The subject of age appropriate bedtimes is an important one simply because of what's at stake. A child needs to get enough sleep each night to fuel their healthy growth and development the next day. An age appropriate bedtime and the accompanying trappings of bedtime routine will help to promote that.
Putting a young child to bed too late can result in a lack of needed sleep whereas putting an older child to bed too early can cause them to be difficult to deal with, resentful, and unable to sleep. The key is knowing how much sleep your child needs and when to give it to them.
Simple lists to help you out with determining an age appropriate bedtime for your child do exist. They are based on the range of sleep hours a child needs at a particular age and an average perception of when that child might need to be awake and aware during the day. For example:
A chart like this can offer you guidelines to work within if you are totally in the dark. Simply work backwards from when the child needs to awaken to set the bedtime they need. Most of the time, though, you are better off determining something as personal as a bedtime yourself.
Each child is different. This means that the amount of sleep that works for one may not work for another. In addition, each family is different. What works for your child and your family, therefore, is what needs to drive your bedtime selection. You will be most successful in setting a bedtime if you find a way to balance your schedule with your child's, keeping in mind that this will be easiest if you can pay attention to and utilize their physiological sleep signals.
Begin setting a bedtime early on in your child's life. This will help you to create a family routine and expectations that you can then use as a framework for future adjustments. If you are paying attention to your child's sleep patterns, you will begin to see signs that a particular bedtime is not working for them as it has in the past. In other words, when your child is old enough to be ready for a new bedtime, their behavior will tell you. If you find that the problem is that a bedtime doesn't work for the family's routine, however, simply adjust it incrementally until it fits your needs.
Send your child to bed a half hour earlier or later each night until you have reached an optimal time. It is important to remember as you do this though, that the child will need a corresponding change to their morning routine as well.