what time should a two-year-old go to bed?
Well, who’s to say? What time should a two-year-old go to bed at night? What time should ANYONE go to bed?! A much more realistic question is how much sleep does a 2-year-old need? Answer THAT, and figure out what kind of toddler bedtime works for your family – and then make sure your two-year-old is getting enough sleep.
If you’re struggling with a 2 year old not going to sleep until 11pm, what REALLY matters is what time that two year old has to get up! I’ll explain below, and offer some ideas as to how to approach the “problem” when your toddler stays up late.
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I’ll tell you what works for our family when it comes to a good bedtime for a toddler, and we will talk about how much sleep a toddler needs
…and then you can figure out what works for YOUR family. It is ok for you to do what’s best for your family, and not bother to worry about what everyone else thinks you should do.
Our toddler goes to bed between 9:30 and 10 pm.
I KNOW! You’re shocked!! It’s shocking!
Why is that a “bad” bedtime for our 2-year-old if that’s what works for us? Not everyone functions on the same schedule.
Here’s the reasons (and they are legit) why our toddler goes to bed at 10 pm (and why we are 100% ok with it):
The first reason we are ok with a late bedtime for our two-year-old is the one that matters most to me personally (LOL):
It keeps mommy sane
I have (and always have had) really bad insomnia. I choose to breastfeed (we now have a 6-month-old as well), which means I can’t take sleep aids. Not to mention, even if you’re not breastfeeding, it’s hard to wake up and wander around the house taking care of kids – regardless of breastfeeding – if you’ve got chemical sleep aids in your system.
This means that on a good night I’m lucky if I fall asleep around 2 am – and then I’m woken by a breastfeeding baby 4 times before 8 am. If my kids were asleep by 6:30 or even 7:30 pm, they’d be up at 6:30 or 7:30 AM, (or earlier) because a toddler needs to sleep around 12 hours night, (plus a two hour nap according to webmd.com and all the other child sleep experts out there. This is widely accepted).
For me, a 2-year-old waking up too early (any time before 8:30 or 9 am) feels like the end of the world. Often by 6:30 am, I have only had a couple hours of sleep. I’m not capable of being a good mom when my toddler wakes up that early. BUT, it is wildly unrealistic to think that he will sleep past 7:30 am if he is in bed by 7:30 pm.
When my toddler is in bed by 9:30 pm, he sleeps til about 9 am. I get a few hours of sleep, and we function much more happily. (If mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy!)
But it’s not all about me!
He gets time with daddy
My husband works long long days – he generally gets home at 7 pm.
We want our kids to know that daddy exists. And that daddy loves them. And that daddy is involved with them.
We eat late, we have our family time late, and then daddy lays down with kiddo number 1 at 9:30 (after bathing him). By allowing our family to have “night owl” tendencies, we also allow our family to have “family” tendencies. I wake daddy up (because he always falls asleep), and then we have an hour or so to ourselves before we hit the sack too.
Sure, there are times when we’d like more “alone” time – but it’s not realistic for us right now.
The benefits of being a sane mom and of dad having time with his kids outweighs the negative of us not having tons of “alone time” right now.
We still have “a life” – and it includes our kids
We were among the last of our friends to have kids… and it was not lost on us that they all had to be home by 6:30 to start bedtime routine.
But life does not end at 6:30 pm.
With a late bedtime for our toddler, we are able to sit around a campfire with friends until 9 and still get the kids to bed “on schedule”. This summer we kept babe up till 11 pm to watch some fireworks – and he hardly noticed because it was only one hour past bedtime. We can actually go out and do things around the holidays, and not deal with frantic screaming children.
Lastly, it was just easier for us – because it seemed natural to him
Maybe it’s hereditary?
With kiddo number one, we could NEVER get him to sleep at a “decent” time when he was a baby. He came into the world and he decided 2 am was bedtime – and that was that.
Baby sleep regressions hardly affected us because he was just always awake. (Yes, it was hard. We lived!)
For almost a full year we struggled to get him to sleep before 2 am. We tried ALL THE THINGS. (Except CIO – cry it out. We were not interested in CIO, and we still are not interested in CIO. Eventually, we started co-sleeping, and that really helped.)
Over time, we managed to work his bedtime back to 10 pm. When he was one year old we had him down by midnight, and slowly, over the last year, we’ve got it back to 10 pm. We tried to move it forward even further, (because we felt pressure from all the weird looks we get when we go out with our kids past 7 pm…) but we found that when he was in bed consistently by 8:30 am, he started waking up by 7 am.
And, as we talked about – that just doesn’t work for us. His little body seems wired to wake up around 11 hours after he goes to sleep… which is TOTALLY NORMAL for a kid this age.
Note that if your kid has a “set wake up time” in his brain of 7 am and wakes up at 7 am no matter what time you put him down, you might HAVE to put baby to bed by 7:30 so that he CAN get enough sleep… because:
is it “bad” for toddlers to stay up late?
Judith Owens, M.D., director of the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Clinic at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, in Providence claims there is “nothing intrinsically harmful about letting kids stay up late, provided — and this is the crucial part — that they go to bed about the same time every night and get enough sleep overall” (source).
That means if your toddler goes to bed late but wakes up early no matter what, they are probably not getting enough sleep – and sleep deprivation is real, and it’s unhealthy.
It also makes for angry, grouchy kids.
If your toddler won’t fall asleep before 10 pm but then sleeps till 9 am, you DO NOT HAVE A PROBLEM.
If your toddler stays up late but also wakes up early you DO have a problem.
It would be a good idea to work on bed time. Working on bed time might mean:
- Experimenting with an earlier bed time (young kids struggle to fall asleep if they are over-tired)
- Removing sugar from their diets in the evening
- Laying with your toddler until they fall asleep (we STILL do this at 3 + 5 years old, and it’s a NORMAL thing to do to help kids go to sleep)
- Listening to audio books in bed, as a calming way to get a toddler to be INTERESTED in bed time
- Talking with your doctors about trying melatonin supplements (these are widely available in the USA + Canada, and approved for children, but talking to a dr is always wise before starting any supplement)
It’s ok to do what works for your family when it comes to how and when your kids go to sleep
If you NEED to get your kiddo to bed earlier, you could try sleep training without crying it out.
But as long as your two-year-old is getting ENOUGH sleep – at least 10 hours at night and 2-3 hours in the day (naps are important!) then it’s up to you to decide if you are ok with a late bedtime for your toddler. If you’re ok with it, and it works for your family… it’s ok.
If you have a toddler you might like: