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Getting your baby on the right sleep schedule can be daunting. We know that you might just be in survival-mode as you try to figure out how to get any amount of rest because your baby won’t sleep through the night.

You might hear constant advice from your mom friends about how to get your child to sleep better. One might insist on early bedtimes while the other swears that a later bedtime will ensure a later wake up time in the morning. Early to bed, early to rise: does it really make us healthy, wealthy, and wise?

The truth is: a stable sleep schedule with regular wake/sleep times is best. As long as it is consistent and your baby is getting enough sleep then timing ultimately doesn’t matter. Choose a sleep schedule that suits your schedule and stick to it, no matter what the other moms are doing.

Now, let’s figure out if an early bedtime or a late bedtime will fit your schedule and solve your baby’s specific sleep issues.

Sleep Science

Sleep is complicated, especially for babies. It’s our job as parents to set our children up for sleep success and assure they wake up well-rested and happy. There’s science behind sleep, and it comes down to two things: sleep pressure and the circadian rhythm.

  • Sleep Pressure: An unconscious biological response that makes us want to go to sleep. Falling asleep and staying asleep is very difficult without enough sleep pressure. There are many factors that affect sleep pressure for our babies such as lightness and darkness, or anything that triggers our inner clock. Sleep pressure is usually low in daylight because our body only releases melatonin in the dark. This is why babies nap better in a dark room.
  • Circadian Rhythm: Your internal biological clock. This controls the timing of several events in your body such as sleep, bathroom breaks and hunger. Our bodies create a natural circadian rhythm based on our consistent habits.

When sleep pressure and the circadian rhythm are in sync, your baby will wake up well-rested and have a healthy sleep pattern at night. When these two elements get out of whack, sleep trouble occurs. There’s a cause and effect when it comes to sleep pressure. Staying up longer causes you to be sleepier. There must be sleep pressure before naps and bedtime, but there is danger in too much sleep pressure. When a baby goes beyond their recommended wake windows, they will fall into acute sleep deprivation. In other words, there will be too much sleep pressure, making it near impossible for them to fall asleep. Yes, being overtired can be a negative thing.

When Is an Early Bedtime Useful?

1. When A Usual Nap is Skipped

On days when a nap was skipped, an earlier bedtime is the perfect way to compensate for the sleep missed. Skipping a nap might call for bedtime to be 30 minutes earlier.

2. When Your Child is Chronically Sleep-Deprived

Does it seem like your child generally does not get enough sleep, leaving them sleep-deprived on a regular basis? Negative sleep habits must be broken by working to catch your child up on sleep. This is where the earlier bedtime comes in. Offer your child an earlier bedtime for a few days in a row to catch them up on sleep. If they are sleep-deprived then they will most likely be able to fall asleep a few hours earlier than their normal bedtime.

3. When Your Child is Waking up Too Early in the Morning

An early wake up time is only a problem if your child appears to still be tired when they wake up for the day. Offering a bedtime that is just 20-40 minutes earlier than normal for a few consecutive days will even out your baby’s sleep pattern and lead to a later wake up time in the morning.

When is a Later Bedtime Appropriate?

1. When There’s Midnight Madness

A common sleep frustration for parents is that their child is up for long periods of time in the middle of the night. This can often be a result of a very early bedtime or lack of sleep during the day. If this is your current frustration, you’ll want to focus on giving your child naps during the day and pushing their bedtime back a bit to shorten the time in bed overnight. When there’s not a correct balance of sleep for your baby, they end up waking up in the middle of the night for long stretches, which is not fun for anybody.

2. When Your Child is Awake and Alert Too Early

If your babe wakes up too early in the morning and is a ball of energy ready to conquer the day then it’s possible that his or her burst of wakefulness is happening too early and he or she doesn’t have the capacity to sleep later. Time to shift their circadian rhythm! Offer a later bedtime and make it nice and dark when it’s time for shut eye. We recommend keeping lights bright in the evening up until a half hour before bedtime. Then, dim the lights and turn them off completely until the desired wake time. Do this for three consecutive nights to see a positive change.

3. When Their Needs Have Changed

Over time, your child’s sleep needs will change. An earlier bedtime is not always better. Your child may require a different amount of sleep than they used to, or they may not get tired at the same time anymore due to a schedule change. If you force your child to go to bed too early, they simply will not be able to sleep. First, figure out the average time your child falls asleep by tracking it for a week. This is their biological bedtime. Once you figure this out, put them down at their biological bedtime, so that they are ready for sleep when you want them to sleep. You can then gradually move bedtime earlier in 15-20 minute increments until you are putting your child down at your desired time.

It sounds much easier than it really is, we know! But there is a science to sleeping, and putting the effort into figuring it out will be well worth your while. Your sanity depends on it!

If you need extra support, investing in a sleep coach will get your baby’s sleep schedule on the right track with minimal tears from you and your child. You got this, mama! We are here cheering you on and ready to step in if needed.