Early Bedtime vs. Late Bedtime For Babies and Toddlers: Which Is Best?

Early Late Bedtime Baby Toddler
Bedtime is a big deal, parents….as you probably know, bedtime can really set the tone for how the rest of your night will go! A peaceful bedtime routine – one that induces sleep and allows your child to fall asleep without your help – is a great way to encourage sleeping through the night.

The timing of your baby or toddler’s bedtime matters too, of course. We’ve shared recommended baby and toddler bedtimes by age in this cool printable chart, but we still hear often from parents who wonder exactly when it’s best to put their little ones down for bed. Is an early bedtime a good idea? Or is it better to keep your child up later in the evening?

We have answers; keep reading to learn more about our philosophy of when bedtime should happen in your home.

When Bedtime Is Not Really A “Thing”

Keep in mind that when your baby is a newborn, bedtime isn’t really a “thing”. In the first few months of your baby’s life, sleep will be more cyclical and less clock-based; that is, your baby’s sleep will be oriented around when she last fed, and not around the time of day.

Bedtime For Babies

Once your baby is about 2-3 months old, you can start working towards a more fixed bedtime – somewhere between 8 and 11 p.m. Now, this bedtime probably seems late, but that’s intentional. At this age, you want your baby’s bedtime to time up with yours. Why? Because you’ll want your baby’s longest stretch of sleep at night (ideally the stretch of sleep right after the bedtime feeding) to coincide with your first stretch of nighttime sleep.

Once your baby is about 4 months old, you’ll shift to an earlier bedtime: from 4 – 10 months, you’ll want bedtime to happen between 6 and 7/7:30 p.m. This early bedtime might seem counterintuitive – after all, if you put your baby to bed at 6 or 6:30, won’t he be up at the crack of dawn? Keep in mind, however, that sleep begets sleep. A baby who is in bed relatively early is usually a baby who is rested and not overly tired, and who will sleep soundly and wake at a reasonable hour. A baby who goes to bed late, however, may be overtired at bedtime. If that’s the case, then it’s actually more likely that he’ll wake too early the next morning.

Around 10 months, you may need to start shifting bedtime back a bit, so that it’s happening closer to 7:30. Why? Because by this time, most children are sleeping through the night, which means they’re getting plenty of night sleep, but they are also napping twice per day for 2-3 hours. If your child is taking nice, long naps during the day, you may need to compensate for that with a slightly later bedtime. This will hold true through the 12-month mark.

Bedtime For Toddlers Who Nap

From 12 months until about 15-18 months, your toddler will likely continue taking 2 naps during the day. While your toddler is on a 2-nap schedule, it may be best to stick to a later bedtime of around 7:30 or 8 p.m.

Somewhere between 15-18 months, your toddler will transition from 2 naps to 1 nap. During and immediately after this transition, your toddler will probably need an earlier bedtime as she adjusts to just one nap. Otherwise, you may see a drastic increase in night-waking and a need to do more sleep training. Go ahead and bump bedtime back up to 6:30 or 7 for a while, if it seems necessary. And, on days when your toddler’s afternoon nap is unusually short, you may need to use the earlier bedtime.

However, once your toddler’s one-nap schedule is well-established, you will likely need to shift gradually towards a later bedtime. Between 2 and 3 years of age, if your toddler is still taking a solid afternoon nap, you may need to bump bedtime back as late as 8:30 or even 9, depending on when the nap ends. This is a situation in which a late bedtime is actually advisable! We see many parents who continue to try and put their older toddlers to bed at 7 p.m., only to be majorly frustrated when said toddler won’t fall asleep for 2 hours! But remember, your older toddler needs about 5 hours of awake time between the end of the nap and the start of bedtime. So, be sure to time bedtime accordingly.

Bedtime For Toddlers and Preschoolers Who No Longer Nap

Once your child drops the afternoon nap (usually at some point between 3 and 5 years of age), you’ll want to go back to an earlier bedtime of 6:30 or 7:00. By this point, your child should be sleeping about 12 straight hours at night. So you can time bedtime around when you need your child to wake up in the morning. If you need your child up at raring to go at 6:30 a.m., then a 6:30 bedtime is appropriate.

More Baby and Toddler Bedtime Resources, Including Personalized Bedtime Help

Need more help establishing a healthy bedtime for your baby or toddler? We’ve got you covered! Connect with one of our expert consultants today! She’ll craft a Personalized Sleep Plan® just for your baby, walk you through every step of sleep training, and provide detailed answers to your most pressing sleep training questions.

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28 thoughts on “Early Bedtime vs. Late Bedtime For Babies and Toddlers: Which Is Best?”

  1. Hello,
    My 12 week old has just gotten into a sleep pattern of:
    bedtime at 11pm in his crib, solid sleep till 7-9am. Then I feed, change and play with him for an hour/hour half, and then he falls back asleep in his boppy for 2-3 hours. After that his naps are only 30-45 mins. Should I be playing with him in the morning, or just feeding and changing him and put him back in the crib?

    • @Kelly – Thank you for your comment! It sounds like you have a great routine going with your 12 week old. In the next few months you will likely be able to start bringing that bedtime back a bit, but it sounds like he is giving you great stretches of sleep! Here is a link to a sample schedule for a 4 month old – I know he is not there, but this will give you an idea of what you will be working towards transitioning him to in the next month or so if you need to make changes: https://www.babysleepsite.com/schedules/4-month-old-schedule/
      Having one longer morning nap and then more catnaps throughout the day is pretty normal, for now I would just continue to make sure he is not awake for too long (about 1.5-2 hours at the most) before trying to get him to sleep again. As he gets older you should see those naps lengthen out and he will not be taking so many each day. That said, I would continue to do what you are doing unless in the morning he seems super drowsy and it’s challenging to keep him awake. If this is the case I’d offer the nap sooner.
      I hope this helps! Thank you for using the Baby Sleep Site as a resource for sleep!

  2. Hi. My baby will be going to daycare at 4.5 months old. I have a rather inflexible work schedule so he’ll have to be up at 6 am at the latest to make it to daycare at 7 am. I can’t pick him up until 6-6:30pm and get home about 6:45-7. So he likely would be in bed at 7:30-8 at the earliest. As well, I can’t control his naps during the day anymore. Do you have any tips on how to adjust to this schedule? Do I feed him when I wake him up or have the daycare do so when he arrives? How about naps? Thank you!!

    • @Lily – Thank you for stopping by our sleepy little village! Working home schedules with day care schedules can be quite a challenge, for sure. Depending on how your little guy sleeps and if he eats during the night, he may or may not be hungry when he wakes in the morning. If he is hungry, you would likely want to consider going ahead and feeding him. If you are nursing him, a good feed in the am when he wakes is likely a good idea regardless. Overall, it really just depends on your guy so you’d just want to use your best judgment and perhaps ask for the daycare providers’ schedule for his room since they generally have a loose schedule of when they feed babies. They may already have a policy in place to feed babies close to when they arrive or vice versa.

      And these two articles should help you as you prepare your little guy for daycare – they go over a few tips for getting ready for daycare schedules and for getting your baby ready for the impact daycare may have on his sleep: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-naps-2/daycare-nap-schedules-2-tips/ and https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/how-daycare-impacts-your-babys-sleep-schedule-and-habits/

      Hang in there, Lily, and please keep reading!

  3. Hello,
    My 3 month old sleeps through the night (12 hours). She goes to bed at 8pm and wakes up around 8am. She takes 4 naps/day. I breastfeed her also – 8am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm, 730pm. I’m wanting to move her bedtime a little earlier so she will hopeful wake up a little earlier (I’m going back to work next month and she will need to be up by 7am). I’m wondering how I can do this and still get enough feedings in for her and also what times you would recommend for a nap. I have found she likes to nap from 5-630pm in the evening so it’s too early for bedtime but waking up at 630 is too late to put her down at 7. Thanks!!!

  4. When my baby turned 3 months, he finally started eating 5oz each feeding every 3 hours during the day. At this time we were doing the last feeding at 1030pm & he would be asleep by 11pm & sleep through til 6-6:30am eat 4oz then back to sleep until 10-10:30am. I’d feed him 5 oz every morning at 10:30am.. then 1:30pm 4:30pm 7:30pm 10:30pm. The only nap he took at the same time every day was 12pm-1pm. He would take a few more cat naps about 3-3 1/2 hours in naps total. He will be 4 months next week and the last few days he’s been getting up at 4:30am to eat.. back to sleep.. & up by 8:30-9am. I also noticed he’s getting fussier/tired around 9:30pm so we’ve been putting him down for a ‘nap’ before his last bottle at 10:30pm, but it seems like he’s counting this nap in with his night sleep? The 11pm bedtime was working for us because I work a few nights until 1:30am or later. It was nice that his night feeding was later & he didn’t get up until 10am because I could get my sleep after working late.. & still get up well before him to get things done around the house. How can I get him to stretch his night feeding again & sleep in later? When should his naps be & how many does he need/how long?

    • Hi Ashley,
      Thanks so much for your comment! What you’re experiencing is very normal for this age, if it helps! Many newborns have very late bedtimes, and then somewhere right around 4 months, babies start shifting to needing an earlier bedtime, sometimes literally overnight. It can be tough to accommodate an earlier schedule with most parent’s working schedules, but many babies do best with a rather early bedtime. We actually have a sample 4 month-old schedule with a lot of good information on average sleep needs, bedtimes, and nap needs here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/schedules/4-month-old-schedule/
      You can of course push all of these times a bit later to encourage your baby onto a later schedule, but at this age, whether it works or not will really depend on the baby – some a very adaptable, and some will sleep when they’re tired no matter what you do 🙂 I hope the schedule will help, but please get in touch if we can be of further help!

  5. I have a problem with my baby, he have 6 mouths and he have 2 weeks when not sleeping on night. I try to wake up in morning, he is angry, I put to sleeping at 12 a.m he sleep 4h, I put him to sleep at 21:00 but he sleep 2h and again had a white night

    • Hi Cristina,
      Thank you so much for your comment at The Baby Sleep Site! I’m sorry to hear you’re dealing with night waking. It sounds like your son might be going through the 6 month growth spurt. It’s very common for babies to wake at this age for a few weeks in order to eat at night, since they’re growing and need the calories. We have an article on growth spurts you can read here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-sleep-needs/baby-growth-spurts-affect-sleep-feeding/
      I hope this helps and your baby will start sleeping better soon, but if you do need more help, please let us know! Good luck!

  6. We sleep trained my 11 month old pretty late. At Around 10 months. it took us a WHOLE 3 Weeks. And even then he was waking up. Now at 11 months old he’s gone from sleeping through the night to waking up at 4:00!!!!! ??? We put him to bed around 10:00. I would like to move his bed time forward. How do I do this? I’m scared he will wake up even more. ..oh and he naps at daycare for 1-2 hours.

  7. My 15 month son is continually waking up at 4:30 every morning. He still takes two naps (1 hour each) and usually is down at 7:30 at night. Any thoughts? Could he be hungry?

    • @Allison – Thank you for visiting our sleepy little village! If your little guy is waking so early every day, there could be a number of causes really. The most common being his sleep schedule during the day – if he’s getting enough to eat during the day, hunger is not generally the issue at this age. This article goes over some common reasons for early waking in toddlers, which you may find helpful: https://www.babysleepsite.com/toddlers/toddler-waking-early-rising-tips/ Again, thank you for commenting and please keep reading our blog!

  8. Any tips for working moms? We don’t get home until 6-6:30 some nights and still need dinner, bath and bedtime routine. I have a 3 year old (who naps) and due with another in spring! Thanks!

    • @ Libby – Great question! You can absolutely adjust bedtime later, to allow for your work schedule; it just means that you may also need to allow for a later morning wake-up time. If you have to have an early wake-up, then your little one will need longer naps to compensate. Hope this helps! Thanks for your question 🙂

  9. Why do you say close to 8 pm here but on the sample schedules for 11 month olds, you say they should be asleep by 7? That’s a big gap.

    • @ Krista – thanks for pointing this out! I changed it to 7:30 p.m. Bedtime at this age is tricky – standard advice would be 7:00 or 7:30, but if your child is napping well and sleeping through the night at 11 months, you may need an 8 p.m. bedtime in order to keep the morning wake-up time from being hideously early 🙂

      Thanks for commenting, Krista!

  10. Thanks Emily for this awesome post. I am a proud mother of 8- month old baby. I must try to follow your routine.

Comments are closed.

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