Why a toddler needs to go to bed early

Recently I have had a run of questions on toddlers and sleep. Toddlers do experience a sleep regression which can cause some sleep disturbances, but they are also experiencing a big developmental leap causing them to be more tired. Toddlers are also on the go all the time! It can be exhausting for them and for us! So, there are a few reasons why your toddler should be in bed early.

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 a night. If they don’t get all this great 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.

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.

We know that babies and toddlers get most of their deepest sleep of the night in the hours before midnight. There is also something about the quality of this sleep in the evening that is hugely beneficial. Because toddlers are so busy, if they don’t get all this lovely deep sleep then they will wake tired the next day and we know how difficult it can be dealing with a tired 2 year old! So, if they’ve had a long day and especially if they’re a toddler who is transitioning to one sleep a day, then I would recommend getting them to bed between 6.30 and 7pm.

When I suggest this earlier bedtime to parents, some are concerned that if they put their child down early, then they will wake too early in the morning. No one wants the dreaded 5am wake up! In fact, the opposite can occur. Children who get more of the deeper sleep in the evening will sleep more restfully and sleep longer. 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. Being more rested will mean they will be in a happier mood, leading them to be able to deal with the day without too many upsets.

If you decide to change bedtime to a bit earlier, then I would recommend keeping the bedtime ritual the same, just start everything a bit earlier in the evening. That way your child won’t be too affected by the change. It’s also great for you and your partner to have some extra time together in the evening when your child has gone to bed. No one wants a toddler running around at 9.30pm at night!

Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.