Many parents put their children to bed on the later side every evening, between 8:00 PM and 11:00 PM. But for a young child under three years old, this time isn’t ideal, and there are real scientific reasons for it!
As with all scientific data, there are some exceptions to the rule. We do see success with children who adapt to a shifted schedule based on the routines at home, perhaps sleeping from 9:00 PM to 9:00 AM and napping through the day in alignment with that bedtime and desired wake time. But for the majority of families who complain that their child wakes up too much at night and/or naps terribly during the day, a simple fix is sometimes just an earlier bedtime.
In order to set the stage for why an earlier bedtime makes the most sense for children, picture this scenario: If you, an adult, were to go out in the evening and stay out very late, get home around 1:00 AM and go to bed around 2:00 AM, followed by 9-10 hours of sleep, you would wake up around lunch time. But you may still feel tired and groggy from staying out late the night before, and you may ask yourself, “Why do I feel so tired if I got 10 hours of sleep?” The answer to this is because you got the wrong 10 hours of sleep! Now, let’s apply this to a child’s natural sleep cycle to understand more.
Melatonin, the human body’s natural “sleep hormone,” helps to regulate our circadian rhythm and allows our bodies to understand that we are to sleep during the night and be awake during the day. This natural hormone begins its rising journey in the early evening hours, around 6:00 PM, peaking in the middle of the night at our most tired stage (read: deep sleep), and slowly descending as the morning approaches. That is precisely why it is best to try and put your baby down while melatonin is on the increase and to catch him before he is overtired.
Parents often hear that they should put their baby down awake but drowsy but what does that even mean? It means that if we catch our baby before their cortisol hormone level rises and shoots through the roof (AKA overtired), we will be more likely to help them have a calm, restorative sleep experience. Overtired children have trouble settling themselves and staying asleep for long periods of time. So putting the baby down even if they aren’t yet showing signs of exhaustion isn’t as crazy as it sounds! And ultimately, it will lead to a happier and healthier bedtime for everyone!
AUTHOR: Amanda Israel is a Pediatric Sleep Consultant and owner of Lullaby Magic Sleep Consulting LLC. What started out as a hobby to sleep train her own two children soon turned into giving advice to friends and family, and later became a dream business for her in helping other families get some much-needed rest. She uses her Masters in Education in conjunction with her sleep certification from the Center for Pediatric Sleep Management to help provide families with the best sleep results customized for their family.