Our Kids’ Bedtime Practices from Birth Through Age 7

I get asked for kid sleep suggestions all the time, and I never know what to say because sleeping is such a personal experience. Everyone has different needs at bedtime and throughout the night, so I don’t think there’s a list of “best practices” or anything like that that I could possibly put out there for everyone to follow. Instead, I’ll share a bit about how we’ve handled sleep as a family over the years — not as a you-should-do-this kind of thing, but just because sometimes it’s nice to see other options that you might try at different points in your own child’s sleep journey.

Both of my girls slept on Montessori floor beds from birth (we just used a twin-sized mattress on the floor). With Lila, she spent the first couple of nights in my bedroom — but I just couldn’t handle it. I was just watching her all night to make sure she was okay instead of getting any sleep myself, so we moved her to her own room after that. With Nora, I knew what to expect and we started her in her own bedroom from the first night we were home from the hospital. While they were infants, we followed the usual 3 hour cycle according to the needs they expressed — usually feeding, sleeping, and playing, again and again and again. I always put them in their bedrooms for naps so they would begin to associate that room with sleeping. At night we did the same thing but without the playtime, and they woke up no more or less than other infants do. As infants, they usually fell asleep while feeding, so I would put them down already asleep. Once they were on more solids and stopped feeding right before bed (around 12 months old in our case), they were crawling into bed by themselves so they would still be awake when I left the room. Because they were in their rooms unsupervised (other than a baby monitor), everything in their bedrooms was fully baby-proofed. We only had a dresser, a chair, a bookshelf, and their beds in there — only books on the shelf for them to look at if they woke up. You can see our infant and toddler bedroom set-ups at the links below:

As toddlers, they continued sleeping on floor beds until Lila was about 3 and Nora was about 1.5, when they asked to sleep in the same room in these bunk beds. I was sure this would never work, but they proved me wrong — Lila slept in the top bunk and Nora in the bottom, and they didn’t keep each other up all night like I was expecting. We continued keeping their room minimally furnished with just stuffed animals and books in the room instead of a bunch of toys that might distract them from sleeping. At bedtime, we all went in together and they each chose a bedtime story. We read them, tucked them in, and then left. They fell asleep on their own pretty easily.

Once Lila was about 5.5 and Nora was almost 4, Lila asked for her own bedroom. She was beginning to enter the second plane of development, and she wanted more space and privacy. We took the bunk beds apart and put one twin bed in her room and one in Nora’s. It was at this point that we began putting more toys in the bedroom — the girls had already shown that they had mastered putting themselves to sleep and didn’t need us to shield them from that distraction anymore. It was at this point that we split up tuck-ins — my husband would do one child while I did the other. When I’m doing the tuck-in, we usually chat a bit about the day before I turn out the lights and leave. You can see her second plane bedroom set-up here:

When Lila was about 6 or 6.5, she started asking to stay up later. We decided that she could stay up reading in her room after tuck-in. At first, we did this to a set time of 8:00, at which point she had to turn out her light and go to bed. We found out that she was reading by flashlight in her bed after 8pm, so we changed the rule. Now we trust her to read until she’s tired, then turn out the lights and REALLY go to bed. She usually does that around 8:45pm, but sometimes she does it earlier.

Our bedtimes have always been a bit early compared to most, but the girls are very early risers no matter what time they go to bed. Bedtime also hasn’t changed much — it’s usually about 7:15 or 7:30 by the time we leave their rooms. Nora still falls asleep almost immediately, while Lila reads until about 8:45 before she goes to bed. When Nora asks to start staying up later, we’ll probably do the same thing with her — because *I* need that alone time at night after a full day spend with kids!

We’ve gone through several different “Okay to Wake” clocks, but this one was my favorite. You can set it so that it turns green when it’s ok for the kids to wake up (even before they can tell time), and for the most part we’ve had no problems with the girls following that rule. Instead of making it “this is the time when you can wake up” (can’t really enforce when somebody else’s body is done sleeping, can you?), we use it as “this is the time you can come out of your room in the morning.” If they wake up before it’s green, they can read or play quietly in their room.

So that’s been our sleep routine from birth through age 7! The girls rarely wake up in the middle of the night now, and when they do it’s usually because of a nightmare — they just need a quick tuck-in and then we all go back to sleep. I remember moments when they were babies when I thought I was never going to get to sleep through the night again, and I’m happy to report that I was very wrong about that!