Why Your 0-5-Year-Old Should Have an Early Bedtime

June 7    Written by Sophia Duhela

For many parents, offering an early bedtime seems scary. It makes sense…logic would tell us
that the earlier someone goes to bed, the earlier they wake in the morning. After all, you’ve
likely heard the phrase, “early to bed, early to rise,” right??

Think about your experience with your own child. You keep them up later, praying that they
won’t wake up early tomorrow morning…but, to be expected, they’re still rising with – or earlier
than – the sun.

In reality, this just doesn’t work with young children.

In this post, we’re going to dive into all things early bedtime and why you shouldn’t have a
bedtime later than 8:00 p.m.

Why a “Late” Bedtime Doesn’t Work for Young Children

As you can see from the graphic, our sleep (melatonin) and wakeful (cortisol) hormones are in
opposition to each other in a 24 hour cycle, and are driven by exposure to light and darkness.

Melatonin is released later in the day, in the early evening hours, preparing your child’s body to
fall asleep. The tricky thing, is, though, if you miss the window of melatonin being released early
in the evening, the brain will think, “Uh oh, we must be in danger! Since we didn’t go to sleep
when I released that melatonin, we must need to stay awake to keep ourselves safe!”

…and if that happens, the brain will then release more cortisol to keep the body awake and
“safe” when in reality, all it needed was to go to sleep.

So, you can see, how keeping your child up later actually has the opposite effect.

When a child has a build up of cortisol (the wakefulness hormone, also sometimes called the
“stress” hormone because it’s released as the body’s response to stress) you may observe
hyper active, manic behavior; laughing and giggling one minute to crying the next…bouncing off
the walls and excited to a complete meltdown. It’s difficult for the body to calm down when this
happens, so it’s extremely important to ride that first wave of melatonin when it’s released in the
early evening hours.

You may be wondering, well, when is this melatonin actually released?

For most children, paired with a build up of adenosine (that’s a whole other topic for another
day, but basically, the body’s need to maintain homeostasis), it’s easiest to fall asleep and hit
that wave between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m.

YES. Some children will benefit from a bedtime as early as 6:00 p.m. Heck, even earlier if they
had crummy naps that day!

What if your child takes a monster nap during the day? Do they still need an early bedtime?
I’d encourage you to prioritize nighttime sleep over daytime sleep (this is a thin line to walk, so
tread carefully) so that your child can maintain homeostasis within appropriate timing that aligns
with the circadian rhythm, as that manic, hyperactive behavior I mentioned earlier can occur if
these two systems don’t collide at just the right time in the evening.

Dr. Craig Canapari, author of “It’s Never Too Late to Sleep Train” famously calls this struggle
with toddlers the “no fly zone.” Trust me, it’s something you want to avoid, and often, an early
bedtime can mitigate these struggles.

Benefits of an Early Bedtime

There are some obvious ones, but here’s a quick list of benefits of an early bedtime, for both
your child and you:
● Hit the wave of melatonin that’s released in the early evening hours, promoting quality,
deep sleep in the first half of the night (this is when all the magic happens!)
● Prevent a buildup of the stress hormone, cortisol
● Avoid a long, drawn-out, and stressful bedtime routine
● Make up for missed sleep during the day, ensuring your child gets the amount of sleep
their body needs in a 24-hour period
● Quality time for YOU after your child is in bed nice and early
● Quality time for you to spend with your partner once your child is is bed nice and early.

Read more about this here.

Are you interested in these benefits for you or your child? Or need help navigating that “no fly
zone”?? There are so many nuances to consider, and I’d love to help you! You can set up a free
discovery call with here here.

Kind words from clients