Determining the Best Bedtime and How Much Sleep Your Child Needs


As a certified child sleep consultant, I am asked a lot about the best bedtime for babies and children; as well as how much sleep children need each day to meet their sleep needs.  It makes sense that parents want to make sure that they are providing their children with adequate rest – SLEEP IS SO IMPORTANT!  The benefits to both children and parents are countless – mood and cognitive, behavioral, emotional and physical. Well-rested kids are normally happy and healthy. Who doesn’t want that for their children?

Why is bedtime so important?

Our bodies have a biological clock and our circadian rhythms (fancy way of saying sleep cycles), which help our children to doze off if we introduce sleep at the right time.

If we introduce sleep too early, we run the risk of our child not having enough sleep pressure built and becoming frustrated with being sent to bed before they are able to sleep.  This can be a cause of your child taking 30+ minutes to fall asleep if you put them down too early.

A more common challenge is parents overestimating the amount of time that their children can be awake and putting them down for bed too late.  Oftentimes parents think “if I put my baby to bed later, they’ll sleep later.”   That would be logical, right?  But sleep isn’t logical, it’s biological!  Putting your littles to bed too late can result in a series of challenges.

Late Bedtime Challenges:

#1 Trouble Falling Asleep

Once children cross from tired to overtired, the body goes into fight or flight mode and produces cortisol, which is a stimulating hormone.  Imagine the feeling of getting a second wind and trying to lay down to sleep…impossible, right?  Children often fight sleep or cry when they are put down for bed too late.

#2 Restless Sleep and Waking in the Night

That same cortisol rush that made sleep so difficult at bedtime will also results in restless sleep and night waking.  Sleep after a cortisol rush isn’t as restorative.

#3 Super early wake time

Have you heard the expression that ‘sleep begets sleep’?  The more sleep your child gets, the more they will want to sleep, whereas a late bedtime can result in an early wake time.

#4 The trifecta

All of the challenges above all result in less overall sleep.  Children with later bedtimes overall get less sleep and they don’t normally make up for it with day sleep or sleeping in.

Using the chart below, this will give you a really good indication of how much sleep your child needs and an age appropriate bedtime for them to ensure that they are meeting their sleep needs.

Sleep Needs and Bedtime by Age Chart:

For bedtimes, you’ll notice a range.  When children miss naps or take a short nap, they’ll will likely need a bedtime on the earlier end of the spectrum.  Also, each child’s sleep needs are different – if you know your child needs more sleep, stick with an earlier bedtime.  If your child is perfectly happy around dinnertime– mood at this time is a great indicator on how well rested they are overall – and if they are meeting their sleep needs, they may be ok staying up closer to the later end of the spectrum.

If you and your child are struggling to get the right schedule and enough sleep, please schedule a no-cost 20-minute chat today so you can learn more about working with me.  Also, check out my reviews on Facebook!

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