Yesterday was my daughter’s 5th birthday. Since she is another year older, we are shifting her bedtime later, right?
Wrong! Here's why...
My daughter goes into her bed between 7:00-7:15pm, and falls asleep within 10-minutes. She wakes between 6:45-7:15am (staying in her room until her OK to Wake light turns on at 7:05 if she wakes prior to then). This has been her schedule and routine since around age 3, and will continue to be her routine until I see that her sleep needs have changed.
While age certainly plays a role in sleep needs, it should not be the only deciding factor. When choosing a bedtime, pay close attention to your child’s sleep need indicators to inform that decision. Look at temperament throughout the day/early evening, duration of time it takes your child to fall asleep, morning wake time, consistency of overnight sleep, and whether or not the child seems happy and well rested upon waking. If your child is moody during the day or gets grumpy (or easily frustrated, more emotional, etc.) in the early evening, this could be an indication that he/she needs more sleep or an earlier bedtime. Similar to fussiness being a sleepy cue in babies, mood shifts can be a sleepy cue in older children.
Taking a long time to fall asleep could be an indicator that your child is ready for a later bedtime. BUT, this isn’t always the case (which makes it tricky!) Having a hard time falling asleep is also an indicator of being overtired. If your child is seemingly wired at bedtime, and that pairs with overnight waking, early rising, or waking up still tired, your child is likely overtired and might actually benefit from an earlier bedtime. If your child wakes up well rested, does not show sleepy cues or dramatic mood shifts in the evening, sleeps soundly through the night, but is taking a long time to fall asleep at bedtime, you might consider moving the bedtime later.
When moving a bedtime later, start small. Shift the bedtime in 15-minute increments to see how it impacts your child’s mood and behavior, as well as their sleep patterns. If you see negative effects of the later bedtime, just shift the bedtime earlier again!
A child's bedtime can shift a bit based on quality of sleep or missed sleep the day before. Don’t hesitate to use an earlier bedtime if you had a late night previously, or if your child skipped a nap or had a disrupted night of sleep. Keep in mind that when you drop a nap or transition to no naps, bedtime should shift earlier to support your child through that change.