller walk, bouncy seat time) and try again later.
Bedtime may bounce around.
Newborns may not fall asleep consistently at the same time each night. What was their “bedtime” last night may turn into a 20 minute nap tonight. This is frustrating but also inevitable.
Newborn bedtime routine?
Your newborn baby doesn’t require a consistent routine but it certainly won’t hurt.
What does a newborn bedtime routine look like?
Usually it’s pretty simple – a warm bath, infant massage, clean diaper, feed, then soothe to sleep.
Don’t sweat “putting them down awake.”
YES you need to teach your baby to fall asleep on their own and all the baby sleep books you’ve got stacked next to your bed stress the importance of this. However NOW is not the time to worry about this. VERY few newborn babies are able to fall asleep without substantial assistance. So while you are welcome to try putting your baby down awake don’t feel like a failure if it’s not working yet.
Newborn Baby’s Bedtime Ridiculously Late?
Sometimes your newborn baby will stay up college-student late. If your baby goes to bed at 11:00 PM you have a normal newborn baby. If your baby is still awake at 2:00 AM then you have a problem. The MOST COMMON causes of a baby who is awake when the bars close are:
- You’re taking your baby to a bar. Please stop.
- Your baby is OVER tired. If your newborn baby has been awake since noon he’s likely so tired that it’s now all but impossible for him to sleep.
- Your baby needs more soothing. Have you embraced white noise, swaddling, swinging, and pacifiers? If not, please do.
Sleep is Shifted?
Sometimes newborn babies go to bed very late and then sleep very late. For example your baby might be up until 1:00 AM and then (not including night feedings) sleep until noon the next day. Thus you have a baby who is getting a healthy 11 hours of sleep at night but the timing of “night” isn’t lining up with the rest of civilization. How do you fix this? You gradually start waking your baby up earlier in the morning. Wake your baby up 15 minutes earlier every day or so until your baby is waking up closer to 6:00 AM – 7:00 AM. This will slowly shift everything else in his day so that naps and thus bedtime will start to shift earlier too. It will take weeks for everything to get sorted out but it’s definitely worth it.
Early Bedtime is Better
As your baby get’s older (3/4+ months) an early bedtime has multiple benefits.
- Nobody wants to come over and help you with your fussy baby at 1:00 AM, where plenty of people would love to tickle his cranky toes at 9:00 AM.
- It creates the opportunity for you to have a bit of free time yourself. In most homes, 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM is known as “happy hour”. Not because everybody has a cocktail in hand (although it’s possible) but because this is the only time of the day that you aren’t running after a little person.
- Most playgroups/playdates are scheduled on the assumption of baby’s naps occurring at 9:00 AM and 1:00 PM (ish) which will never happen when your baby is sleeping till noon.
- Having a baby up in the dark and sleeping during the day disrupts some very important chemical processes that are triggered by light, which overtime, will work against you.
- And as your baby gets older you’ll find he wakes up earlier regardless of when he goes to bed, so maintaining a late bedtime simply results in less sleep overall.
Bedtime for Baby
Once your baby is no longer a newborn (older than 3-4 months) bedtime should no longer be a stressful crapshoot. You may still have a witching hour but hopefully this has shifted earlier and is easier to manage. Other things that are pretty typical for a baby (3 months to 1 year) include:
Bedtime happens at the same time each night.
It might fluctuate by 30-45 minutes but unlike when your baby was a newborn, it should no longer be a complete and total mystery.
Bedtime is earlier.
If your baby is under 6 – 8 months it still might be later (say 9:00 PM) but when they drop the 3rd nap (usually by 9-12 months) bedtime should scoot up towards 7:00 PM and stay there.
You are “defending” bedtime against late naps.
If early evening naps are throwing off bedtime, it’s time to skip them. As your baby gets older a consistent bedtime is more important than napping at 5:00 PM. This may mean you can’t get into the car after 4:00 PM, take an evening walk in the stroller, etc.
You have a consistent routine.
It’s time to get serous about a routine. It should be something you love that you can do without fail every night for the next 3+ years. Boob, bath, books, bed is a classic.
Baby is sleeping in the same place each night.
It doesn’t have to be the same place where they nap but it should be consistent. However it’s OK to have them sleep in one place consistently and then move them into a new place where they’ll sleep consistently. So your 5 month old may still be in a co-sleeper attached to your bed but then move into a crib in their room at 9 months.
You are working towards “put down awake.”
Remember when I said you didn’t need to sweat putting your newborn baby down awake? Well your baby is no longer a newborn, so it’s time to start sweating.
Bedtime for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Your toddler, preschooler, and younger kid should be going to bed between 6:30 PM – 8:00PM, most commonly 7:30PM. Later than that is almost always too late.
Bedtime vs. Sleeptime
Your newborn baby will need to be soothed to sleep. Your older child should be going to sleep on their own. When kids older than 1 are waking up during the night it’s almost always because they aren’t falling to sleep on their own (generally because parents stay and cuddle until they fall asleep and then sneak out). This results in the same problem of night waking that babies have. As delightful as cuddling with your children is, you need to leave before they are totally asleep.
Additionally I want to be clear that we are talking about BEDTIME. This is the time you put your child to bed. The only rule is that they stay in bed. You can’t make an older child sleep (nor can you make them eat or poop FYI). This is why we don’t call it SLEEPTIME. As a parent your job is to give them an age-appropriate bedtime, a soothing consistent bedtime routine, establish the limits (primarily that they stay in bed), and then leave. What they do at that point is up to them.
Does that mean it’s OK for your 2 YO to sit in their bed awake and talking to themselves for 45 minutes? It sure does! If your kid is chronically up for 1+ hours it could mean that bedtime is too early. However I hesitate to suggest this because it is almost NEVER the case (most bedtimes are too late). You can test this theory by temporarily pushing bedtime back – does your child still spend an hour kicking around in there or do they fall asleep quickly? If the latter then perhaps bedtime was too late. Otherwise it may just be that your child needs extra quiet time to settle down at night.
Is this a form of torture? No it isn’t! Learning to entertain themselves, care for their bodies, or (*gasp*) spend a moment of the day without constant stimulation is actually really healthy! As adults, what do you do when you can’t fall asleep? You lie there and think quiet thoughts until you DO fall asleep. Your child is learning to do this too.
Once your child is no longer a newborn baby bedtime should be your favorite time of day. LITERALLY. If you and/or your child hate/dread bedtime than something isn’t working and it’s time to fix it. Personally I LOVE bedtime. Kids in jammies are the cutest thing ever. Cuddling and reading books is the best thing in the world. And once they are asleep you get to watch (insert: Game of Thrones, Mad Men, New Girl). What’s not to love?
Anybody else have any bedtime thoughts to share?