I'm no stranger to that look people give me for J's 7ish PM bedtime. People often ask, "Wow and he actually sleeps through the night when he goes down so early?" While I know that many of my fellow May 2011 mamas on whattoexpect.com also do early bedtimes, many people whom I know in real life tend to put their kiddos down at 8 PM or even much later. I have always done an early bedtime, especially since the sleep consultant who helped us to sleep train J recommended that. According to research, an early bedtime between 6-7:30 PM prevents an overtired bub, and sleep begets sleep. I am not going to say that every single child is a textbook case of needing this early a bedtime because I do believe that all parents know their own child best and hence forth, I don't judge others based on how they do things, but J definitely is a textbook case. If he goes to bed at say 8 PM (yes it has happened on rare occasion), he will wake up at 5 AM or earlier. However, when he goes down between 7 & 7:30, J will sleep until at least 6:20 the next day. If J does not get at least 11 hours of sleep at night, he is a cranky little beast all day long, so I do all I can to make sure he gets that.
Yes, I used to be much more obsessive at making sure it was exactly 7 PM on the dot, but as he's gotten older I have loosened up and started to follow his lead more; I don't allow the time he is put down to surpass 7:30, though. My husband and I are skilled at timing of routine. I've learned that my child is a sneaky boy who knows that rubbing his eyes clues Mama and Daddy in the fact that he is tired, and will start by poking at his eyes when he is getting sleepy instead of rubbing. He also will start to get a little bit whiney. Once I see that going on, I start his routine with a good snack (something with whole grains and protein to keep his blood sugar up all night) and it goes from there. When J is sick, as he has been a lot lately, we do keep bedtime more between 6:30-7 and that benefits J (and yes, he still sleeps in til a decent time and actually will sleep more until 7 or 7:30 AM as his body is recovering from illness).
The great benefit aside from a well-rested toddler is that this give my husband and I our own time for awhile to unwind and get quality time together in the evening. Of course, the drawback is that working the job he does, my husband doesn't get home until about 5:30 PM so he doesn't get much time with our son before he goes to bed. I'm sure that J won't need to go to bed so early for the rest of his life, though, so for now we are honoring his sleep needs.
I'd love to hear about when your kids go to bed. If they're older and did at one time have a very early bedtime like mine, at what point were they able to go down later and remain well rested?