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If I put my child to sleep later, will they wake later?

general infant toddler troubleshooting Dec 15, 2021

I know you probably have heard this conversation play out before. 

“My child is waking up so early now!”


Unwarranted advice:  “You should put them to bed later.  That way, they wake up later.”


We have all probably gotten this advice if you have ever struggled with early morning wakings.  If you haven’t had to deal with early morning wakings, you may be a little unsure about earlier bedtime if you’ve had a newborn you’ve been putting down a bit later to get a stretch of sleep and nighttime that gets just to about 8 or 9 am.


While this may make some very common sense to put your child down later, to get them to sleep in, doing so usually has the opposite effect and only deprives our children of having really solid consolidated nights.


It makes sense to also find that the most restorative of sleep happens before midnight, making it even more important to catch those waves earlier as much as possible.


In fact, research had shown that 18-month-olds that were put to bed later were at higher risk for motor, language, and social deficits. Late bedtime can also impact school-age kids later in life and also impact the school.  In addition to cognitive development, children who went to bed later also developed poorer dietary habits and but at risk for higher body mass index than those children who went to bed earlier.  


What is early bedtime?

Most children will thrive between 6 pm - 8 pm.  While, yes, there are children who could definitely thrive with a later bedtime, the majority, especially over the age of 12 weeks will do better in this window and will be more prepared for an earlier bedtime.


During the optimal bedtime of 6 pm and 8 pm, their little bodies will naturally start to experience a dip in their circadian rhythm which includes a natural increase in melatonin production, also known as the sleepy hormone.   Think of this as a natural way of the body starting to wind down and be in the perfect ‘mood for sleep.’


Going to bed later than this time can actually then be when overtiredness sets in and there is the production of cortisol, making it seem that your child is no longer tired, leading to hyper activeness, crankiness, and loss of emotional regulation.  


Here's a story of family we worked with!

The sun had barely begun to cast its warm glow on the world when Sarah and David were exhausted of their nine-month-old old's 5 am wakings. It had been weeks of early mornings for this tired couple, who had embarked on the sleep training journey in the hope of getting some much-needed rest. They had diligently followed advice to push Emma's bedtime to get closer to 9 pm. However, instead of their desired effect, this strategy seemed to have backfired, leading to even earlier mornings.

Understanding the Conundrum:

Sleep training can be a challenging process for any family, and Sarah and David were no exception. They found themselves in a common predicament: extending their baby's bedtime in the hope of securing more sleep. However, they soon realized that a later bedtime didn't equate to later mornings. Emma continued to rise at 5 am, leaving her parents baffled and sleep-deprived.

The Science Behind Early Mornings:

To understand why later bedtimes might not be the solution to early waking, we need to delve into the science of sleep. Babies, like adults, have internal body clocks governed by circadian rhythms. These rhythms determine when we feel sleepy and when we're alert. If bedtime is pushed too late, the child can become overtired, making it harder for them to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Three Strategies for a Peaceful Morning:

  1. Consider Moving Up Bedtime: Surprisingly, one effective strategy for combating early waking is to move bedtime earlier, not later. Babies, especially younger ones, need a considerable amount of sleep. A bedtime between 6 pm and 8 pm is often recommended by experts as it aligns with their natural sleep patterns, allowing them to get the restorative sleep they need.

  2. First Nap of the Day: The timing and quality of the first nap can significantly impact a baby's wake-up time. Ensuring that the first nap doesn't happen too early in the morning can help push the wake-up time to a more reasonable hour. Aim for a morning nap that starts around 9 am or later.

  3. Cap Day Sleep: If your baby is already getting sufficient sleep during the day, it's essential to cap daytime naps. Oversleeping during the day can steal nighttime sleep, leading to early wake-ups. Pay attention to your baby's age-appropriate sleep needs and adjust their daytime naps accordingly.


Sarah and David's journey through the world of early wake-ups taught them that when it comes to sleep training and managing early mornings, the answer isn't always intuitive. Extending bedtime didn't mean later mornings for Emma. Through research and expert advice, they discovered the significance of an age-appropriate, earlier bedtime and the impact of the first nap of the day.

As they embraced these strategies, the cries of an early morning slowly transformed into the peaceful coos of a well-rested baby. Emma's mornings now began closer to 6:30 am, allowing her parents the precious gift of a little extra sleep.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, remember that you're not alone. Sleep training can be challenging, but with the right knowledge and strategies, you can help your baby sleep better and wake up at a more reasonable hour.

Ready to Learn More?:

If you're interested in diving deeper into the world of baby sleep and discovering more tips and strategies, we invite you to join our upcoming webinar. We'll explore various aspects of baby sleep and equip you with the tools you need to create peaceful mornings for your family. Don't let early mornings define your days; take the first step towards better sleep today.

If you are managing through early morning wakings and currently have a later bedtime, I encourage you to take a look at your child’s sleep patterns and start transitioning your child to an earlier bedtime over the next couple of weeks.  You will be surprised that they will still be primed to wake at the same time, if not LATER, and allow them for longer and more restorative sleep.  

If you need help in figuring out what schedule and how exactly to do that, that’s what I’m here for!  Reach out, schedule a call.  I’m here to help!


 "Learn more about how we work with families to help their babies sleep 10+ hours at night without Cry-it-out or Ferber.  Join our free webinar!" 


Sleep is around the corner, 

Rested Mama, Happy Baby Founder

I'm your certified pediatric sleep coach and new parent educator, Mica Deshaw.  I help families on their journey to establish healthy sleep habits and get the whole family sleeping again, working with children ages 0-4 years old.


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