How to Shift Baby Bedtime Earlier - Top Tips to Help Your Little One

There’s almost nothing better than the feeling you get when your baby sleeps through the night for the very first time. No doubt about it, it’s a milestone moment and a cause for celebration! If you’re lucky, baby will sleep through for several nights in a row.

While we certainly don’t want to jinx anything, we’re here to remind you to stay on your toes.

Infant sleep is not a exact science, and smart parents will have a plan for when baby’s sleep patterns change yet again, whether its due to changing wake times, a poor night’s sleep, or other sleep issues. One thing they will consider is putting baby to bed at an earlier time. 

How much sleep does baby need?

First of all, let’s take a look at baby sleep cycles and how much sleep babies actually need.

Keeping in mind that not every child has exactly the same needs, go ahead and check out these “typical” standards for the first year of baby’s life. (Remember, these statistics are not set in stone, but are provided as general guidelines).

Newborn to 3 months: Scheduling sleep times for a newborn can be tricky because they don’t follow an internal clock or circadian rhythm (a natural sleep-wake cycle) until they are around 4 months old.

In these early months, expect baby to sleep a lot – a total of 17 hours (give or take) in a 24-hour day. The longest stretch of sleep, somewhere around 8 to 12 hours, should occur at night. During the day, babies nap in 2-hour increments (with feeding, changing, and cuddling in between).

4 to 6 months: Baby is developing her circadian rhythm and should be snoozing for an average of 14 hours a day. You can hope for a long stretch of around 6 hours at night. Baby should be taking up to three naps during the day.

7 to 11 months: In total, baby still should be sleeping 14 to 16 hours a day, but the nighttime stretch may be as long as 10 to 12 hours. She should be enjoying 2-3 naps during the day.

12 months: Now baby needs around 11 hours of nighttime sleep. Ideally, she should take 2 naps during the day totaling around 3-4 hours.

Different baby, different schedule

It’s worth repeating that all children come with unique sleep challenges. For example, the sleep schedule that works for your neighbor’s baby may not work for your little one. Your cousin’s baby might sleep better with white noise but your baby might not, and your best friend’s baby might have a late bedtime that works for her but not for you.

As you read on, remind yourself that you know your child best and you know what it is that will work within your family.

How to know if you should switch to an earlier bedtime

Now that you have a sense of how much sleep baby needs within a 24-hour period, you’re more likely to recognize if she’s not getting enough. In turn, you’ll have a better chance of staving off the dreaded “overtireds” and the mayhem they bring.

Consider switching to an earlier bedtime if you experience any of the below scenarios (or a situation that’s very similar). It’s important to note that these suggestions are meant to be temporary solutions.

  • Needs a reset: Sometimes baby will miss a nap (there are lots of reasons why this may happen), so you may look into resetting your child’s schedule.

    Let’s say this happens for a few days in a row and, as a result, baby is acting grouchy and super clingy. This is your clue that she hasn’t had enough sleep and it’s an opportunity to try switching the bedtime to a significantly earlier hour. For example, if bedtime is usually 7 pm, shoot for 5 pm. Chances are you won’t need to do this for more than a couple of nights before she’s all caught up.
  • Skips the late nap: What if baby normally takes 3 naps a day, but one afternoon she misses nap number 3? This is when you should move bedtime just a bit earlier, say 30 minutes or so. For example, if baby is usually in bed at 7 pm, get her all tucked in by 6:30 pm instead.

  • Wakes up early and is very tired: Sometimes baby’s sleep gets messed up for no apparent reason. For example, let’s say for one week your little one has been waking up early even though you know she is still very tired

    In this case, there haven’t been any obvious changes to her bedtime or her naps. Here you may want to move up bedtime by 30 or so minutes for the next few days. This will allow baby to catch up on missed sleep and (hopefully) reset her normal sleeping pattern.
  • Rarely gets enough sleep: If baby seems to be tired all of the time even though she’s napping well, it’s worth it to shift bedtime to a significantly earlier hour, even up to 2 hours earlier.

    In this case, it’s not necessary to tweak the nap schedule. With an earlier bedtime, baby should still wake up at the same time in the morning, even when she’s obviously still sleepy. This just means you need to stick to the earlier bedtime for several days in a row until she wakes looking and acting well rested.

Why earlier is better

It’s up to you to maintain good sleeping habits and set the stage so baby will thrive both physically and mentally.

how to shift baby bedtime earlier

In the early developmental periods, this means you need to be extra vigilant when it comes to baby’s sleeping patterns. Since it’s inevitable that baby will miss a bit of sleep now and then, you want to have some tricks up your sleeve to keep her from ever becoming seriously sleep deprived.

Oftentimes parents will consider pushing bedtime later than usual, thinking that then baby will be tired enough to sleep through the night and wake at a reasonable morning hour.

While this certainly seems like a logical solution, the truth is that a later bedtime usually does more harm than good. In fact, later bedtimes have been known to disrupt sleep at night, increase night stirrings, cause earlier wake-ups, and even contribute to difficulties falling asleep.

Factor in the naps

Naps play a critical part in baby’s overall sleep cycle. In turn, they can be manipulated if you are looking to move up baby’s bedtime. Here are two examples (keeping in mind that not all baby’s consistently have 3 or more naps per day):

  • Keep an eye on the last nap: The last nap of the day may need to be cut short if you plan on putting baby to bed much earlier than usual. Make sure there’s enough time for her to transition out a nap mode before she goes back down for the night.
  • Cut out a nap: If baby is over 6 months old and has been logging 3 decent naps a day but is suddenly having difficulty falling asleep at bedtime, you may want maintain her morning nap and early afternoon nap but do away with the third one. However, if you do drop the last nap, move up the bedtime by 30 minutes or so to avoid any chance of overtiredness.

How to gradually shift to an earlier bedtime

Changing a sleeping schedule may require some adjustments, but it shouldn’t prove to be too disruptive to baby or you. Here are some ways to smoothly transition to an earlier bedtime. 

  • Have an early dinner: If you’re aiming to put baby to bed around 5:30 for a couple of nights, it will help if you move up your own nighttime routine as well. Consider having an early dinner and then go about baby’s usual bedtime activities. In this way, the only thing different about the schedule of events is the timing.
  • Experiment: It may take a couple of nights to find the optimal bedtime for baby. Try moving the time by 15 minute intervals for a gradual shift. When baby finally falls asleep easily and wakes at a reasonable time, you’ll know you’ve hit the sweet spot.
  • Be ready: If you know in advance that you’ll be putting baby to bed earlier than usual, make sure you have everything you on hand to facilitate an early bedtime.

    The last thing you want to do is rush through the normal nighttime routine in an effort to get baby quickly into bed. For example, before the hour strikes, get ready baby’s pajamas, bottle, storybook, nightlight, and whatever else she needs to help her drop into a deep sleep.
  • Stay consistent: As with several parenting strategies, consistency is key. While the time she goes to bed may be pushed up now and again, the routine surrounding bedtime should remain the same. In other words, even if baby is falling asleep early, you can still bathe her, read to her, or do whatever it is you normally do before you turn out the light.
  • Remember to consider the age: While your gut may tell you to move up baby’s bedtime by two hours, before you make a move, consider the amount of sleep that’s recommended at her current age.

    Lots of research has been done on this subject (and it’s easy to find online or in books), so compare your thoughts with the experts’ opinions. It never hurts to get a second opinion!

  • Stay calm: Even if you are as grouchy as your overtired baby, do your best to remain even-tempered at bedtime. The reason is, it doesn’t take much for your little one to pick up on your moods. With this in mind, if you project a calm and soothing demeanor, you have a better chance of baby mellowing out and falling asleep sooner.

Babies are meant to have early bedtimes

The truth is, babies are programmed for an early bedtime. This is logical because their little bodies need an incredible amount of rest in order to develop and thrive. Unfortunately, babies also seem hardwired to resist sleep, even when they need it the most.

Teaching a baby healthy sleeping habits can be harder than it sounds. The good news is that are helpful strategies available. For every developmental stage, there are tips and tricks to encourage your little one fall asleep (and stay asleep) at the appropriate times. We know you’ll agree when your baby awakens in the morning healthy as can be, refreshed and happy.