What’s the ideal bedtime for my baby?

Sleeping baby

Myrthe Stapper is a certified child sleep coach and founder of the platform Slaaptipsvoorbabys (Sleep Tips for Babies). Slaaptipsvoorbabys provides information on baby and toddler sleep habits, with the goal of creating more rest. They take a holistic approach that’s founded on science. Myrthe regularly writes articles for The Wonder Weeks, where she takes you through different topics and aspects of children’s sleep.

A common question parents have is “what is the best bedtime for my baby or child”. It’s an understandable question, but it’s important to remember that there’s no single right answer. As with so many topics, there are different nuances and no one right way. So instead of thinking about the “best” bedtime, we prefer to look at the “ideal” bedtime. The ideal bedtime for your baby or child depends on multiple factors: daytime routine, age and biological clock.

Daytime routine

The daytime routine plays an important factor in your baby’s or child’s ideal bedtime. The number of hours they’re asleep and awake during the day, on average, are co-factors that play a role here.

  • Awake time is the maximum amount of time a baby can be awake until ideally they’re ready for sleep again. A newborn baby will have a shorter awake time than an 8-month-old baby. Although each baby has a slightly different awake time, we do see that many babies thrive on average awake times.
  • Daytime sleep hours are the hours of sleep a baby needs during the day, and that’s based on age. A younger baby needs more sleep during the day than an older baby.

That said, the daytime routine, especially when they get up in the morning and nap times, plays an important role in your child’s ideal bedtime. It’s linked to the time your baby woke up from their last nap, and therefore their awake time.

Age

Age is also a factor in the ideal bedtime. After all, the younger your child is, the more hours of sleep they need during the day and the longer they can be awake. For some babies, this shift to less sleep during the day happens naturally, while others may need more parental guidance. Many young babies tire quickly, and an early bedtime around 6:00 pm can be the perfect time to start the night.

For the first few weeks after birth, a baby’s biological clock hasn’t fully developed yet. So
in those first weeks, there is no ideal bedtime, because their biological clock still needs to get going. Bedtime at this age can vary from 6:00 pm to 11:00 pm.

Biological clock

Again, remember that babies aren’t born with a biological clock. Think of the biological clock as our body’s internal clock. The biological clock indicates when we want to sleep, when we want to wake up and when we want to eat. Natural hormones like melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy, and cortisol, the hormone that keeps us awake, course through our bodies for 24 hours, affecting our biological clock.

The biological clock only begins to develop at around 6 to 8 weeks. That development stops at around 4 months, and we know that melatonin and cortisol levels in the body are high at certain times and low at others. 

Cortisol dominates during the day, and around 6:00 pm, melatonin starts to rise significantly. That’s why we know that, starting around at least 4 months, a 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm bedtime can be ideal, as long as your child’s daytime routine matches their age.