The Importance of an Early Bedtime

Feb 08, 2017

With a newborn, days and nights all to easily turn into one long blur. It's one endless cycle of eating, sleeping, crying and diapers. For many new parents, then, it's no wonder that they simply put their newborn to sleep whenever they turn in for the night - be that 10 pm, midnight or 1 am. I remember, as a new, first time mom, putting my newborn twins to sleep at around 10, and wondering, "When do I start putting them to bed at 7?"

Well, if you're wondering that, my answer to you is: NOW. (Though, to be fair, I do generally recommend between 7 and 8 pm for my newborn clients.)

It doesn't matter what point you're at - whether your baby is 3 months, 13 months, or 3 years (or anywhere in between) - the ideal bedtime for young children from infancy up to the age of 8-10 is between 6 and 8 pm - and that usually means a default average of 7 pm.

Seem rather early to you, and wondering why? Well, it's all about the clock. The Body Clock.

Inside our brains we've got a complex time-keeping device called our Circadian Cycle, or Circadian Rhythm (Circadian comes from the Latin words circa - around and diem - day). Our circadian cycle tells all of our body's systems when it's time to rev up and when it's time to wind down, when to release which hormones, when to crank up the heat and when to feel tired and awake. It synchronizes all of the systems so that they work in harmony, enabling each to function at their best.

During the first few weeks of life, the circadian cycle has not yet developed; keeping things dark at night and bright during awake times during the day will help newborns develop the circadian cycle, so that by the time they reach 6 weeks, their bodies will have the hang of it.

But once we've got this circadian cycle firmly in place, it starts dictating when we feel a stronger need to sleep and when we feel an upsurge of awakeness.

When do we feel the strongest need to sleep? Between the hours of 1 and 4 am. The strongest awake-alerting time, for adults, is mid-morning; teens have that a little later in the day.

All through the day, though, we have slight dips, which will make us feel more tired, and rises, which will make us feel more alert.

The circadian cycle is responsible for the fact that most children who are generally well-rested will automatically wake up at 7. It does not matter if they were in bed at 7 pm, 10 pm or midnight; they'll wake at 7.

The circadian cycle is also responsible for the fact that I recommend 7 as the ideal bedtime for young children. This is due in part to the fact that, as mentioned above, most children will default to a wake time of 7 am. Since it is so crucial for young children to get 12 hours of uninterrupted nighttime sleep (this number is an average - some children need only 11 hours and some need 13; the vast majority are 12 hour sleepers), we want them in bed by 7 pm to ensure they will get those 12 hours.

Another reason is that the timing of bedtime has to be properly calculated as well. We get a slight dip between 6 and 8 pm (this is why I will tell clients to put their child to bed no earlier than 6 and no later than 8). Miss the dip, and your child is already on an upswing, and will have trouble settling down for about an hour or so.

Not convinced? Try it for a couple weeks. And let me know how it goes.

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