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Bedtimes by Age

Image courtesy of tungphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

This month, Sleep Sisters is focused on bedtime. We thought it best to start off with a review of age-appropriate bedtimes. As certified infant and child sleep consultants, we are often asked what time kids should be going to sleep and whether it really makes a difference.

The answer is YES, the time your child goes to sleep does make a difference. We all have a biological clock and our circadian rhythms can help us sleep if we honor them by getting to bed at the right time. In addition, maintaining a consistent bedtime (and wake time) helps keep our internal clock “set” and is a critical part of healthy “sleep hygiene,” according to Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine.

Granted, all kids are different and you know what your child is like if he doesn’t get enough sleep. Many of us have been duped into thinking, “If my child stays up late, he’ll just sleep late and make up for it in the morning.” How’s that worked for you?
A too-late bedtime may lead to:

  1. Difficulty getting to sleep. Once your child passes her natural “sleep window” her body will produce cortisol and even adrenaline (hormones that stimulate the body). Parents sometimes notice their child’s “second wind.”

  2. Night waking. Often when children go to bed too late, their sleep will not be as sound and they often wake during the night.  Cortisol causes poor sleep quality.

  3. Early morning waking. It seems counter-intuitive, but often when kids are waking very early in the morning, a late bedtime is the culprit.

  4. Less sleep overall. Research has shown that kids with a late bedtime get cumulatively less sleep than kids who have earlier bedtimes, showing they don’t make up for the missed sleep by sleeping later or napping longer.

So when should your little one go down for the night? It depends a bit on your child’s sleep during the day. But here are some general guidelines by age:

Age

Hours of Sleep

Bedtime

Notes

Newborn 15-18 N.A. New babies don’t yet have any circadian rhythms, and they typically sleep in short spurts of two to four hours throughout the day and night.
1-4 months 14-15 8:00-11:00 These babies are still developing and feeding often throughout the night. Bedtime starts moving earlier by four months.
4-8 months 14-15 5:30 – 7:30 Circadian rhythms are emerging. Regular naps (ideally around 9, 12, 3) and an earlier bedtime help these babies get the sleep they need for significant physical and mental development. Bedtime may be on the early side of this range if naps are missed or short.
8 -10 months 12-15 5:30 – 7:00 Babies this age may only take two naps (9am, 1pm). Bedtime should be no later than 3.5 hrs after second nap ends. Bedtime may move earlier to compensate for lack of third nap.
10-15 months 12-14 6:00 -7:30 Babies may be transitioning to only one nap in the afternoon, so bedtime may need to move earlier for a while. Bedtime should be no later than 4 hours after waking from nap.
15 months – 3 years 12-14 6:00 -7:30 Naps may end during this period, or be inconsistent. Move bedtime earlier to help adjustment to no nap.
3 – 6 years 11-13 6:00 – 8:00 Your child will likely drop the afternoon nap. Once your child is no longer napping, he will need an extra hour of sleep at night, so adjust bedtime accordingly.
7 – 12 years 10-11 7:30 – 9:00 School age children are still experiencing enormous growth, are very active, and require a lot of sleep. Adequate sleep helps with school performance, behavior, attention, memory, and more.
Teenagers 9+ See note Many teens need to be up early for school. Count backwards from wake time to find the bedtime that ensures they are getting enough sleep. Keep in mind it takes kids an average of 15 minutes to fall asleep, and likely more if they have a lot on their minds.

 

53 comments to Bedtimes by Age

  • Robyn

    Great Advice,

    However how do you handle a child that just doesn’t like to sleep?
    I have an almost 3 year old who we try to get to sleep by 10pm. He still wakes up at 5am and thinks it’s time to get up for the day. We have cut out naps to try and help the situation but it doesn’t seem to be working. I would ideally like him to be in bed by 8 or 9 but I’m terrified that if I do so he will be up at 3am for the day!

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  • Joanna J.

    I remember my first sleep over in 3rd grade. I was 9 and had an 8pm bedtime. I passed out by 7:30 or something as it was a very long active day for the girl’s birthday. I was teased the following week as most of the others saw midnight. I was told I went to bed when little babies went to bed and that I was a baby if I couldn’t stay up to see 10.

    I was upset, but my parents are both in the medical field and taught me about the science behind my bedtime. My dad took me to a medical museum the following weekend and showed me the human body and explained how systems worked and were connected. I accepted my bedtime!

    I was the only one laughing come report card time when I knew I wouldn’t be grounded all summer!

    I’m 26 and still follow a bedtime routine. It’s opposite of most due to the shifts I work. When I have kids they’ll have the same bedtime schedule I did.

  • Gina

    My son is almost 11 months and goes to bed usually between 7 and 9 (always within 4 hours of waking up from his last nap. He usually wakes up between 7 and 830 and takes 2-3 naps a day depending on when he wakes up. My problem is, he usually wakes up around 1130 and then again around 330 and will nurse or take a bottle (4-6 oz) at least one of those times. He usually is only awake for however long it takes to eat and he passes right back out. Is there anything we should adjust that might help that? full disclosure-his crib is in our room and he often ends up in bed with us after the first wakeup.

  • Marie

    This is an interesting read! Our 7 month old goes to sleep around 8:30 every night, and in the past week, she’s been falling asleep just fine, but then waking up screaming/crying about an hour later. The only thing that seems to soothe her is taking her in to our bed with us, where she will then wake up about two more times during the night. She’s just finished cutting her second tooth, so I was expecting a bit of schedule disruption, but don’t want this to become a habit. Any thoughts? She gets at least 3 hours of nap a day, and tends to wake up for the day around 7am. Thanks in advance!!

  • Leah

    I was wondering when you put the hours of sleep needed is that including their naps or are they supposed to nap in top of the amount of hours listed

    • Melissa Zdrodowski

      Those include naps! And it’s just an average range. Some kids may need more (or less). Always check with your pediatrician if you have any concerns.

  • Ariana

    Great guidelines! My 6 month old has been waking multiple times a night crying and waking for the day (talking, etc) in the 5am hour. I wake him from 3 daily naps (1.5, 1.5, .5) and he is asleep by 730, although I just started moving him to 715 to see if it helped. According to your chart that’s too many total hours (morning wake time 730…trying to gradually change for the time change). Where should I subtract sleep? That third nap exists because he does around a two hour wake time, which I’m slowly extending.

    • Melissa Zdrodowski

      Don’t worry if your son is getting more than the average amount of sleep listed on our chart. His sleep needs may be greater than average right now. If he regularly sleeps much longer than what our chart lists, you may want to keep a log for a couple weeks and check with your pediatrician. An earlier bedtime may help the 5am waking, and perhaps he needs slightly longer naps, so unless your schedule demands he be up exactly 1.5 hrs after falling asleep, you could try letting him sleep a little longer during the day. Good luck!

  • Tired mom

    My daughter is 25 mo and has never been a good sleeper:( she still wakes up three or so times at night. If she naps maybe two hours she doesn’t go to sleep till midnight and sleeps till 11am. If she doesn’t nap she will go to bed around 10pm. I loooonngg for the nights of consistent sleep and evening hours to myself/husband!!

  • Melanie M.

    We have a two year old that has never slept well at all. We start our bedtime routine at about 6pm (a show to wind down, pajamas, stories and songs and a tuck-in) and she’s usually down by about 7:30pm. (She does fight us going to bed though)

    Almost every night she wakes up either crying or calling out for Mommy and Daddy between midnight and 1pm. Most of the time, she just needs to be tucked back in and then she’ll fall right back to sleep.

    We have tried just about everything but now with a new little one in the mix, we don’t want her up crying at night since it wakes up the other one who is actually already forming better sleep habits.

    • Sleep Sisters

      “Social visits” at this age are pretty typical, although frustrating for moms and dads! The most recommended approach is the “silent return to bed” treatment which is exactly what it sounds like! Be consistent and limit interaction with her when she wakes. You may also want to try an earlier bedtime…Especially if she’s not taking a good nap during the day! Good luck. Feel free to contact us if you need more help. Our services are listed on our site!

  • Laurie Thompson

    Great posting! I so totally agree. We set our children’s bedtimes according to their sleep cycles and not according to what was convenient for us. Our kids were healthier and happier than a lot of the children in my daycare whose parents kept their children up at night to spend ‘quality time’ with them. It was to their child’s detriment that they did this. The children wound up taking three hour naps at daycare because they were exhausted!

    Now that we have two college seniors and a high school freshman, they know their limitations and don’t pull the ‘all-nighters’. They understand when their bodies need to rest and that they do better in classes, have fewer mood swings, are healthier and happier than their classmates who stay up all hours and require energy drinks to get then through the day. It all starts from the very beginning!

    I give this advice to new moms and they have come up to me later and thank me. I’m happy. You’re getting this out there.

  • ness

    Wow so I feel like I have my 5 month olds schedule all wrong!! What are your suggestions on changing her schedule? At the moment she is bf so she wakes up at night to eat (2 times per night)we put her to bed at 9 she wakes up around 2am then 5, then 8 and officially wakes up at 10. Stays up for about an hour and a half so she goes down for a nap at 1130. And the rest of the maps depend on how long she sleeps. Most of her naps are about 45 min.( they have been a bit longer lately) I try not to keep her awake for more than 2 hours at a time because she gets overtired and cranky. I’ve asked around and searched the web so much about how her naps are short and I think your post might explain a lot. What are your suggestions and also what is your opinion on where she sleeps? Her crib is still in our room and I plan to move her into her room at 6 months but she only naps in her crib yet I have friends who have babies that sleep anywhere and anytime…

    • Melissa Zdrodowski

      Thanks for your comment. It sounds like you are on the right track but your timing is off and perhaps your daughter is fighting her own biological clock. When this happens, babies can develop the equivalent of jet lag! It is great that your baby is sleeping in her own crib. The location of the crib is less important as long as it’s a cool, dark room. Babies really can only sleep anywhere, anytime until around 3 months, so I’m not surprised that at 5 months, yours needs her crib. If you have trouble adjusting her schedule, we’d be happy to work with you. Check out our Services page to learn how we work with clients and our rates.

  • Noelle Beutler

    My 18 month old daughter will not go to sleep on her own for bed. She still wakes in the middle of the night and is overall sleeping poorly. Oh, and she just started climbing out of the crib during her CIO sessions. We are at a loss. Nobody has any advice now that she climbs out. She will go down for a nap with no problems at all and sleep for 2-3 hours. We fell for the “if she goes to sleep late, she will make up for it in the morning.” What time should an 18 month old be woken up in the morning to be on a good schedule for a 6:30-7pm bedtime?

    • Melissa Zdrodowski

      Ideal wake time for a 6:30/7 bedtime is probably around 7am. If you’d like additional assistance and support for getting your daughter to bed, please check out our Services page and submit an intake form to start the process. Good luck!

  • Courtney

    This chart is a great resource, thank you for posting. Although I do have one question. My 13month old doesn’t seem to go a full week without waking in the middle of the night or waking really early. When he wakes early it is anywhere from 4-530am. Usually at this time I will get up and cuddle with him and he will go back down about an hour later. I know this isn’t something I should be doing, but why do you think he wakes so early? He usually naps anywhere from 1.5-2.5 hours a day, and goes to bed between 7&730. Please help. Thanks!!

    • Melissa Zdrodowski

      Night waking may be caused by several things – at 13 months, teething is a big one! Early morning and night waking are often caused by too late of a bedtime, so for the time being, you may want to move bedtime early and see if that helps. The 4:00 am wake may now be a habit, and he may just want a social visit with you. He may also be hungry at that time.

  • Kristi

    Hello!
    My daughter is about to turn 3 yrs. old, and has a very different schedule than most children her age. She usually WAKES up every morning between 9am-10am. I am a stay-at home-mother, and don’t really mind having that time in the morning to do chores and focus on my 5 months old. However, she is also a night owl, and seems to go to bed around 9pm. (this is usually without an afternoon nap. If she does nap, it is from 4:30pm -6pm, but this is becoming rare. :) Any thoughts?

    • Melissa Zdrodowski

      Hi, Kristi. Thanks for your question. If this routine works for your 3yr old and your family and your child is getting the recommended amount of sleep, then don’t worry about it too much. You can always check with your pediatrician if you are concerned. If you want to adjust her wake and sleep times, do it gradually and be consistent.

  • Mindy

    What times are you suggesting these babies should be waking in the morning. My 5 month old is typically just waking up when you suggest her first nap should start. Both of my kids wake between 8:30 and 9 am. My baby goes down at 8:30 by her cues and my 2.5 year old at 9. Three naps by the baby a day and a two hour nap by the toddler.

    • Melissa Zdrodowski

      If your own wake and bedtimes are working for your kids and your family then don’t worry about it. As we have said, every child has his own biological clock. This chart is simply a guideline for what works for most people. If your kids are cranky or seem tired during the day or in the evening, then you may need to consider a different schedule. Most kids naturally wake between 6:30 and 7:30 when well rested.

  • Jenny

    My almost 4 year old (end of Nov) has a very hard time falling asleep. We can start the routine at 7:30 and he usually fights it until 9-10pm. He also hasn’t napped for the past year except on rare occasions. I guess we just need to start the routine much earlier. I know he is just too tired so he fights it even more. Thanks for verying to my that I need to get him to bed much earlier!

    • Melissa Zdrodowski

      Fighting sleep is often a sign of being overtired. If you can, try starting the bedtime routine 20 mins earlier each night for several nights until you hit your goal. It’s counterintuitive, but you may find you have less trouble getting him to sleep. No nap at almost four is fine as long as he’s getting enough sleep at night.

  • Bonnie

    Awesome info! My 25 month old was going to bed around 7-730, but recently started taking a later (and longer!) nap, from around 1pm-4pm. Now he won’t go to sleep until 8-8:30. I try to adjust it, but he keeps just going back to this schedule. Should I wake him early from his nap? Or just adjust his bedtime to be earlier once he stops the nap (or shortens it)?

    • Melissa Zdrodowski

      Hi, Bonnie. A nap around 1pm is great timing-wise. If he regularly sleeps until 4pm, that’s OK. How does he seem around 7:30/8pm? Does he give you a hard time getting to bed? If not, he may be OK with that later bedtime. But if he seems tired or fussy, it’s OK to try and put him down earlier for bed. It’s possible that he’s sleeping such a long nap to make up for a sleep deficit from going to bed late. But it could be his rhythm. You know your son best, so trust your judgement. I’d leave him to sleep in the afternoon, but wake him if he’s still sleeping at 5pm (I had to do that with my son this weekend!).

  • Clara D

    This is a great roadmap. I sort of stumbled upon it and truth be told I’m wondering if I’m totally screwing up my son’s sleep. He is 22 months old and goes to sleep at 9pm. He never wants to go down for a nap nor go to sleep at night so he’s often talking and singing in his crib for up to an hour at night. He has always slept through the whole night though (since he was 4 months old) and wakes up at around 7 or 8am and plays for generally an hour or so in the morning. Then he takes a nap around 3pm and sleeps for 2-3 1/2 hours. He doesn’t show any signs of sleepiness or fussiness before 9pm nor before his nap. I used to put him down for naps at 1pm and he just started refusing them until I put him down later and later and settled on 3pm. Is this whole scenario disastrous?

    Thanks for any feedback!

    • Melissa Zdrodowski

      If your son is getting enough sleep each day, and neither you nor your pediatrician are concerned, then I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Every child and every family has its own rhythms. We based our guidelines on what research shows are the most common natural wake and sleep times. But you may have a child who does well on a different schedule. Just be sure to keep an eye on his patterns and demeanor, as those circadian rhythms may change as he grows and you will want to adjust his bedtime accordingly. If you start seeing him have trouble hitting milestones, waking during the night, or becoming fussy and irritable, consider revising his schedule.

  • Cary

    My daughter is 2 and takes a 2 hour nap from 2-4. We put her down about 9:30 and she sleeps till 8:30 in the morning usually. We have a late bedtime because my husband usually doesn’t get home until 7:30-8. For him to see his daughter every day we have had the late bedtime. Are we ruining her for sleep?

    • Melissa Zdrodowski

      You know your daughter best. If she is consistently taking two-hour naps and sleeps well for 11+ hours at night, she may be just fine. If you find that she is tired during the day or fussy in the evening, then her body clock may be telling you she needs to sleep at the biologically appropriate times. We tell clients that if it isn’t broken, don’t worry about it. But if something isn’t working for you, then consider making a change. In either case, it will help you to understand the science behind recommended bedtimes. Good luck!

  • Katie S

    I completely agree with these times, and all the advice given in your comments! We have used bedtimes within these ranges for years with ours kids. I have suggested these bedtimes to friends whose babies are having trouble sleeping, and it has made a world of difference!

  • Lisa

    My daughter is 2 and takes a 2 hour afternoon nap (noon-2 p.m.) Her nap is part of her day care and she will continue to take it for the next year or longer. What would be an appropriate bedtime for her with the nap factored in? 7:30? She’s going to bed around 8:30 now.

    • Sleep Sisters

      Hi, Lisa. Great question. 2-year-olds expend a lot of energy (as I’m sure you know!) so they still need plenty of rest. If your daughter seems crabby in the evening, I’d recommend 7pm at the latest! After a full day of play, many toddlers do well with quiet time starting around 6:30 and are asleep no later than 7! Good luck. Keep us posted. -Debbie

  • Becci

    This saddens me a little. My son is 2 1/2 and my husband and I both work full time. I often dont get home until 5:30 and then we have to make dinner, clean up, bath, get ready for the next day, etc… If I were to put him to bed at 6:30 I would only get to see him for an hour at night and he would be going to bed right after we eat.
    He usually takes a 2-3 hour nap during the day and gets about 10c hours at night…
    thoughts?

    • Sleep Sisters

      Hi, Becci. You are not alone. This is a problem for many parents. I understand as I’m a full-time working mom as well. Unfortunately, if you wan to make sleep a priority, then this is what has to happen. You have to believe that you’ll make up for lost time together on the weekends and that this is really what’s best for your son. 2.5-year-olds need a lot of sleep and depriving him of that hardly seems worth it. I’m glad to hear he’s napping well! That’s great news. Hang in there and thanks for sharing this with us. Best of luck. -Debbie

  • Gabrielle

    No matter what we try, we cannot get our 5 and 3 year olds to go to sleep before 9 pm. We started the night time process today at 530 pm. They just feel asleep at 855pm…

    We have to get them ready for school at 445am and take them to their grandparents. They go back to sleep until 7am. I know this is not enough sleep, but we cannot break the pattern. Any suggestions?

    • Sleep Sisters

      Hummm….well, unfortunately, their sleep is being disrupted every morning so this may be causing a real sleep deficit. They would probably benefit from naps or “rest hour” every day after school if possible. Catching up on the weekends would also be helpful. 9 is really too late for them to be going to sleep. It takes about a week or so to change a sleep pattern…especially with older children. I would really recommend that you stick to your 5:30 plan for a week and see if you make progress. Good luck. -Debbie

    • Melissa Zdrodowski

      Another thing you could try is moving bedtime earlier slowly over several days or even a couple weeks. Try moving bedtime earlier by 20 mins each night. Maybe your kids just need more of a transition? Worth a shot if 5:30 isn’t working now. But definitely keep working toward that goal!

    • dmk

      What is their bedtime routine? How are they expressing their desire to stay up? The response has to be tailored to what is happening each night. It has been a while since you posted here; how have things changed?

  • Terri

    So how much sleep IS enough sleep for teenagers? How many hours should they get?

    • Sleep Sisters

      Teens tend to be good at “catching up” on sleep on the weekends when there are fewer demands on their time (less homework and sports/activities). Most teens probably SHOULD get around 8 hours a night but it’s ok if they make up for some lost sleep at other times! Try not to plan family events for the mornings on Saturday and Sunday! :)

    • Melissa Zdrodowski

      Research shows teens need about 9+ hrs of sleep. Here’s a link to check out: http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/teens-and-sleep. One item of note is that during teen years, circadian rhythms change keeping teens up later and night and making it more difficult to wake in the morning. So the daily routines of teens can often fight their natural biorhythms. Tough years!

  • Katie

    I noticed that for my 15 month old you suggest that bedtime should be no more than 4 hours after nap. She often wakes from her nap by 1 or 1:30 (goes down at noon – she’s just a short napper some days, it varies)… 5 or 5:30 seems really, really early for bedtime. What should I be doing on these days?

    • Melissa Zdrodowski

      How does she seem around 5pm? Tired, cranky? If not, she’s probably doing OK. But if she is cranky or fussy, or has a hard time getting to sleep later try moving the bedtime earlier and see if that makes a difference. It may even help her nap longer in the afternoon, so that eventually you can move her bedtime back later once she’s caught up.

    • Sleep Sisters

      Your baby should be taking naps that are AT LEAST an hour long. If she’s waking at 1 or 1:30 a 5:30 bedtime is absolutely the right time for her biologically. If she’s crabby at night, it’s because she’s really overtired! Try it for a few nights and see how it goes! Keep us posted. -Debbie

  • Amy

    How long should naps be for each age group.

    • Melissa Zdrodowski

      Naps may vary. From ages 4-8 or 9 months, we shoot for three naps per day. Naps should be at least one hour, although the third nap may be a bit shorter. 9 – 18 months, babies are typically taking two naps of 1.5 – 2 hrs each. Again, should be at least an hour at each nap time. Around 18 months, many children transition to one nap a day and often that nap is 2+ hours. Every child is different and night sleep can greatly impact naps, but those are general guidelines. Hope that helps!

  • Thank you, this is so helpful! I have 4 girls that range in age from 2-7 and have been putting them all to bed around 7:30. It’s good to know that I’m fairly on track! I’ll be bookmarking this to reference to friends :D

  • This is a great post that I have already shared with others. Creating awareness of the importance of sleep for the healthy brain development of children is so important. Too many people do not realize how lack of sleep impacts brain systems to affect learning, attention spans and moods.
    Thank you for contributing to greater understanding.

    Deborah

  • Thank you! This was so helpful. I have two teenagers. They fight bedtime because, of course, it is cool to stay up late. The truth is one of them (sometimes both) want to take a nap when they get home from school. Hmmm, an indication that they’re not getting enough sleep, I’d say — but who listens to Mom? I need to remind them that their friends aren’t here to see how “cool” their bedtime is — and we really DO need to compute our time backwards from their wake-up time rather than just have a set bedtime. Thanks again! ~Sally

    • Melissa Zdrodowski

      Thanks for your note! Your teens may also be fighting an early bedtime because their circadian rhythms have changed. Research shows that teens’ natural body clocks also change and may be one reason why teens stay awake later a night and have trouble waking up early in the morning. It’s great that you have made such an effort to be informed and place a priority on sleep. It will keep them healthy and help school performance!