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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Have some great tips about the best bedtime for babies and toddlers?

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

  1. My little girl is nearly 18 months old.
    She sleeps well. But I’m wondering if i should move her bedtime. She sleeps from about 9/10pm for around 12 hours at night. And during the day she goes 4 hours awake and then has a nap that usually lasts 2 sometimes 3 hours. And then goes 5 hours awake until bedtime.
    Should i be changing this?

    • Hi Ali,
      Thanks for your comment! Your daughter’s sleep sounds roughly average for her age, so if she seems happy and well-slept, and the schedule you have is working for your family, there’s no reason to change it. Some families find that their children sleep better on an earlier schedule, but it really depends on the child and your family’s schedule. I hope this helps!

  2. My 13 month old has always gone to bed late. Earliest is 10pm. She sleeps about 9 hours at night and will occasionally sleep 10. (She also occasionally only sleeps 7 or 8). I have never put her to bed earlier than 10 because she never sleeps more than 10 hours. I’m ready to make her bed time earlier. We started trying to transition to 1 nap and putting to an hour earlier but after a few days she started waking earlier, still only about 9 hours at night. Amy way to get her to sleep longer at night? Her 2 daytime naps usually total about 2 to 3 hours depending on how long she slept at night. Her total sleep time in a day (24 hour period) is never more than 13 hours. Any suggestions? I feel like if I mover her bedtime earlier she will just wake earlier (as happened when trying thr 1 nap thing).

    • Hi Heather,
      Thank you for commenting on The Baby Sleep Site! I’m sorry to hear you’re having some trouble adjusting your daughter’s schedule. I’m not a sleep consultant and can’t really help with specifics, but I do know we don’t usually recommend dropping a nap while also changing the schedule, since this can result in overtiredness, and thus more trouble sleeping and actually shorten the night. We also don’t usually recommend switching to one nap until between 15-18 months-old. You might like our article on why that’s the recommendation here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-naps-2/12-month-olds-one-nap-transition/

      Because you have a naturally short-sleeper and a couple of different sleep concerns, I’d really recommend talking to a sleep consultant to get some more specific help. You can ask questions on our Member Chat or any of the articles in our Members Area if you just need help deciding what to tackle first, or you may want to consider one of our personalized consultations. Good luck!

  3. My 23 month old has a 7 sometimes 8hour awake time after the afternoon nap which ends at 3!!! This is seriously frustrating and and don’t know what to do, she’s just not tired, buzzing around, tried to exhaust her but nothing works, is this just the way she is? Nap ranges from 2-3 hours, tried to cut it to 1 hour and she was still up 7 hours later! Help!

    • @Sara – Thank you for stopping by our sleepy little village and for sharing with us! This age can definitely be a tough one for a toddler’s sleep as they tend to hit another sleep regression around this time. Late bedtimes are definitely much more common at this point as wake times tend to be a bit longer at this point. This article briefly discusses this regression and gives a few tips on getting through it – https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-regression-2/2-year-old-sleep-regression/ Hang in there, Sara!

  4. My 4 1/2 year old son, who used to be a great sleeper, now wakes up during the night and comes into our room. He says he cannot sleep without an adult. As I don’t want to start having him sleeping in our bed, I walk him back to his room. This goes on for several hours till I give up and sleep with him in his room. We are all exhausted.

    • @Carol, thank you for visiting the Baby Sleep Site. I am so sorry you are all exhausted! That is tough. 🙁 Here is an article that may give you some tips to help your son stay in his bed if you haven’t tried all of them: https://www.babysleepsite.com/toddlers/limit-setting-toddler/ If the problem persists, let us know! Our team of sleep consultants would love to help – we have worked with children your son’s age and some older as well. You can email us directly if you are interested to [email protected] and we can help you figure out the next steps. Hang in there!

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