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My Newborn Night Owl Won't Go to Bed Earlier

Photograph by Twenty20

Dear Heather,

My little one is 12 weeks old. She usually falls asleep around 11:30 p.m. or midnight. When I try to put her to sleep earlier, she only takes a short catnap. How do I get her to go to bed early?

Newborn night owl

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Dear NNO,

I agree that your little night owl is ready for an earlier bedtime. She’s gone from having a very loose, flexible internal clock, to having an internal clock that is quickly maturing and favoring an early, regular bedtime. Getting her to eventually tuck in for the night between 7 and 8 p.m. will help her get the 11- to 12-hour night of sleep that she needs.

Shifting her bedtime earlier by four to five hours may seem like an impossible feat, but it’s not. You can do it gradually by putting her to bed 15 to 30 minutes earlier each night—or even every other night. You can also try just putting her down at 7 without the gradual backing up to that time. She may wake after a brief nap at that time for a week or so, until she gets used to it, but eventually she will adjust. If you take the jump-in approach, be sure to keep the room dark after bedtime, make her feedings very mechanical and with little social engagement (in other words, keep it dark and boring). This will help tell her body it’s time to be asleep.

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We have to be patient with her because she’s still little—it’s not until closer to 6 months when we can expect her internal clock to be mature to the point of sleeping a full night with few or no feedings.

One of the most important things to remember is that her waking time in the morning strongly affects her bedtime. In other words, if she doesn’t start her day until 9 a.m., she’ll have a hard time starting her night at 7 p.m. We want to press “go” on her internal clock by 7 a.m. to get her ready for that early bedtime you’re working towards.

Happy sleeping,

Heather

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Do you have a sleep question you want Heather to answer for Sleep Fix? Email her at heatherturgeonmft@gmail.com. Sleep expert Heather Turgeon, co-author of "The Happy Sleeper: The Science-Backed Guide to Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night's Sleep—Newborn to School Age," will fix your family's sleep problems in this space as she does in her Los Angeles-based sleep consultations. Turgeon's solutions are nonjudgmental, kind and—best of all—based on science.

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