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Why a Set Bedtime can Set Sleep Back.

Parents often ask if they should give their child a set bedtime. My answer is usually no, and I’ll tell you why.

With kiddos who are still on one or more naps a day, the best indicator of a “good” bedtime is going to be the quality and duration of their nap sleep. If baby is having an off day and isn’t napping well, then bedtime should be pushed forward - even up to one hour.

On the other hand, if you forgot to watch the time and let your little one snooze a little too long later in the afternoon, bedtime should be pushed out to allow for enough sleep pressure.

Sleep pressure is a term that directly correlates to your child’s physiological readiness for sleep. Sleep pressure is primarily determined by a.) awake time b.) physical activity and c.) sunlight.

If your child does not have adequate sleep pressure, he or she will likely play in the crib or verbally protest for a long while before falling asleep. A child should be able to fall asleep in 15-minutes or less of being put in the crib – that is a good indicator of sufficient sleep pressure.

Here are my guidelines on how long a child needs to be “awake” before being put to bed for the night to ensure that the child has adequate sleep pressure for optimal overnight sleep. 0-4 weeks: 45 to 60 minutes 4-8 weeks: 60-90 minutes 8-16 weeks: 75 to 120 minutes 4-6 months: 1.5 to 2.5 hours 7-9 months: 2.5 to 3 hours 10-12 months: 3 to 4 hours 13-18months: 3.5 to 4.5 hours 18-24 months: 4.5 to 6 hours

If your child is a very consistent napper and wakes up at roughly the same time each morning, a set bedtime might work great. But, for many parents whose kiddos are inconsistent with nap duration, I highly recommend a flexible bedtime.


Caroline Pavlinik is a baby and toddler sleep consultant, coaching parents how to gently and effectively teach their children how to sleep through the night and take age appropriate naps. To learn more or schedule a free consult, visit:

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