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What is a reasonable bedtime for an almost-three-year-old?

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, Baby wakes up exhausted. Maybe they had trouble falling asleep and kept asking for one more drink of water. Or maybe family friends came over unexpectedly last night, and they got to bed later than usual. Regardless of the reason, a sleep-deprived toddler means it will be a very long day for both of you.

What can you do to ensure Baby gets enough sleep? And what’s a reasonable bedtime for a three-year-old?

Getting enough zzzzzzzs . . .

With Baby now almost three, it’s a great time to begin thinking about bedtimes and whether or not anything should change with their upcoming birthday. In order to determine a workable bedtime, it’s important to look first at how much sleep a three-year-old needs.

According to guidelines issued by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine – and supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics – children between the ages of three and five need 10 to 13 hours of sleep a day – and this includes naps.

Challenges to a set sleep schedule

While you have the best intentions about ensuring Baby gets an adequate amount of sleep, real life often intervenes. Work schedules and long commutes sometimes mean parents allow young children to stay up a bit later so they can spend time together as a family. Sometimes sleep schedules get off kilter after the switch to daylight savings time, once you return from vacation (particularly if you traveled to a different time zone) or following an illness.

In addition, families with children who attend daycare or morning pre-school have less flexibility regarding bedtime. With a firm wake-up time in the morning, there’s more of an impact the next day when Baby drags out their bedtime routine or has trouble falling asleep due to a loud thunderstorm.

Beyond tired and cranky

So what’s the impact of a young child who doesn’t get enough sleep? You’ve undoubtedly seen the next-day effects when Baby gets less rest than needed. They may be fussy, irritable, teary, and prone to meltdowns.

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as there’s a connection between staying healthy and getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep can raise diabetes risk factors, negatively impact depression, and limit the body’s ability to combat threats to the immune system, among others.

Calculating bedtime

Often, the best way to figure out the right bedtime for your family is to figure out how many hours of sleep your child needs to be getting at night (the number of hours they need to be getting total, minus the amount of time they spend napping), and then take the time they get up in the morning (either because they have to get to preschool or daycare at a certain time or just because they can never sleep past dawn), and count backwards.

The guideline of 10 to 13 hours of sleep leaves a little room to play around and figure out when the right bedtime for Baby is, but if they have always needed to sleep on the longer end of normal for their age, there’s a good chance that will still be true now. And even if Baby’s sleep schedule has been set in stone for a while now, if they have had any changes to their napping patterns, there’s a good chance their nighttime sleep could do with a shift, too, to accommodate that change.

Develop good sleep habits

By working to establish consistent bedtimes that follow recommended sleep guidelines, you can help ensure that Baby gets the rest they need, as well as help them create lifelong habits for healthy sleep.

  • “Healthy Sleep Habits: How Many Hours Does Your Child Need?” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, March 23 2017. Retrieved September 5 2017.
  • “A Lullaby for Good Health.” Adapted from Healthy Children Magazine, Summer 2007 Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, June 20 2013. Retrieved September 5 2017.
  • “Make Time 2 Sleep.” SleepEducation. American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 2017. Retrieved September 5 2017.
  • “American Academy of Pediatrics Supports Childhood Sleep Guidelines.” American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, June 13 2016. Retrieved September 5 2017.

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