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Baby with super early bedtime

Infant Bedtime: How Early is Too Early?

By Amalah

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.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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 Ama...

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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