I often get questions about toddlers and why they don’t want to go to bed at night and why they might be waking very early in the morning. Toddlers are designed to push back. They are in a phase of their life where their brain development is rapid and they are learning to be a separate person. This can mean that they will start to want to assert their independence and this is often shown around bedtime!
Having a strong bedtime ritual is very important for toddlers. And because toddlers are always on the go, they can get very tired in the evening. If your toddler is going to childcare during the day, they can often be exhausted by the time dinner and bath time come around. When a toddler is tired, they can be a bit more resistant to following directions and are more prone to having melt-downs and tantrums.
Putting a toddler to bed early is a great idea. Having a toddler up until 9 or 10pm isn’t. Toddlers need about 11 to 12 hours of sleep over night. If they don’t get all this lovely sleep then they will be extra tired the following day and often be unable to regulate their emotions, leading to those dreaded toddler tantrums. Time and again I find that if you put a tired toddler to bed early for the night or before they’re very overtired they will go off to sleep more easily and sleep the whole night rather than wake and need some assistance from you to get back to sleep.
And the converse is also true. When you put an unsettled and overtired child to bed late, they will have an unsettled sleep and are likely to wake more. They might even wake earlier in the morning.
Baby Sleep Cycles before Midnight
Getting more sleep before midnight seems to be very good for young children – and there is science to back this up. Baby sleep cycles in the early part of a child’s night are deeper and more restful. This is where they actually have their deepest sleep of the night. You may have noticed that your child is very still during this phase, and you could go into their room and blast a horn and they still wouldn’t wake up. There is also something about the quality of that sleep early in the evening that is hugely beneficial.
I’m not suggesting that you start putting your little one to bed at 5.30pm every night but if they’ve had a long day, and especially if they’re a toddler who is transitioning to one sleep a day, then there’s nothing wrong with getting them to bed a bit early. Chances are, it won’t have them waking up early; they will still sleep until the same time they normally do and hopefully, they will wake a little more refreshed. Even an extra 15 or 20 minutes can make a real difference to your child, how they feel and how the next day pans out.
If you’re going to create an earlier bedtime, make sure you stick with your bedtime ritual as you would normally. You want to keep the day as normal as possible, just a little bit earlier. And take advantage of those deeper baby sleep cycles!
It’s also important for you and your partner to have some time together in the evening, when your child has gone to bed. It’s a great time to reconnect, talk about the day and just relax for a bit before you have to get to bed too.