- Between 6pm-8pm is ideally what time a toddler should go to bed
- Toddlers need 12-13 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period
- Take into account nap transitions, your family’s lifestyle and when the sun sets to determine what time a toddler should go to bed
Having a set bedtime is just one aspect of a consistent bedtime routine. But, it’s an important one.
After all, if you get the bed time wrong, you don’t just end up with bedtime battles that impact on your evening, but you might end up with unreasonably early wake times, and a cranky toddler throwing more tantrums, whining and making life a bit more difficult that next day.
If you’ve followed any sleep programs before, you’ll notice they usually recommend a bedtime of 7pm for babies and toddlers. But please be aware that this isn’t set in stone, and a toddler should ideally go to bed between 6pm-8pm.
What time should a toddler go to bed? While every child's sleep needs are different, the ideal bedtime for a toddler is between 6pm-8pm and should achieve between 10 to 12 hours of sleep at night time.
This can depend on the age of your toddler, whether they are going through a nap transition, the time the sun sets, and what suits your family. We’ll explore each of these factors further below, as well as look at the benefits of a consistent bedtime routine.
But first, how much sleep does your toddler need?
How much sleep does a toddler need
Toddlers tend to need 12-13 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. That would usually look like a 1-2 hour nap in the day and 10-12 hours of sleep at night.
In Australia and New Zealand, a study analysed sleep patterns and problems of children from 0-36 months. It found that the total sleep time ranged from 13.1 hours at 12-17 months to 12 hours in the 24-36 month bracket . Therefore, confirming that 12-13 hours sleep is ideal, but also realistic for toddlers.
Are toddler sleep needs affected by age?
As a general rule, your toddler’s bedtime doesn’t need to have changed from what it was when they were a baby - particularly if you have already been running a 12 hour day, like 7am to 7pm for example.
However, you might find that a young toddler going through a nap transition might need a slightly earlier bedtime in order to cope with their changing sleep needs.
For instance, toddlers typically drop from 2 naps down to 1 nap between 12-18 months of age , but this can even be as late as 24 months . This transition is notoriously rocky. Some drop the nap before they are really physiologically ready to handle less sleep, and they might have just the one nap some days, but not others.
This is where a little flexibility may be necessary in choosing the right bedtime. You might find that their little bodies just need to go to bed earlier. So, if you would normally have a 7pm bedtime, you might need to arrange a 6pm bedtime some nights.
If your little one just loves their naps however, you might need to move their bedtime to the later end of the scale, so they don’t exceed the ideal amount of sleep in the 24-hour period. Otherwise, you can end up dealing with some very early wakes as their body compensates for too much sleep!
Once they have successfully dropped to one nap, without showing signs like middle of the night wakes or mood changes , you can return to a set bedtime each night.
Why should 8pm be the latest bedtime?
Deepest sleep tends to occur between 8pm and 12am . That means 8pm should be the latest time you consider when deciding what time a toddler should go to bed. You want to be making the most of deep, restorative sleep for your toddler’s wellbeing.
What does sunset have to do with your toddler’s bedtime?
Our internal clock (circadian rhythm) helps to regulate sleep . And these circadian rhythms are impacted by the hormone, melatonin. Melatonin surges after nightfall, telling our bodies it’s time for sleep.
The results of this field study indicate that the amount of light preschool-age children are exposed to in the 2 h before bedtime predicts variance in circadian phase over and above bedtime aloneScience Direct
That’s why the time the sun sets may impact whether your toddler will be able to respond to an earlier bedtime, like 6pm. Choosing a bedtime that follows sun set will help them fall asleep because of melatonin production - they won’t be fighting against their inner clock.
Additionally, research has suggested that allowing your toddler “ exposure to natural lighting at sunset is helpful ”. Bent light rays that occur during sunset produce mixed wavelengths that tell us our internal clock night is approaching.
Toddler bedtime should work with family needs
Sometimes we need to base sleep routines around what suits our family life as well. Many households have at least one, and sometimes two parents working long hours. That means the time available for connecting with your toddler can be limited.
So, if one (or both) of you don’t finish work until 6pm, you might not want to bundle your toddler straight off to bed. Know that it’s perfectly alright to have an 8pm bedtime so you can fit in that all-important family time if that suits you better. You might even find that quality time spent with the family is critical to your toddler having a good night’s sleep.
Benefits for toddler of a consistent bedtime routine
You’ve no doubt heard a lot about bedtime routines. But, the fact is, a consistent one can do wonders for your toddler’s sleep - in particular, how they fall asleep.
A study found that with a consistent bedtime routine (vs. not having one) parents report their children calling out less when they go to bed, and they also climb out of their cot fewer times. Seeing that falling asleep tends to be a bigger problem than night waking in toddler years, there’s an undeniable argument here for having a consistent bedtime routine.
Final thoughts on what time a toddler should go to bed
With the ideal bedtime for a toddler being between 6pm to 8pm, 7pm is a time commonly chosen by parents. But, it’s important to do what works for your family within this time bracket.
If you want your family to eat dinner together, or the sun doesn’t set until 6.30pm, then don’t force yourselves to make 7pm work. After all, quality time and a happy home life are just as important to your toddler’s sleep and wellbeing.