Timing bedtime right is HUGELY important for your baby's overall sleep. Too late of a bedtime can cause early morning wakeups, extra nightwakings, bedtime battles, and general overtiredness that contributes to poor napping. Timing bedtime right might not fix all your sleep problems (after all, everything affects everything when it comes to child sleep), but it will definitely be a step in the right direction!
Every child sleep book you ever read will talk about the importance of "early bedtimes." However, it's a bit more difficult to find actual pin-pointed bedtimes, so you're then left wondering, "How early is early?" In fact, when I first read "early bedtimes," I think my initial thought was something in the ballpark of 8pm. After all, 8pm is definitely an early bedtime for an adult! However, babies' bedtimes can actually fall much earlier than 8pm.
The way I do bedtime may be different from what you're used to -- I don't do set bedtimes until Baby no longer naps. That's right! 0 naps = set bedtime; 1-6+ naps = flexible bedtime. Having a flexible bedtime is a great way to keep Baby well-rested, though it does contribute to the difficulty of pin-pointing bedtime based on age. However, I think a flexible bedtime is the way to go because it gives Baby a chance to make up missed sleep from a short or skipped nap with an earlier bedtime.
When I say "flexible bedtime," I mean that I give a bedtime range, and any start-of-sleep that falls inside that range should be treated like bedtime rather than a nap. I always use waketimes between the final nap of the day and bedtime, so bedtime mostly fluctuates on how the last nap goes (nap start times may fluctuate based on previous naps depending on the age and situation). The ranges I recommend are (roughly!) as follows:
0-2 months: 8:00-11:00pm
Newborns are still sleeping so much overall that they might seem to have two bedtimes -- one in an earlier timeframe like those below, and then another in this range. Many babies wake in this range for just enough time to have a quick feed and bedtime routine, and then they go back down for their longest stretch of sleep.
3-4 months: 5:00-7:15pm
When the books say early, they mean early! 5:00pm sounds crazy if you've never tried it, but it can actually work really well! It allows Baby to make up for missed nap sleep with longer nightsleep, which is the most restorative kind of sleep!
5-11 months: 5:00-7:45pm
The range gets a little later, but Baby can still go to bed as early as 5pm! Usually the earlier side of the range is reserved for times of nap transition (when Baby drops from 3 naps to 2). Baby meets his slightly decreased sleep needs by dropping the nap and temporarily having an earlier bedtime.
1-5 years: 5:00-8:00pm
The range again gets later in order to accommodate the need for increased waketimes following the nap. 5:00pm isn't used much past 18 months, but it can come in handy on days when Baby skips his nap for any reason.
Keep in mind that the time you put Baby down will depend on how long his waketime before bed is. If you're not sure how long that should be, check out my previous posts on napping schedules.
Babies typically transition from three naps to two sometime between seven and nine months old. So if Baby is 8 months old, he's right on that edge where he may need two naps or he may need three, and it may change from day to day. Let's say he has a waketime (WT) of 2.5 hours between naps 2 and 3, as well as between nap 3 and bedtime. If he naps from 1-3pm, his next start-of-sleep will be at 5:30pm. Since that falls within the range of 5-7:30pm, that means he'll be going down for the night at 5:30pm. If, however, he only catnaps from 1-1:30, his next start-of-sleep will be at 4pm. This is outside the bedtime range, so in this case he has time for a third nap, which would in turn lead to a later bedtime (if he naps from 4-4:45, bedtime would then be at 7:15).
Some people really hate the early bedtime, but personally, I LOVE it! After I put Ada down for the night, I still have the whole evening to spend with my husband, work, or watch Netflix. It also works great for date night -- oftentimes I tell the sitter to come over after Ada is already down for bed. Then I don't have to worry about whether or not the sitter turned on her sound machine or secured her diaper correctly, and I can also pay less because they're essentially getting paid to eat my popcorn and watch my Netflix -- win-win!
As with everything, there are pros and cons to the early bedtime, but for me, the pros are off the charts on this one! :) What do you think? Are you in favor of early bedtimes?