What is Considered a Late Bedtime?
Updated: Apr 7
A newborn baby's bedtime is normally late, around 9-10pm. As the baby gets older, bedtime will ideally move forward (earlier). I often get questions about age-appropriate bedtimes and also will a later bedtime work for babies, if needed. I'll address both questions in this blog post!
What Time Should a Baby Go to Bed?
As I said above, a newborn bedtime is usually late. First of all, bedtime is defined as the time a baby goes to sleep for their first stretch of night sleep. For a newborn, this might not be until 9 or 10:00pm. After this stretch of sleep, parents should aim to feed and get baby back to sleep as quickly as possible, rather than letting them have time awake, as they would after a stretch of nap sleep.
Throughout the newborn stage, bedtime will gradually get earlier. I generally recommend trying to have a baby's bedtime to be 8:00pm or earlier by the time they are 3 months of age. Sometimes, with a young baby, even if you try to put them to bed earlier, they will treat it like a nap and wake up, wanting to "go to bed" a little later. Over time, babies will tolerate the earlier bedtime much better. At this point, it's more beneficial to do an earlier bedtime than to squeeze in another nap with a later bedtime.
By the time a baby is 4-months old, the ideal bedtime will be between 6:30-7:30pm, with 8:00pm as the latest bedtime I recommend. This stands through preschool-age.
Is a Late Bedtime Bad for Babies?
There are a few reasons I recommend bedtime to be between 6:30-7:30pm for babies and young children. First of all, your child's natural melatonin surge is based on his circadian rhythm, not his bedtime. Melatonin is the hormone that helps us sleep.
A person's circadian rhythm, or internal body clock is based on the natural flow of day and night. This is why people experience jet lag when crossing time zones. Your body can tell that the timing of day and night is different in this new place, even if you alter your bedtime. The body experiences a natural surge of melatonin when it begins to get dark outside (although too much blue light inside can affect this production). The body's melatonin production peaks between midnight and 2:00am. Then, it starts to taper off as your body prepares to wake up for the day.
A late bedtime does not change your child's circadian rhythm. Therefore, because this is all based on the natural flow of day and night, a child who is going to bed late may miss getting the surge of melatonin in the evening. If your child gets a "second wind" and then has trouble falling asleep until a much later time, this is likely what happened.
Second, since melatonin production peaks around midnight and then starts to taper off, sleep is the deepest before midnight. Early morning sleep is very light and won't get the benefits of deep sleep. I have seen children who are on a later schedule be chronically overtired even though they are getting the age-appropriate total amount of sleep. For example, if a 4-year-old regularly sleeps from 9:30pm to 9:00am, that's 11.5 hours of sleep, which is an age-appropriate amount. However, he may still be overtired because he's missing out on a few hours of deep sleep in return for light sleep. That deep sleep is when the most growth, development, and immunity-boosting happens. (Side note: Find out whether or not I recommend melatonin supplements here.)
Third, studies show that earlier schedules are linked to better focus, behavior, mood, mental health, and general health. Night owls are more likely to have depression, anxiety, and addictions (Holistic Sleep Coaching by Lyndsey Hookway). This is true for both your children and yourself. If your young child isn't going to sleep until 9:00pm, chances are you're staying up a lot later too. When your child is going to bed at a reasonable time, you will still have time to get things done, relax, etc. and still get yourself to bed at an appropriate time. (As a side note, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep every night. How are you doing there?)
A later bedtime is simply not as beneficial to your child's sleep overall, even if he's getting "enough" sleep. Just in case you're wondering, an earlier bedtime does not necessarily mean an earlier waking for the day. Sometimes an earlier bedtime is actually the solution for a child who is waking up too early in the morning (see my E-Course Fix Early Morning Wakings if this is you). If your child is sleeping in until 9:00am, then yes, he'll wake earlier when he goes to bed earlier. But you want him to wake up earlier in this case so that he can go to bed earlier and get all the benefits of deeper sleep!
Comment below with any questions about schedules and bedtimes and contact me if you need help solving your child's sleep issues!
~Ashley Bell, pediatric sleep consultant