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Bedtime: Everything Starts Here

bedtime and baby sleep

I tend to emphasize night sleep because it’s easier to sort things out at night (stop laughing, I’m totally serious). When everybody is sleeping better at night, improving naps is far more likely. And your efforts to improve your child’s night sleep is entirely dependent upon one thing. Bedtime. What happens at bedtime, when bedtime occurs, and how you approach bedtime will determine how well your child sleeps (and thus how you sleep) at night.

Bedtime is the linchpin of the entire night. Much of what happens during the 11-12 hours that makes up your child’s night is determined by bedtime. You can’t make a course correction at 3:00 AM, you committed yourself back at bedtime.

Imagine bedtime is like a path in a dense, bramble filled woods. You hear the howling of wolves behind you, there is no way to go but forward. Then you come upon a fork in the path: which way to go? You choose one way and hike on for a while and then decide, “Ugh, this path is the worst, it’s muddy and smells like possum pee. I should have taken the other path!” But it’s too late and you have no options but to trudge on.

This is bedtime, except generally wolf-free.

Everything starts with bedtime. If you conquer the how, when, and what of bedtime, you are officially a night sleep ninja master (and you get a sassy belt which is remarkably on-trend for this season).

“Bedtime makes you realize how

Bedtime: How?

Bedtime begins with a lovely routine that is a set of relaxing activities that are enjoyed by all parties involved. Bath, massage, songs, books, prayers, hugs, kisses, feeding, and cuddles are all popular activities. Ideally your routine is:

  • Something that you can commit to doing on a consistent basis – every single night.
  • Takes approximately 20-30 minutes to complete.
  • Has decreasing levels of light and activity.
  • Moves progressively towards the bedroom, with the last few steps occurring in the bedroom.

Note on Light: Light is a powerful determinant of sleep, so you don’t want to have any bright, sunny, or outside playtime just prior to bedtime. Light hitting our retinas inhibits our body’s ability to produce melatonin, a crucial sleep hormone. Ideally everything prior to bedtime would happen in a dimly lit room, with only the minimum amount of light needed to conduct your bedtime activities.

If you’re working to gently nightwean your child, then you want to remove all bottles, nursing, and pacifier use from your bedtime routine. So your last bottle/nursing session should be the first step in your 20-30 minute bedtime routine, ensuring there is a solid gap between that feeding and your baby falling to sleep.

Bedtime: When?

Figuring out the right time to put your child to bed can be a bit of a tricky wicket. If I had to put a stake in the ground, it would be 7:30 PM. Most kids between 3 months and age 10 should be going to bed around 7:30.

Ideally your bedtime is early. Early is not always easier for you however. Older siblings (who often have soccer practice, music recitals, etc.) can muck up your good intentions to be home on time. Most parents work which can make evenings feel like a mad dash to pick up baby, shovel some mashed peas into them, and get them washed up for bed. I fully understand why logistically an early bedtime is challenging or undesirable for most parents.

But you can’t change biology: early is better.

Why is Early Better?

1

Most kids wake up early.

We have an innate circadian rhythm and when we’re young, that rhythm sets us up to start the day early. If your child is going to start the day at 6:30 AM regardless of when they go to bed, a late bedtime just decreases the overall amount of sleep they’re getting. This pattern of “early rising” continues until they’re teens (anytime after 10-12 years) when their circadian rhythm shifts later and they have a hard time falling asleep before 10:00 PM – 11:00 PM. This isn’t just because they’re teenagers and would rather stay up texting their friends (although screen time doesn’t help), it’s a biological shift. At that point they’ll need to sleep later in the morning, something made almost entirely impossible due to early school start times.

This is why most American teenagers are chronically sleep deprived and are routinely falling asleep in school. It’s also why the AAP issued a public statement about the need to push school start times later. It’s probably hard to get riled up about this when you’re parenting a baby or toddler, but tah-rust me, when that baby is 14 years old and they’re sleeping through calculus, you might feel differently about it.

2

Babies can’t happily stay awake that long.

Generally a “too late bedtime” comes part and parcel with an “awake too long.” Often the last nap ends around 3:00 PM, so if bedtime is late you end up with a loooong stretch of time awake. Being awake too long results in excess cortisol production (cortisol is a stress hormone and also a stimulant). Cortisol can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. So your child may struggle to fall asleep at bedtime. Or they may fall asleep without issue but wake up later in the night, unable to easily fall back to sleep. In either case, a “awake too long” issue is no party and, like hungry tigers or my husband before coffee, something best avoided.

At the same time a bedtime that is too early can result in frustrating bedtime battles. Weissbluth (Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child) is a staunch advocate that an early bedtime solves most sleep problems, and there is definitely a certain truth to that. Unless you overdo it in which case your early bedtime actually leads to sleep problems.


Confused yet? Hopefully this will help.

How Long Should Your Child be Awake Before Bedtime?

At every age, the stretch of time between the last nap and bedtime should be the longest period of wakefulness during the day. Also the length of this time is almost always longer than the average time between naps during the rest of the day. While some babies fall outside the norm (there are definitely babies who need to go to bed by 6:30 PM or even 6:00 PM) these numbers hold true for the vast majority.

Age Time Awake Before Bedtime Average Bedtime
0-3 Months 1-2 Hours Variable – Late 8:00 PM – 11:00 PM
3-6 Months 2-3 Hours Shifting Earlier – More Consistent – 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
6-9 Months 3 Hours Locked In – 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
9-12 Months 4 Hours 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
1+ Years 4-5 Hours 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Also please note that when I say “bedtime” what I really mean is “the time at which your child falls asleep.” It’s great to have a delightfully elaborate bedtime routine involving yoga, lavender oil, and interpretative dance so that the whole thing takes a full hour, as long as you’ve allocated enough time for family drum circle. But bed time is the time at which your child falls asleep.

You know you’ve found the right bedtime when your child falls asleep relatively easily at that time. If your child is consistently awake and restlessly farting about in their bed for 30 minutes every night, bedtime might be too early. If you need to bounce your newborn on the yoga ball for a solid hour ever night, you have my sympathies. And also, you also are starting too early. On the other hand if your child is awake far longer than the span suggested in this table and is either a fussy mess in the evening, starts the day unreasonably early, or is waking up (and staying awake) in the middle of the night, you may have a bedtime that is too late.

Lock It Down

Somewhere between 3-6 months your baby should settle in to a consistent and early-ish bedtime. When that happens you want to lock it down so that bedtime happens:

  • At the same time.
  • Every day.
  • Without fail.
  • For years to come.

Sometimes this is a hassle. Sometimes this requires waking your child up from a long or late-afternoon nap so that napping doesn’t interfere with their ability to fall asleep at their regular bedtime. This often means missing out on fun evening activities because you have to be home early to start your bedtime routine. On the upside, you will never again have to wait for a table at a restaurant because there is almost always room when you show up at 5:00 PM.

Bedtime: What?

What happens as your child falls asleep establishes the basis for how well (or not) your child will sleep at night. If your 6+ month old child needs your help to fall asleep at bedtime, they’ll need your help to go back to sleep during the night. Maybe only 1-2 times. Or maybe 6. But ultimately if your child is sleeping poorly at night, the first step towards making things better is to change what happens at bedtime.

People often try to cheat the system by skipping this crucial step, only to find that their child gets very angry with them during the night, for example when they try to shorten the duration or number of night feeding sessions. Sometimes this can be interpreted as, “Well I guess they’re legit hungry so maybe they’re just not ready.” But it’s not about hunger. If your child falls asleep eating at bedtime or near bedtime, they’ll expect to fall asleep eating during the night. When you try to shorten the feeding and they’re not yet asleep they’ll yell at you, “Woman, do you not see that I’m still awake? Get back in here!”

The same pattern holds for rocking to sleep, cuddling to sleep, etc.

Teaching your child to fall asleep at bedtime is hard, and for many people, so scary they choose to avoid it and nursing, rocking, and cuddling their child to sleep. Which is totally fine, but if your goal is to reduce the number of night wakings or night feedings, you need to put on your fearless hat and change what happens at bedtime.

rsz_dowagercountess

Nobody does fearless hat better than Raylan Givens. Except for maybe the Dowager Countess.
When you’re ready for solid sleep at night, consider the how, when, and what of bedtime. When you’ve mastered these three crucial elements, you’re well on your way sleeping through the night. Bedtime is the foundation for the rest of the night.

So…is your bedtime a solid foundation, or does it need a little work?


168 Comments


  1. Alexis – or anyone who may have some insight – I don’t know what’s going on with my little one. He’s 5 months old, and he used to take good naps, though never great. For the past 6-8 weeks, naps have become a battle. First wake up is 22 mins, then 36 mins, then 42. If (IF) I can get him back to sleep through those, he’ll sleep for about 90 minutes. Most of the time, he’s just up.

    He has a cosleeper, and is getting really good at falling asleep on his own with just a binky and a lovey. The binky doesn’t usually fall out, and if it does, it doesn’t seem to bother him. Here’s the kicker – he wakes up at those times even if I’m HOLDING HIM THE WHOLE TIME. It seriously makes no difference. What the devil is happening? His bedtime is set – bath, boob, book, song, bed by 8:15. He won’t sleep earlier, later makes him cranky. He’s sleeping better at night, but no improvements with nap time 🙁 I abhor these naps – I work from home, so I really need him to sleep!

  2. Any suggestions for breaking the survival habits we picked up during colic? Our daughter is 11 weeks old and has slept through the night (6-10 hours) since about 7.5 weeks consistently. However, she has been a screamer all day long (after being a screamer all night long). I am glad we no longer are up all night, but she still needs loud white noise, swaddling, and absolutely cannot fall asleep on her own. I’ve tried the drowsy, but awake thing, I’ve tried to just shush=pat, I’ve done “the pause,” but she often goes straight to the PURPLE FACE CRY if i put her down without being ASLEEP. In addition, still working on getting her out of the rock-n-play as she does sleep through the night in there.
    I keep reminding myself it’s all just a phase, but the entire thing stresses me out so badly. We are consistent in our bedtime routine with nightly bath.
    ugh, it sucks.
    Is she too young to try to break these habits? My biggest worry is her never falling asleep on her own, and transitioning to the crib where she won’t sleep through the night!

  3. Hi Alexis,

    I have a 15 month old who is consistently an early riser. He usually gets around 4:30am, however, he has been waking up at 3:30 for the last 2 weeks. This is not the first time we have experienced the 3:30 wake-ups either. It seems to happened every couple months. We have tried everything to get him to go back to sleep (CIO, feeding, bringing him to our bed, etc). He is definitely not hungry…he just believes that it is morning. Circadian clock seems to be out.

    His bedtime is between 6:30-7:00. I couldn’t imagine a much earlier bedtime and a later bedtime still results in a 3:30 wake up. This is only 8.5h of sleep at night. He refuses a nap at home until 9am but will fall asleep in the car on the way to day care immediately.

    We did sleep training with a consultant at 6months and he is excellent at putting himself to sleep. Usually asleep within 2-5 minutes for both nap and bedtime. He still needs to naps because of such an early wake up but at daycare he is only allowed one nap at daycare. His 5-10 minute catnap in the car seems to give him enough relief to keep him going till noon. We tried following the same routine at home (catnap around 9am and nap at 12). With the 3:30 wake ups though we have gone back to two naps at home.

    Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated. We are completely exhausted and at a total loss. The 4:00-4:30 start to our day has been occurring since 4 months old. Even as a newborn he refused to sleep between the hours of 4-6. I read all these posts of parents wantif their babies to sleep past 6. I would do anything to be able to sleep until 5am again. Thanks.

    • I should also have said that he is very happy and rarely cranky because of over tiredness. If he wants a nap he will let us know by getting his sleep sack or going upstairs to his room. If we ask if he wants a nap he will reply with yes (or no).

    • Hi – just wondering if you received any valuable advice/feedback to your 4.30am query. Our 4.5mth old wakes between 3.30-5am each morning and it’s incrediblly difficult to settle her without a fed which has now created a habit. Any pointers are appreciated!

  4. THANK YOU! This article has been one of about 378 that I have read today. We are struggling getting our (almost) 6 month old to sleep. I’m thinking I have been doing bedtime ALL wrong. I will be trying these tips for the next few nights and see what happens. It definitely won’t make it worse!

  5. THANK YOU for supporting me during a tough crappy few nights. Your sense of humor really hit home with me (I’m South African, we get through all darkness with humor). My six month old didn’t mean to but she was starting to drive me insane. She was turning into a pint sized little dictator of note. I finally said “enough”. I am a career girl with a family to support. So off to the races (picture us facing each other like two Cowboys in an old town square. Her being the fastest gun in town by far). I trained my son (six now) right from day one and he slept through the night at seven weeks. I know it can be done.
    With her…I was older., softer. Waited five years for her. A king sized bed is so big. And it’s so cute to wake up to her fat sleepy little face between us. Fast forward six months, and my angel turned into a terror. Going to bed at eleven…latching on and off every 20 seconds…and preventing any type of intimacy between my husband and me.
    I read in some places that it shouldn’t harm them. Other sites said I am a devil mom for even considering it. However…we are entering night four and it is better. And last night…drum roll…she slept eight hours STRAIGHT. I say, if babies like attachment parenting, they ought to not abuse it so much. Perhaps they can form a union and we can bring it all to the table and discuss a better solution for all involved. For now however, I will hold fast to the knowledge that no one loves her more than her daddy and me, that she knows that, and that her tiny growing brain and body NEEDS quality sleep. Thank you again for helping us through the last three days.

    • Hi! OMG your story could be mine, except my lo is 9 mo, not 6, and I may just BE insane. The fact that things are better for you after 4-5 nights is so encouraging to hear, especially cz I’ve almost lost all hope and I don’t wanna try CIO! So just to be clear, could you plz tell me what changes you made to your routine that helped so much?

      • I would be so grateful to hear the steps you put in place as well. My lil man just turned 9mos and nothing and I mean nothing has worked. I have given a week and half to each method. PU/Pd, Fading Chair, shush pat and even CIO. All were to no lasting sleep assistants. I am a military wife doing this solo and with no extra income to put towards a consultant any help would be great!

    • What specific steps/routine did you make to get your baby to sleep through the night?

  6. Hi. My now 7.5 month old baby was an excellent sleeper. She would sleep about 7 hours, eat, and then back to sleep for another 3-4 hours. She caught RSV in December and since then has not been able to sleep more than 2 hours at a time. I have blacked out her room, play soft music throughout the night, have a bedtime routine and she is in her crib no later than 8 pm each night (if she’s showing signs of needing bed earlier, then she goes down then). I’ve tried a chiropractor, her pediatrician, and what seems like everything under the sun and yet, she still won’t sleep through that 2 hour mark. Here is out routine: 630/7: dinner of solids and a bottle. After that, we change her to her pajamas (bath time riles her up). Then we play calmly until 730/745 and then we cuddle and slow down a bit more. she finishes whatever bottle she has left and then goes down awake. Soft music plays 24 hours a day in her room and she has just enough light from her night light so that I can navigate my way through her room. Any help at all would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  7. My 6 month old goes down great at night time. We do bath time, nurse, read books, sing a song then lay him down awake around 7pm. He usually falls asleep right away, sometimes he fusses for a few minutes. He then wakes up anytime from 9:30-10:30pm, I go in check his diaper because usually he is poopy. Change him in lay him back down. He cries anywhere from 10mins-45mins before falling back asleep. He then wakes up crying anytime from 12:30-1:30am I nurse him and lay him back down. He’s back up again crying around 3-3:30am, I nurse him again. And then he wakes up around 4:45-5:30am every day and doesn’t go back to sleep. He was doing good with naps (only napping on me during the day 1-3 hours at a time) but i started laying him down for naps which he then cries for 1-2hours and only sleeps half the time with 2-3 30min naps a day. I know naps play a huge part in sleeping at night. Do I let him sleep on me and have great naps during the day so he sleeps better at night, or should I let him CRI for naps?

    • my 6mth old also self settles all the time (we have worked on this for some time), has a bed time of 7 and is on solids. He drinks his milk just fine too. He also wakes at night randomly between 12-3 for one feed and then often wakes from 5-5:30 and won’t go back to sleep. He also naps very erratically even though I follow his sleep cues/awake times. He wakes between 20min and maximum naps are 1.5 hours. Sometimes he cries for a very long before napping. When he wakes from a nap, he almost never resettles with or without help. I’ve tried cio consistently for 2 weeks before he got sick recently and it didn’t improve naps or early morning wakes

  8. My 15 week old sleeps 11-12 hours at night but fights pretty hard to get her to sleep. Started a bedtime routine at about 9 weeks old and have been consistent. It was starting off great but now she knows bedtime is coming and starts fussing earlier and earlier into routine. Will at some point she accept it? I hear over and over again routine is critical but it seems to backfire for me.

  9. I’m having a tough time figuring out when to put my 19 week old down for bed after her last nap. It takes her anywhere from 2 minutes to an hour to fall asleep. I can put her down after 1 1/2 hours or 2 1/2 hours and it doesn’t seem to make a difference. The amount of time it takes her to fall asleep is anyone’s guess. It’s making it difficult for me to know if I can dial down the speed on the swing (using it to conquer Mt. Put-down-awake) because I have no clue if the lower speed is making it more difficult for her. She might just be taking forever to fall asleep that night, but I give up after a certain amount of time and turn it back up so she’s not awake longer than 3 hours. She doesn’t fuss while falling asleep, just flops around and sucks her thumb. Should I even be worrying about how long it takes her to fall asleep? Should I pick an awake time and make it consistent? Should I pick a set bedtime and be consistent regardless of awake time? Watching her sleepy cues in the evening just doesn’t seem to be working. For reference, she gets between 3-4 hours of sleep a day in 3 naps and sleeps 10 1/2 to 12 hours a night with 2-3 feedings. Anyone have advice?

    • Well, here I am again with the solution to my own problem. I tried testing the waters one day and put her down awake in her crib for a nap. She talked for 10 minutes, fussed for 10 minutes, and then slept. She’s been going down peacefully (and wide awake!) since then for naps and bedtime and falling asleep much faster. I guess she was just done with motion! This from the baby who would only sleep ON ME for the first 2 1/2 months. Yay! Putting a big ole check mark next to “put down awake.”

  10. HELP! We did the CIO method with our 16th month old son, based on your flawless advice. Now he is 22 months, and very tall for his age (98% percentile). A month ago he started climbing out of his crib. We actually lowered the crib BELOW the factory notch, by drilling our own lower notches, and he still climbed out. It was too unsafe, so we moved him to his Toddler bed. Once he’s asleep, he stays in his bed. He even remembers some of his earlier CIO training, and usually soothes himself and puts himself back to sleep. He has never woken in the middle of the night and gotten out of his bed. HOWEVER, putting him to sleep has now become a constant struggle. We started out completely throwing your wise words out the window, and we laid with him, we cuddled with him, we rocked him and completely got him used to all this amazing attention again. Now he will not go to sleep on his own. If we leave him in his bed, he’s up in less than a minute, standing at the door. The doorknob (for some unknown reason) is unusually high, and he can’t turn it. But he stands there and cries until we come and get him. How do we get the magic back? It was so amazing to be able to say good night and then have him go right to sleep. I want it back, Alexis. But how do we do that if he’s able to crawl out of his bed?

    • Hey Kevin,

      Check article below (staying in bed) for a start. Also if you are open to it you might want to experiment with putting him BACk in the crib with a sleep sack which often makes it all but impossible to crawl out.

      If he can’t go back however, and the toddler bed is a MUST, then you do need to stop cuddling and rocking him at bedtime because as you say, who wouldn’t want all this AMAZING attention? If he wants to stand at the door that’s his choice. He’s young but talk to him about what happens at bedtime. What if he can’t sleep? What can he do? What are the steps in your bedtime routine – maybe make a chart and check them off? Talk about consequences – door stays open if he stays in bed?

    • I have a 30 month old peanut who does the same as Kevin’s 22 month old. The only difference is that he stays in his crib and cries for as long as 30 minutes unless we walk in and pick him up for another 15 to 25 minutes. This routine goes on for 2 hours until he finally falls asleep in our arms at 9:30 pm . He will then sleep thru the night until I wake him at 8am. I have a 7 yo I am neglecting from 7:30 to 9:30 pm while I put the little man to bed. Our 2 1/2 yo trained by 4 month after just 2 nights of CIO. He sleeps well overnight, naps between 2 to 3 hours per day in one nap. But has only recently (last 2 months ) started giving us a real hard time only at bedtime. I think he’s in the transition of dropping to no naps. He knocks out in 5 min when he misses his nap. I think he is getting used our rocking and holding him for extended time. Should we let him CIO for a night without going in at all. Not sure what to do to get him back on track for bedtime. please help!! Thanks

  11. First off, love this site! I have a 5 month old, who for the 1st few months slept great, but she has been going through a sleep regression, and has been waking up 3-4 times a night. Naps are a hit or miss question is though, if I am able to get her to take 3 good naps a day, is it ok to be putting her down to bed around 9pm? I am a working mom, and am not able to get her down any earlier. Her last nap ending at 6pm, would mean she is only up 3hrs before bedtime.

  12. Hi Alexis
    My daughter is 6.5 months and I feel like we are going around in this big long never ending overtired loop, which is affecting her napping, night sleeping and even her feeding (breastfed).
    My daughter has self settled since about 8-10 weeks. She takes naps in a sleep sack in her cot, following stories/cuddles and a song, before going into the cot awake and generally talks to herself for about 10 mins before going to sleep.
    Bedtime is very similar, but includes a couple of extra stories, picking up toys and cleaning teeth.
    We have always had very short naps (45 mins) and consistently would leave her for up to an hour to resettle with very little success. In the last month her naps have gone down to about 30 mins, but even with leaving her in there for another 30mins she will just talk and play happily (even though she is crazy overtired).
    She wakes for the day at about 7, so I aim to have her down for her first nap at 9. But most days (this has been going on for month) she wakes between 4-6am with a dirty nappy and is also hungry. As she feeds not long before she gets up she then refuses to fed until she is tired and ready for her first nap. She is not fed to sleep, and if she does fall asleep on me I will always wake her before doing her song and putting her to bed.
    Because she is so tired by the end of the day I think she needs to go to bed by 5.30pm, and while she can ‘happily’ make it until 7 I can tell she is so overtired (she is one of those hard to read nearly always happy kids, that are even happy when overtired).
    It now seems that all her day feeds are happening immediately before a nap and she doesn’t seem to be eating enough – my milk supply fluctuates wildly, when she is having catch up sleep days (seem to happen fortnightly) my milk supply will go up as she is feeding better, but we soon get back to the overtired feeding before bed routine.
    Where she used to just wake once at night to feed, she now wakes 2-3 times, and this could also include her talking to herself happily for an hour before shouting or crying for me to come in.
    I had been trying to get her to nap at 9, 12 and 4 but this is not helping her with being overtired with such short naps. I have tried wake to sleep (it just wakes her up) and bore to sleep – nothing seems to be working.
    Any extra suggestions would be greatly appreciated!!
    Thanks, Viv

  13. Alexis,

    IS A 5:45pm-6pm SlEEPTIME TO EARLY?

    I have one child, a boy, who just turned 6 months.

    Sleep Stats:

    Wake: between 5:30-6:30am talks to himself until is bored of that and I get him out for the day, usually 20 minutes.

    Nap 1: 8am-10am in crib
    Nap 2: Between 12pm & 1pm for no less than 1 hour; sometimes 1.5 hrs. (in crib or travel crib)
    Nap 3: 3pm- 45mins (in crib or travel crib)

    Bed:
    By 5pm he gets noticeably tired (yawning, rubbing eyes, red eye lids and slower movements) and we begin to prepare for bed. Our routine is eat, diaper change, PJs, books, song, crib. He gets white noise and grumbles for 5 minutes and then is sleeping.

    He wakes up between 11pm-12am and again between 3am-4am and eats 4oz each time and is back to sleep with no issue after 20 minutes of waking. Night weaning is something that we have to work out (probably should have already); we will start solids within the week.

    QUESTION:

    Everything I read states that a 7-7:30 bed/sleeptime is optimal. Should I begin to slowly push our naps and bed/sleeptime out to reach 7 or 7:30pm or should I not worry about it and leave it be. He wasn’t always a good sleeper we followed your instructions about three weeks ago for sleep training. When he was 4 months old sleep regression hit like a bomb and he was waking up almost every 4 times between 12am and 6am. After 6 weeks we decided it was time for some educated sleep training and he is now only up the 2x described above. The training also made his naps longer. I hesitate to mess with anything but would like to ensure that I am giving him the best possible sleep he can get.

    Any insight would be appreciated.

    Margaret

    • Truthfully I suspect he needs to be awake closer to 2-3 hours prior to bedtime so if he’s waking up from a nap at 3:45 he wouldn’t be ready for bed until closer to 7. Experiment with that and see how it goes!

      • Thank you for your reply! I will keep him up for a longer length of time after nap number 3. I’d like to let you know how we fare in a few days.

        Thank you again!

        Margaret

      • Hi Alexis,
        I hope you get to read this, my 7 month old also usually gets tired and doesn’t seem to last longer than 2 hrs before bed time which makes his bed time about 5:30pm! His last nap usually wakes up anywhere between 3 to 4pm, usually on the earlier side.
        Do you think I should be pushing a longer wake time before bed time? I am afraid he might get overtired.
        Thanks,
        Jane

  14. I often read that bath and massage are suggested for part of the bedtime routine, but it is my understanding that bathing too often causes dry skin. How often should babies 3-6 months of age be bathing each week?

    • Typically soap results in dry skin but a bath without soap (really just a soak) is fine. If you find that even the water-only option results in dry skin it may not be for you but typically it’s fine for skin and a relaxing activity enjoyed by all (personally I’m a fan of cute little babies in the bathtub so I’m biased on this one).

  15. I think our bedtime needs some work and I KNOW I need some help! Our little guy, Lucas, is only 6 weeks old so I may be setting myself up for failure simply because he is too young. We have a pretty consistent bedtime routine nurse, bath, jammies, cuddles and a small bottle from dad (we started doing this to tank him up and to get him used to bottles for when I go back to work). He consistently falls asleep at the bottle and doesn’t require any other “help” to fall asleep. He is asleep around 8 every night. We regularly get 3.5 hours during the first stretch of sleep and feed again between 11:30 and midnight. Its after this feeding where things tend to go downhill. He falls mostly asleep at the breast and doesn’t require any help going back to sleep. He is “up” for about 20 minutes or so. He SEEMS truly out again. During this stretch we get between 2h15m and 2h45m of sleep. Not as good as our first stretch but I’ll still take it. Now things REALLY go downhill. After his 2:30am feeding we are only getting like 90 minute or one hour stretches. He goes down again about 3 and it’s a party again no later than 4:30 and then if we can get him down at all its for an hour tops.

    Is he waking up looking for us? Should we rouse him a little bit before putting him back down? (like pulling teeth…) Is he hungry from not getting great feedings from being sleepy at the breast during the first two night feedings? Are we putting him to bed too early? We’re following his tired cues and he goes down so well at the beginning I can’t imagine keeping him up much later. We really struggle with drowsy but awake because he fights his swaddle like a fiend. He sleeps SOOOO much better swaddled so we’re sticking with it but when he’s conscious of it, he tries to break loose and ends up flailing and screaming – there’s no calming him down again.

    I know we’re asking a lot of a 6-week old but I can’t do this 4am wakeup call anymore. Especially when he still seems to be so tired but is fighting it so hard. ANY help or advice from anyone would be appreciated!!!

  16. Hi Alexis,

    I’ve been reading through basically every comment and post on this whole website and every time I think I have the answers I need, I still have a terrible night of sleep! 🙁 Please help!!!!

    My daughter is 4 months, 9 days. I know, I know, the dreaded 4 month regression. BUT this has been going on since day 1 and I think we are past the regression now (just recently had 2 weeks of EVEN WORSE sleep than normal, which I didn’t think possible) and now we are back to the usual. I put my daughter to bed usually at 7:45-8:00. I am using the swing method from your posts. We are now at a point where she will fall asleep in the swing without me in the room some nights, and some nights needs me to swing her fast and “SHHH” her loudly. I swaddle her tight, use an old radio for loud white noise and have blackout curtains. She usually will go to sleep very easily, but most nights she wakes up an hour after going to bed and I have to pick her up and practically get her 100% asleep again or else she continuously cries/screams. Sometimes I can get her back to sleep with just shushing and swinging her very fast. After that she will usually sleep until somewhere between 12-2, at which point I feed her and lay her back down. She usually nurses back to sleep at that point. Then the fun begins where she wakes up every 30-45 minutes for the rest of the night. SOMETIMES she will sleep a few more hours and we will have a tolerable night. For the rest of the night I try to just shush her and swing her fast, when that doesn’t work I pick her up and pat her, when that doesn’t work I nurse her back to sleep. It seems completely random for what works and what doesn’t at any given time. She wakes up for the day at 7 AM. Naps during the day are very difficult also. Usually they are 25-32 minutes in the swing. I usually just do whatever I have to do to make nap sleep happen during the day to prevent getting over-tired, usually holding and rocking and pacifier. No pacifier at night. Any advice on more I can do?? Do I need to be more consistent and ONLY use the swing for naps also? Maybe this is normal for her age still but very little progress has been made, and the progress that has been made seems small. SO TIRED!!!

  17. Alexis;
    Great name, my sister is Alexis too. So my 3.5 month old goes to bed at 10:30-11:30 pm most nights, I’ve tried getting him down earlier but no luck. We wake up at 7 am, I feed, change and play with him a bit, then we have a nap usually from 9-10:30 ( this nap only seems possible next to me while nursing) then usually at about 1 pm we/ he has another long nap, about 1.5 hours, then he has mini nursing naps at about 5 and 7, we start our bedtime routine at 8-8:30, I do it bath, books, boob and bed. He is up for an hour to 2 hours, he usually falls asleep at 9:30 but won’t stay asleep. My question is which I advent seen anywhere is HOW to force him to sleep earlier.

  18. Hi Alexis,

    We’ve just started sleep training with our 5 and a bit month old, so far it seems to be going fairly well (touch wood). However I’m a bit confused about timing naps and bed time. This morning I caught him rubbing his eyes after only 90 mins awake time, so I tried to put him down despite thinking it wasn’t long enough. He fought me for 40 minutes before I ended up feeding him, waking him up from the boob with a little chat and then putting him down again, he then slept for 40 mins (pretty good for us at the moment, we’ll work on tackling short naps after we get going to sleep sorted). Last night he was rubbing his eyes at 5pm, (bed time is fairly consistently 7-7.30, and we try not to let him nap past 3.30 unless he really needs it).
    So am I right to be trying to put him down at first tired signs, or should I try and stretch it out a bit if it’s only been a short period of awake time? Which is more important to get right?

  19. Hi Alexis!

    I have been following your swing and bedtime advice from 3 months to now 5 month old baby girl. The swing worked great to teach her to fall asleep on her own, we gradually weaned her from the motion and then to her bassinet next to my bed. It worked great for about a week for bedtime and naptime then BAM, now she screams and cries as soon as I lay her down. If I walk out of the room and try to let her work it out on her own for 10 minutes, she will work herself up to a hysterical cry. I usually try to do the pick up, put down thing until she will finally let me put her down awake and walk out of the room. At this point, it has only gotten worse and worse to the point where it takes 30 plus minutes for her to fall asleep and then she will only sleep for 25-32 minutes (which has always been the norm actually) She will go back to sleep for another hour for naps if I hold her, and that has been the only thing that works so far. Should I stop doing that and just let the nap be 32 minutes?

    At night, things have always been bad. She would go to sleep on her own yes, but then would wake up maybe 5-10 times during the night. Usually wakes 2 times before going to sleep for 2-5 hours. I would first let her try to get back to sleep on her own, then when that doesn’t work I pat her, then when that doesn’t work I pick her up, then when that doesn’t work i either hand her off to my husband or I nurse her. I try to only nurse her 2 times during the night but after 4 a.m. that is definitely the only thing that will put her back to sleep. She did great for that one week when we transitioned to the bassinet, sleeping in long chunks, sometimes 7-8 hours, and only nursing 1-2 times. Now if I don’t hold/nurse her every time she wakes, she screams and cries. Which was the norm before when we used the swing also. I’m not sure how to break out of these sleep associations of needing to be held and nursed. We do a solid bedtime routine of nurse, bath, book bed. The initial bedtime part was going great for months! Now it’s like she fears bedtime and starts crying with a scared look on her face as soon as I swaddle her.

    I have her take a nap every 2 hours during the day, She is usually awake for about 3 hours before bedtime at 9-9:30. When I put her to bed any earlier and try to take away that last nap, she just wakes up every 30-60 minutes so I went away from that.

    Currently I swaddle in a halo sleepsack, white noise, pacifier for daytime, no paci at night. Should I start back at square one teaching her to sleep on her own again with the swing? I’m not sure where we went wrong, I thought since bedtime was nailed down that the rest would follow, and it did, for a week. I didn’t do anything different! 🙁 Do you think she could be having a growth spurt or trying to switch gears toward an earlier bedtime?

    Also, I have tried disrupting the sleep cycle only once at naptime, her eyes flickered and she turned her head and went back to sleep, then woke up at the normal 32 minutes. I got discouraged and annoyed and didn’t try that again. Maybe I should? All I know is making my baby sleep well is literally sucking every last bit of sanity/energy from me. Any advice soon would be greatly appreciated! Can’t wait for your book to come out!!

  20. Hi! I’m new to your posts and I feel like they are very informative yet I’m still confused. 🙂 first time mom here! My LO is 4 months old. I’m pretty sure she just went thru a sleep regression cycle plus I think she’s teething. But it’s back to getting better I think (hope!). Here’s the deal, I’m a stay at home mom right now and I feel like I let her run the schedule and I want to change this. what I’m really concerned about is night time. we start our routine around 7:30 and she’s usually down between 8-9pm. I read that I need to work to an earlier bedtime which is fine and I will. BUT I basically nurse her to sleep. Then she wakes up after about 3-4 hour stretch, I feed her and she falls back asleep. How do I get her to go to bed without nursing to sleep?? When is the last time I should feed her?? Sometimes when I nurse her to sleep, she wakes up after an hour and I go back in. Do I let her CIO then? I guess I’m just confused on how to start all this. Any help is appreciated. Thank you so much!!

  21. Hi I have a nearly 10 months old that will go to sleep on her own in the morning, sometimes do it in the afternoon without assistance but never go to sleep without me holding my hand on her back at night . I have the same bedtime routine at night as I do for the day except I also add in a bath. why would she be able to self settle in the morning but not at bedtime? She sleeps through the night without waking once she is asleep but it can take over an hour to get her to sleep. Any suggestions?

  22. Dear Alexis,

    I’m at why wits end with my 3 year old twins and after reading blog I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask your opinion.

    My girls are on the spectrum though high functioning so am not sure if the information you’ve written holds for them. They were also born prematurely and while in hospital fed every 90 minutes because that’s all their tiny stomachs could take. They both had reflux so establishing good sleeping habits during the early months was very hard if not impossible for me. I’m a single mum and because of space they have always shared my room.

    At the moment I am finding it impossible to get them to sleep before 10pm though it’s more often than not that they sleep at midnight and we’ve had the occasional terrible night were they were up till 3am. They tend to fall asleep about 8 hours after their nap. I have tried to stop their nap which generally occurs about 4 to 5 hours after they first wake up for the day but this usually backfires spectacularly. They become whiny and eventually drop to sleep wherever they are at some completely inappropriate time like 5pm and then wake up at about 8pm and you can imagine the rest.

    The best I have ever managed to achieve is the following:

    Wake up 7am
    Nap noon till 2pm
    Sleep 10pm till about 6am

    They never ever sleep before the 8 hours are up (have sometimes resisted to 12 hours+) and they never ever sleep more than 8 hours at a stretch. Because of this the sleeping waking shifts forwards and forwards until we eventually get a 2am waking and then a 6am nap or something ridiculous like that.

    Do you have any advice please? I need to sort out their sleeping before they start kinder in October!

    Thanks a lot
    Tanya

  23. Hi Alexis –
    PLEASE HELP! Our son had been sleeping through the night (11-12 hours) since he was about 3 months old. It was glorious, we loved our lives. At around 9 months he started waking earlier and earlier (5AM, 4AM) until we decided these were night wakings. Now they are all over the place, 12, 3, 4, 5, but usually one 1 a night (although it’s getting worse and worse). We used to go through his bedtime routine and he would go into his crib happy and fall asleep on his own, usually within 15 minutes. Now he screams bloody murder when we put him in his crib at night (naps are fine) and screams the same way in the night. Is this a simple case of needing to let him cry it out, even if it takes hours? He usually cries so hard he vomits. Super fun. He is now almost 11 months and my husband and I are slowly dying. I should also mention that he has been formula fed since about 4/5 months and I went back to work at 7.5 months.
    Any and all (positive) advice welcome, please and thank you!

  24. Hi there! I know you get hundreds of comments so I don’t know if you have time to answer much but here goes….up until a week ago my 4 month old only napped in a Moby and coslept at night with me. He’s my 5th and I didn’t mind it, until it wasn’t working anymore. And I was losing my mind. I put him in the Arms Reach co-sleeper in his room and he’s sleeping much better than expected. Here’s the dilemmas: he uses a pacifier but constantly pulls it out, he doesn’t always fall asleep real easy so I keep going back in replacing paci and patting his back, he wakes up A LOT in the night and I nurse him, sometimes he wakes up 10 minutes or so after I lay him down. If I read correctly, you say they should be able to put themselves to sleep by 6 months? Should I continue nursing him and helping him fall asleep? Should I take his paci away at some point? Do I wait until 6 months to really give cio a shot? I really appreciate your website, I was starting to feel very hopeless until I started getting small breaks throughout the day and at night while he sleeps. Thank you!

  25. i’ve been doing the 2-3-4 sleep/nap schedule, but my twins don’t wake up until 8-9 (sometimes 10!) am, so their bedtime isn’t until 10pm. they do wake up around 6-7, but they fall back asleep as i’m nursing them. should i keep them awake at 6-7 (please tell me no)?

    • we have trouble getting them to fall asleep by themselves and they wake up 2-3 times a night (around 1a, 3a and 6a). they’re 9 months old.

  26. Please help! My 5 (almost 6) month old, for the past 2-3 nights, has woken up at 1/2am and not been able to fall back asleep for the night…literally she is in the crib trying to settle herself back to sleep for HOURS. Nothing I have done works – I tried feeding her, holding her, doing a mini version of the bedtime routine, talking to her, turning on the light, etc. I cannot tell if she is overtired, under-tired, or if there is something else going on. She goes to bed around 7pm and takes 3 pretty good naps/day (although she missed the last nap of the day a few days ago which kicked off this whole disaster). Generally we try to have her last nap end by 5pm and leave 2.5-3 hours before bedtime.

  27. Hi

    My baby is 18 months old and we used to have her sleep around 2-3 pm and wake up 2 hours later..usually after she was waking up she was in a bad mood and she could not sleep before 11:30pm-12am! We then tried to have her sleep only for 1 hour but again she falling asleep very late..her wake up time was around 8-8:30 since we had to take her to kindergarden…the last few days we keep her awake all day and she sleeps around 8:30-9:30 and wakes up at 8:00am-8:30 ..however i see her that she is really sleepy during the day time and i feel sorry for her..what should i do? should i keep her awake or have her take a day nap even though that leads to late bedtime and much less hours of overall sleep from the recommended hours according to her age?Thanks in advance

  28. My daughter just turned 7 months. We had been lying down for bed around 9 pm for a few weeks and she would wake to nurse a couple times and go back to sleep. She has been awake until midnight or even 2 am the last week! She usually takes 2, 2 hours naps during the day. Should I be putting her down for bed sooner? We can’t handle this much longer. She sleeps in until 9 or 10 and goes back to sleep around noon for a nap.

  29. I have a 4.5 month old who we have been sleep training/swing weaning for about a month now. He started sleeping long stretches so we started sleep training a little early to establish a bed time routine and falling asleep on his own. We are at the point where his swing is off and I just give it a push before leaving. We’ve had a few regressions because of family or outings. Here is the main issue we have right now: it seems like he falls asleep much easier when I put him down versus dad. We wanted to share this because 1) my husband works and I am at home so we want him to have this time with baby as well. 2) we don’t want baby only going down for me in the event I’m not able to. We have talked about how to do everything exactly the same, I have watched and shared my observations….my husband has asked specifically how/what to do so that we can successfully and consistantly sleep train him. BUT, we both agree that when my husband puts him down we feel like we are setting up baby to fail. He cries harder and longer. We agreed last night that after a bath I would take him and complete the remaining bedtime routine going forward. Is this a problem? Does anyone else have differences between parents? We really wanted both of us to be able to do this but it’s just not working. If we make me the only one will he grow out of some of this later as he gets older or are we setting up a bad habit for the future?

  30. Hi! Can a 10 week-old take too many naps? Currently my daughter is taking 5 naps and so she is not even close to sleeping through the night. I think I’ve figured out what I’m doing wrong which is waking her to feed. Anyways, thought I’d ask in case someone else is making the same mistake that I am. Thanks for all the insight you provide! It’s been a great help for us newbie parents!

  31. 5 naps per day and feeding during the night are perfectly normal for a 10 week old. Nothing to worry about. (But you’re right – don’t wake her to feed unless your doctor has instructed you to do so!)

  32. Hi all,

    My 3.5 month old is struggling with bedtime. He naturally falls asleep on his own in his crib at about 10-11pm. Last feed is around 9pm. He then wakes at 2am-3am then 5.30-6.30am. He occasionally goes back to sleep for an hour but I’d often awake until 10am, then crashes out for 2 hours. He then has a nap in the afternoon anytime between 12pm-3pm for between 1 and 3 hours. He then catnaps on and off until 11pm. Naps are either in his bouncer, on us or in the car. We’ve tried bath, stories white noise etc on a night, to no avail. We’re exhausted, he’s exhausted. He’s combination fed, and he’s very greedy! Any tips on sorting this so we can get a better routine, we’d like to move towards him sleeping from 7.30pm til 7.30am (we can but hope!) thanks 🙂

  33. Ok Alexis I need your advice desperately. I have a 5 month old that I’m struggling with sleep issues. The biggest problem no joke is gas pains waking her up. On top of that I nurse her to sleep which has now turned into comfort nursing for the gas pains. I don’t mind nursing her to sleep but the fact that I’m the only one that can get her to go back to sleep in the middle of the night is exhausting. It ranges from 3/4 times to 20ish times a night. I don’t want to let her cry it out either. I tried to let her fall asleep in her swing but she’ll cry but she’ll fall asleep in someone’s arms (other than mine, she wants a noon only with me). I know she can go longer bc on the nights that she’s good she’ll go 6+ hours no problem. I just don’t know about the night nursing for comfort and how to adjust at this point as well as to get her to fall asleep on her own. Please help!

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