The Fear of the Early Bedtime

Jacob, 16 months old
The hard to believe scenario: waking early in the morning because of a too late bedtime or a missed nap.

The last few days for my family have been a bit busy. We haven't been home much and sleep has been a bit neglected.  My 1 year old Jacob has had some short naps and gone to bed a bit late some evenings. The first two days he did ok. The third day he started to get a bit
cranky and woke up 45 minutes early the next morning. The fourth (and thankfully last) day of this he was a bit more cranky and ended up waking 1 hour early the next morning. He was crying both mornings he woke early which is very unusual for him. The second morning he was even crying inconsolably for a few minutes. Overtirendness started to cause early morning awakenings. A super early bedtime, even 5:30 pm, could have prevented these problems.

Early Bedtime Please!
I often tell people with sleep issues to put their kids to bed earlier. Many people are keeping their kids up late in hopes they will either sleep in later or sleep better at night. Rarely does this work with babies and young children, especially long term (even if it does work, I don't suggest it, it isn't healthy). Others have their children going to bed at a decent hour but need an earlier hour due to overtiredness issues, bad naps etc.

Guess what I often hear when I give the suggestion for an earlier bedtime? Usually something along the lines of "that won't work", "but he's already going to bed so early", or "lady, you're insane". Maybe you are thinking the same thing. That's ok. I don't blame you. No one wants their kid to wake up even more at night or wake up even earlier in the morning, and it is a common fear and ingrained belief that putting kids to bed early will cause both of these things. I know of quite a few people that have successfully tried the earlier bedtime but are still hesitant to do it again because of these fears.

The earlier bedtime trick doesn't work for everyone, but please consider it if you are having sleep problems or have an overly tired child. And give it some time to work. You may be surprised by what happens!

To learn more about early bedtimes, I suggest you read Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.


  1. Hi. New blog follower here from the Bloggin Mamas group on BBC. Great blog. I am an avid follower of HSHHC and totally agree re: early bedtime. Right now, my 12-month-old goes down around 7 and stays down until about 6:30.

  2. theraymonds,
    A plus about the early bedtime is that you get time to yourself too :)

  3. What do you do about a feeding if you put them to bed that early? We usually feed the twins one last time after a 7:30pm bath. If one is overtired, how do we put them to bed early and also get in that last feed? Do we treat the 8pm feed as a dreamfeed?

  4. The tales of dash,
    I would just feed right before bed too, making that feed not as far apart as other feeds. Usually you can feed at the normal df time without problems


  5. Hi again (do you have a frequent poster club cuz I think I would definitely be a member :)

    So I've been trying to put Jack to bed earlier over the last few days without much luck. He usually falls asleep btn 9 and 9:30 but I've been starting his routine around 7 with the aim to have him in bed around 8. He seems tired but as soon as I wrap him up and put him down, he cries intensely and suddenly seems very far from sleep. He'll cry either in my arms or the crib until 9ish when he falls asleep. Then he'll wake almost every hour, moving around before falling back asleep until he wakes around midnight or 1 for a feed.

    I'm planning to put him to bed even earlier (7) to see if I have better luck. If that's the case, what time should his last nap end? Any other tips on making an earlier bedtime work?

    And is it possible that his natural bedtime is 9ish?


    1. Just a quick update: today I woke him up at 5 pm from a nap and fed him as it had been almost 5 hrs since his last feed. I noticed he started to get fussy around 6 so I decided to nurse him again quickly before putting him down. After he ate, he was happy and chatting with me. I washed his face, changed his clothes, read a short book then wrapped him up for bed but again like the previous nights, he started to cry and didn't seem very tired anymore. I rocked him to sleep by 7:10 but it wasn't long before he woke up crying. Did I miss his window by feeding and doing his bedtime routine or was he just not ready for bed? Help please! Thank you!

  6. Carolyn Wong,

    I highly highly highly doubt that his natural bedtime is 9 :)

    Try moving it earlier even more gradually. Like 15 minute intervals ever few days. Start at the old time but just 15 minutes earlier. Some people will drop the last nap and make bedtime much earlier all at once. Baby will resist and have a hard time for a few to several days but eventually get it. Sometimes doing anything possibly to keep baby asleep while doing this (nurse, rock etc) for a handful of days will result in a baby with a new habit of going to bed early without too much difficulty.

    Remind me how many months he is again. There is a waketime post that mentions average waketimes, as well as nap posts (evening, afternoon etc) that might help you figure out when his last nap should end.

    You may have missed his window. He may just be used to being awake then has a hard time settling to sleep at the time.


  7. Hi there Rachel, thanks so much for your blog - it's packed with excellent advice, and I wish I'd read it when my boy was tiny! He's now 12 weeks old, and has been sleeping 8 - 9 hours overnight from week 5 *but* generally only catnaps during the day. As a result, he's noticeably less alert / engaged with us than other babies in the afternoons. Also, I've somehow found myself nursing him to sleep at night.

    I'm trying to introduce naps (using your 'extending naps' post) but am having to rock him to sleep / rock him through both the 5 minute 'startle' and the 30 / 45 minute sleep cycle transition. I'm worried that this means he's losing his ability to self-soothe (I'm seeing some signs of this...).

    At the same time, his bedtime has crept later, as he struggles to fit in the nursing time he's used to (6 - 7 hours a day) as well as the naps. Do you have any advice on this? He is more alert in the afternoon if he naps, but with all the nursing there seems to be no time for him to enjoy it (and he's keeping us up until after 11pm). I'd love your advice - this is making me miserable!

    Thanks so much,


  8. Hi Rachel, I have a question about stretching out wake time in the evening. My 3 month old is usually awake for only one hour and his last nap of the day has him waking up around 5 p.m. His usual bedtime is 7 but that means he's awake for 2 hours instead of 1 in the evening and it's hard to get him to stretch to 7 without becoming overtired. How do I solve this? Should I move the bedtime earlier?


    1. Yes Andrea, I would move the bedtime a bit earlier.

  9. Hi Rachel,

    I have a 4 month old son who still eats every 2-2.5 hours. I've tried spacing out his feedings but his waketime is currently 1-1.5 hours and he usually only naps 45 min to 1 hour. I've followed an E/W/S routine since he was born. I've always laid him down drowsy but awake, he won't take a pacifier, and he soothes himself to sleep without much fuss. He currently gets solids twice a day (his second and second to last feeding). He starts the day at 6:30 am and eats every 2-2.5 hours (4-6 oz) until his 7 pm bedtime. He takes about five to six 1 hour long naps each day. I've been trying to eliminate the last nap (between the 5 and 7 pm feedings) but then he gets overly tired and won't eat well. He usually wakes up once a night and eats 6 oz but lately he's been waking up more frequently. Do you have any suggestions for spacing out feedings? Maybe moving up his bedtime? Adding an extra meal of solids around lunch? Any advice is appreciated!

    1. Sydney,
      As for spacing out feedings, it kind of depends on if the feedings are that close because of the routine, or because baby is hungry then and won't go any longer. If it is because of the routine, I would suggest seeing if you can lengthen naps out (see short nap post and extending nap posts). If that won't work at all, I would consider doing a EWSEWS routine--something like that, the point is that you don't have to keep the eating right after waking up, just don't feed to sleep (feeding right before sleep is fine if baby doesn't seem to have sleep issues because of this). move the routine around to whatever gives you a better length of time between feeds (it may vary a bit throughout the day). If he won't go longer than 2-2.5 hours between feeds, lengthen slowly, a little every few days. I wouldn't worry about adding in solids. From my experience and the experience of many others, that does not help extend the feeds between the day, assuming you are not breastfeeding and have a supply issue (not likely). When dropping a nap, I would always move up bedtime earlier for a bit.