A common myth among new parents is that if you put your baby to bed later in the evening, he’ll sleep later. This seems logical; it’s true for adults, so it must be true for babies, right? Wrong. So wrong! If you haven’t figured this out already, you soon will. Strange as it may seem, your baby will sleep better through the night with an early bedtime.
Why Early Bedtimes?
Keeping Baby Up Too Late
Finding Your Baby’s Bedtime
Early Bedtime Benefits
Babies are hard-wired to go to bed in the early evening, usually shortly after dinner. They have no need of television or winding down in the evening. Once they’ve had dinner, they need just a little time for that food to settle, then bath, bottle, and bed.
The traditional colic time for babies is around 5 to 7 p.m., when they’ve been awake for most of the day. Part of why they’re particularly fussy is that their bodies are ready for sleep. Keeping a baby awake past his “natural” bedtime is a recipe for disaster, as over-tired babies have more problems falling asleep and seem less comfortable overnight.
There are numerous reasons why parents keep their babies up too late at night.
- First, and foremost, they may not realize just how soon a baby is ready for bed. When our boys were three months old or so, we mentioned to the pediatrician that we put them to bed at around 9:00, fed them again at midnight or 1:00, and then they slept pretty much through the night. He said “Try putting them down at 7:30.” We did just that, and what a difference it made! I was certain it would have the boys waking up at 2 a.m. Instead, they now go to bed at 7:30 or 8:00, and generally sleep through the night. You won’t believe it until you try it with your own baby.
- Working parents want more time for the baby. This is totally understandable – you get home from a long day of work, and you want to spend a few hours playing with your cute baby! A little bit of play time is fine, but baby’s needs should come first. Make the most of the time that you and your baby have, from the moment you get home. Skip the e-mail and Facebook, and put in some quality time first. You can do these things while your baby’s asleep, and you’ll both be happier for it.
- Some parents think tire the baby out, and he’ll sleep in. This strategy usually backfires for babies and for toddlers. The later you put them to bed, the earlier they tend to wake up. It makes no sense, but there you have it. Circadian rhythms may have something to do with this. Your baby naturally wants to sleep from sunset to sunrise. Guess what? That’s usually 7:30 or 8 in the evening until 6 or 7 in the morning. This happens to overlap almost exactly with what experts recommend as your baby’s overnight sleep schedule.
So, you’re willing to try it. How do you start putting your baby to bed early? I think this is best done by monitoring your baby, starting half an hour after his dinner, for signs that he’s starting to tire. This might be “sleepy eyes”, or rubbing the face, or just general fussiness. As soon as you notice these, start the bedtime routine that you’ve established.
At most, your baby should be bathed, fed, swaddled, and in bed by about 2 hours after dinner. Stick to the same time for 2-3 nights in a row. Then, if you need to adjust, do so by 15 or 20 minutes and try two more nights. Do this until you find a time that seems to work. Here’s our own typical schedule:
|A solid dinner: veggies or meat with lots of baby cereal.
|In the activity jumper or baby gym, then maybe some tummy time
|A nice warm bath seems to help a lot, when we find time.
|4-6 ounces from a Dr. Brown’s, then lots of burping.
|Nighttime diaper, pajamas, sleep sack, and a good pacifier.
An early bedtime has a number of advantages, for both you and your baby:
- It matches your baby’s longest sleep cycle to nighttime and his or her natural circadian rhythms. Let’s hope this gives you the most important benefit: a baby that sleeps through the night!
- Your evening will be more relaxing. Instead of dealing with a fussy baby or dreading the next wake-up, you put your baby down and assume he’ll sleep through the night.
- More time with your spouse or other children. Let’s face it, the new baby in the house probably gets most of your attention for the rest of the day. While they sleep peacefully in the evening hours, you can get in some quality time… with the others in your nest.
Bottom line, there are lots of things to like about giving your baby an early bedtime. Give it a try, tonight!
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