The Key to Improving Nighttime Sleep (Other than a Quality Mattress)

By Carolynne Harvey, Certified Sleep Consultant & Founder of Dream Baby Sleep

If I had to choose one thing that I want you to take away from everything I have to teach about healthy sleep habits, it’s this: Make bedtime earlier.

There’s a pervasive misconception that keeping babies awake later at night will help them sleep later in the morning, and many parents fear that putting their babies down earlier at night means they’ll wake even earlier in the morning. However, based on the science of sleep, that’s simply not true.

All of our bodies produce a hormone called melatonin that naturally eases us to sleep. (I should mention here that I never advocate giving supplemental melatonin to children.) A child’s optimal bedtime is when levels of melatonin start to rise, which is usually between 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., based on their age and the quality of their daytime sleep.  When a baby or toddler doesn’t go to bed during this window of time, a chemical reaction occurs in which melatonin converts to the stress hormone cortisol. It’s like giving your baby a shot of espresso. She becomes wired, and trying to get her to fall asleep is an uphill battle.

A bedtime that’s too late sets the stage for three main problems:

1. Difficulty falling asleep because of the elevated cortisol levels.
2. Multiple night wakings—cortisol in makes it more difficult to stay asleep.
3. Early rising—sleep begets sleep; when bedtime is too late, they’re more likely to wake up earlier in the morning.

    Bedtime & Nap Chart


    Total hours of sleep per 24 hours






    Newborns typically sleep in cycles of 2 to 4 hours throughout the day and night.

    1-4 months


    8:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m.

    Infants are still developing rapidly and feeding often at night. Bedtime is often late, but will inch earlier as you approach the 4- month mark.

    4-8 months


    5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.

    Circadian rhythms are forming and a distinct 3-nap-per-day schedule develops. Naps should be at approximately 9 a.m., 12 p.m., and 3 p.m. If naps are short, bedtime needs to be on the earlier side of the range.

    8-10 months


    5:30 p.m.-7:00 p.m.

    The transition from 3 naps to 2 naps occurs during this time. On a 2-nap schedule, naps should be at around 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. To  make up for the lack of a third nap, lean on an earlier bedtime.

    10 to 15 months


    5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

    Babies transition from 2 naps to 1 nap between 14-19 months old. During this time, rely on an earlier bedtime to help ease the transition.

    15 months to 4 years


    5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

    Hold on to the nap for as long as you can, ideally up to age 4. When your toddler drops the nap, she’ll need 1 extra hour of sleep at night.

    For many parents—especially those whose babies are early risers—implementing an earlier bedtime can feel a bit terrifying at first. It may not seem logical that putting your baby to bed earlier could possibly help her sleep later, but I can’t encourage you enough to give it a try. Be consistent about sticking to an early bedtime, and give it some time. When you take into consideration the science behind sleep and the fact that sleep begets sleep, putting your baby to bed earlier can, and often does, make a world of difference in both the quality and quantity of their sleep. Timing truly is everything.

    About Dream Baby Sleep
    According to the National Sleep Foundation, full-term, healthy newborns should sleep a total of 14-17 hours per day. Typically, a baby should clock 8-12 hours of sleep at night, with intervals of waking for feedings, and accrue the remaining hours by way of naps throughout the day. Dream Baby Sleep recognizes the many challenges families of newborns face when it comes to achieving maximum sleep, and believes in creating customized plans to meet the very specific needs of each family.

    Founded by Carolynne Harvey, a mom who broke all the rules when her daughter was an infant, the company wants to educate and empower parents to take control of sleep in their homes.

    For more information, visit

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