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Infant Bedtime: How Early is Too Early?

Jul01

by

Hi Amy,

I’m sure a lot of moms will hate me for my situation but I’m willing to risk it. My 8 month old infant son has been going to bed at 4pm for the past 4 months. He sleeps all night long and wakes around 5am, happy as a clam. It was a wonderful thing in the beginning as we were finally able to catch up on some sleep but now, we would love to be able to enjoy leaving the house after 4pm. Twice in the last few weeks we had to keep him up later due to my 13 year old daughter’s school performances. Putting him to bed at 7:30pm was a nightmare, he woke several times and didn’t sleep any later in the morning.

The early morning wake-up isn’t the problem. Now that it’s summer, we’d like to enjoy an evening walk or even dinner at one of the great restaurants on the water near us. Our son is begging us to put him to bed at 4pm. We’ve tried to distract him and keep him up later (even 15 minutes!) but he isn’t having it.

After waking at 5am, he takes an hour nap at 8am. Then another hour nap around 12pm. We keep his room dark, use a white noise machine and have him nap in his crib every day. He doesn’t nap in the stroller or the baby carrier when we’re out. Do I try putting him down for a nap in the late afternoon and wake him up after an hour? I worry that he’ll then be up til 10pm before wanting to go to bed for the night.

I know, a baby that sleeps a solid 13 hours a night is a dream come true. But is there any way to make that 13 hours start at 7 instead of 4?

Thanks a million!

Alas and alack, I have no handy dandy magic trick to help you out here, though you do have my sympathies — my Ike went through a similar phase around your son’s age where his “third nap” essentially turned into a very early bedtime. And like you, I was initially THRILLED to see him sleep nice solid chunks of hours without a ton of wakings…until it became clear that the 4 or 5 pm bedtime is a total pain in the butt. ESPECIALLY if you have older children who have after-school or evening activities to attend, or who are used to things like restaurants! Or walking to the playground! Or going out for ice cream after dinner! All things that you no longer have the freedom to do. The novelty of “HOLY CRAP THE BABY’S SLEEPING” wears off surprisingly quickly.

However, for us, the early bedtime was not nearly so set-in-stone as it seems to be for your infant son. It was more of a temporary, messy transition period that we were able to get through by getting Ike’s nap schedule in order (it was admittedly a wildly inconsistent mess at the time) and waiting for him to get over the need for a late-afternoon catnap that would often last way too long. Going from the bedtime chart here, it’s possible that your son simply dropped down to two naps too early — between 4-8 months old most babies still take three naps (ideally at 9, 12 and 3, but haaaaaaa good luck with that, right?). Around 8 months old, the third nap gets shorter and shorter, then it goes away and bedtime (which was probably around 7/8 pm) moves earlier. During the initial transition, it’s not unusual for a baby to still fall asleep around 3 or 4 and sleep for a loooooong stretch, but eventually they sort it out. The second nap goes longer and later and thus, so does bedtime.

However: Your son’s been on a two short naps, looooong night sleep schedule for four months now, and unfortunately NOW he’s basically right on schedule to make that very transition. So he’s possibly not at the right age to have it futzed with.

Let’s look at the math here. The “ideal” bedtime is about three and a half hours after a baby/toddler wakes up from his/her final afternoon nap. Your son is waking up at 1 p.m., so yeah. He’s gonna be a WRECK if you try to delay sleep for more than four hours. I suppose it’s POSSIBLE you could try putting him down for a nap at 3:30pm? And wake him up at 4 or 4:30? And see what happens? It could be disastrous, but it could also be an occasional stop-gap solution when you know you absolutely HAVE to go somewhere at night. If you do wake him up at 4 or 4:30, be prepared to then PUT HIM BACK DOWN three and a half hours later, at 7:30/8. Don’t push him any later. Do the full bedtime routine as if nothing’s changed, even if he protests.

Again, since he’s riiiiiight at the age where that late afternoon catnap should be going AWAY, it might not work to suddenly try to add it into his schedule right now. I don’t know. That short lunchtime nap of just one hour is a killer here — until he’s a bit older and that afternoon nap becomes the One Big Long Nap of the day, you might have to suck this one up and stick with the ridiculously early bedtime.

Maybe, if the times aren’t negotiable, you could see if the location is? I know you said he doesn’t nap in a stroller or carrier during the day, but maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad option to have for the after 4 pm hours? I dragged sleeping babies out to restaurants and sibling activities plenty of times, either in a stroller or car seat or Ergo carrier. It was fine! Great, even, to have the option — even if it meant a little transitional chaos back at home later. It’s kind of just how it has to happen sometimes with second (and third) babies. If he’ll ONLY sleep in his crib that’s one thing, but I dunno. Maybe see if you can introduce the idea of conking out in a stroller, car, carrier — or even a travel crib set up in a room that isn’t his. Keep to the schedule but mess with the location.

In a couple months (i.e. AFTER summer is over, I am so sorry), he’ll probably go through another transitional period and be able to stay awake for longer periods of time, so you might be able to push his bedtime back a little. If he starts sleeping longer after lunchtime (like two or three hours instead of one), you should be golden. It sounds like he’s a kid who likes a consistent sleep schedule and you probably won’t have to deal with crazy night wakings again. So YAY! But it also sounds like you’ve got a firmly-established early-to-bed, early-to-rise kid there. Which is not your “fault,” by the way — I’m saying this slightly-weird schedule is probably his natural rhythm, since it clearly works SO WELL. For him, anyway.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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8 Responses to “Infant Bedtime: How Early is Too Early?”

  1. Olivia Jul 01 at 9:21 pm Reply Reply

    What about slowly moving the morning and noon naps later. If you can eventually have him napping at about 9:30-10 and then at 1:30-2, maybe a bedtime of 7:00 will be okay.

  2. Autumn Jul 02 at 12:14 am Reply Reply

    I understand your pain, only mine was a different version.  My daughter from 4-7 months would cluster feed from 9-midnight, then sleep till 9 the next morning.  So I was getting plenty of sleep, but with going back to work at 7 months, not ideal.  She had hour to 90 minute naps at noon, 3 and 6, with the last starting to be combined to one longer nap on occasion.  

    We shifted bedtime and nap times by 10 to 15 minutes to urge her towards a more desirable schedule.  The only caution I would have is this is a “drop a nap” life change, and we tried to sleep train during a drop the nap period. Not a good idea.  Suffering it out for another couple weeks might be the best plan if subtle shifts don’t help

  3. Stephanie Jul 02 at 3:13 pm Reply Reply

    We’ve had almost that exact situation with my daughter, who’s now 2 plus a few months. Even went to a sleep specialist, etc, because we had some stints of 5pm bedtime and 4:30am wake-ups. We’re early birds, but months of 4:30am wake-up calls by a totally UP FOR THE DAY toddler were horrendous. The hardest part was that we both worked and she was in daycare, so her schedule was just off from the rest of the kids – meals and nap times at a center are not scheduled with that kind of bedtime and wake-up in mind. Plus we were in a mad scramble to get home from work, get her fed and put to sleep because the overtired crabbiness set in. We’ve tried the minor shifts in bedtime many, many times and it’s never worked. Just made her insanely overtired and created worse nights. She’s 27 months now and her new ‘late’ bedtime is 6-6:30pm. Our newest is 2.5 months old and is already ready for nighttime sleep by 6pm, so apparently we just make kids that hate the evenings. It’s been frustrating for us and we did some version of the ‘sleep in the Ergo’ while we were out at events but it seemed to mess things up if it was more than the occasional evening. So, we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that this is just how things are for the time being. We either send one of us to work-out, run errands, go to an event, etc in the evening, stay home together and enjoy a few hours by ourselves or have a babysitter come over. Easiest babysitting job ever!

  4. MR Jul 02 at 5:28 pm Reply Reply

    I’d also suggest turning the 4 pm bedtime into an occasional nap. And, if that didn’t work… I’d recommend finding a neighborhood girl who would be willing to hang out and watch TV at your house a night or two a week so you had someone at home just in case, but the rest of you could go somewhere. Baby’s sleep pattern is going to change probably pretty drastically in the next couple months anyway, it may save you a lot of headache to just use a sitter to get you through the summer.
    If you can’t find a sitter, you may see if one of your friends needs a night of peace and quiet. One of my friends loves “babysitting” my girls even if they are asleep, simply because she gets out without her kids, it isn’t her house so she doesn’t feel like she should be doing chores, and she gets to just read or watch a show/movie.

    • autumn Jul 03 at 1:07 am Reply Reply

      Love the idea of Mommy’s night out as watching other people’s sleeping kids.  Cause there is nothing more beautiful than a sleeping baby or toddler

  5. karen Jul 03 at 5:49 pm Reply Reply

    when my younger kiddo was doing his early bedtime, we seized the opportunity to hire a babysitter since we didn’t have to worry a bit about setting up dinner, activities, explaining how the bedtime routine had evolved from the previous time she was over. It seemed like such a waste of money – paying someone for sitting on our couch. But once in a while it was great having a local high schooler who did her homework while we did a few errands or caught an early movie. That phase has passed unfortunately and having a babysitter over is back to being more work than it’s worth.

  6. Jennifer Jul 16 at 11:03 am Reply Reply

    As a Mom with a toddler that never really had a sleep issues nap or nighti-time (except the occasional weekend morning 5 am I”M AWAKE LETS START THE DAY! fun) here’s my 2 cents of ass-vice.  You said he sleeps (even naps) in a dark room with a white noise machine, maybe this is part of the reason he doesn’t like to sleep anywhere else?  You could try to leave the curtain open a little and start turning the white noise down little by little and get him use to non-perfect sleeping conditions, it might make having him knonk out in a stroller or a carseat while you’re out and about easier for him.  Our daughter basically slept anywhere we were, in whatever or on anyone, and still does, but I can’t tell you if that’s just because she’s easy that way or if its because she constantly had non-ideal napping arrangements starting out as a newborn. If he HATES HATES HATES the changes, by all means ignore this and go back to what works (and keeps you sane).

  7. Stacy Aug 12 at 3:53 pm Reply Reply

    Here’s my advice – this too shall pass. Just grieve for your summer evenings this year. We spend so much time working ourselves into a lather trying to change things to suit our schedules, but your baby sounds happy so I’d let him be. As kids grow they stay awake longer, so his 4pm will be 5,6,7 before you know it. You’ll get your evenings back eventually. 
    Also, try getting him to nap in a stroller. This will save your life if you ever travel! 

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