As parents, we tend to worry about many different aspects of our children’s well-being. We worry about whether they’re eating healthy foods, getting enough exercise and fresh air, hanging out with the right friends, handling life’s emotional roller coasters in a positive way, and whether they’re getting enough sleep. Sleep is a big concern for many parents, because sometimes it seems as though our children are not getting enough of it, and there are so many ramifications to that.
When our first child was born, I worried constantly about whether he was getting enough sleep. I was madly counting up the hours he spent napping during the day, adding those to his nightly sleep, and worrying incessantly about whether it was enough. Hindsight being 20/20, I don’t think I needed to worry quite that much. However, as an elementary teacher, I had seen first-hand the effects that lack of sleep has on young bodies and minds, and I was adamant that our son would never have to battle school days without enough sleep.
How much sleep a child needs depends largely on their age and stage. A baby that is cutting their first tooth or going through a growth spurt will likely need a bit more sleep than a baby who isn’t going through a particular phase. Therefore, the amount of sleep your child requires will not stay consistent all the time, but will increase and decrease depending on what else they are dealing with at that time. However, here is a basic guideline for how much sleep your little one will be needing.
Infants up to 1 year of age
These little bundles of joy sleep a lot, however not all at once, much to the dismay of tired parents everywhere! Babies’ sleep patterns will change an incredible amount throughout their first year, and the amount of sleep they require will change as well.
Newborn babies (1 to 4 weeks old)
When your baby first arrives home, they will likely be sleeping about 15 to 18 hours a day, but again, not all at once. Newborn babies have not yet established their sleeping patterns, and their circadian rhythm (the internal clock that helps our bodies distinguish night from day) is not developed yet. So, most babies sleep in 2-3 hour bursts, and wake consistently throughout the night. Throughout all these little bursts of sleep, if your newborn is averaging about 15 to 18 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, then they’re right on track.
Babies 1 to 12 months of age
After the first month or so, your baby will begin to sleep a little less. Don’t panic though, while they may be sleeping a bit less, their internal clock is slowly developing, and they have a better sense of day and night. Which means by this point, you will notice your baby sleeping for longer periods during the night, and taking 1 to 3 naps during the day. Babies up to 1 year of age typically require around 14-15 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.
You may notice though that around 6 months of age, your baby is getting closer to 12 hours of sleep throughout the 24-hour period, rather than 14-15. That’s ok, and is nothing to worry about. It is often around this time that they drop one of their daytime naps as well, which accounts for the loss of sleep, but again is nothing to fret over. They will sleep for longer periods when going through a developmental phase such as teething or a growth spurt, so their bodies will make up for any lost sleep then. If your little one is getting at least 12-13 hours of sleep, then they’re doing ok.
Toddlers – 1 to 3 years of age
These busy little bodies still need ample sleep to help them manage all the amazing developments that are taking place. Toddlers are learning at an exponential rate, and their bodies and minds are racing to keep up. It is really important that they are getting enough sleep during this time, and toddlers between the ages of 1 and 3 should typically get about 12 to 14 hours of sleep a day. Usually by this point, your little one will drop another nap, keeping only one longer nap during the day and a longer sleep at night.
It is around this age when you want to be establishing a solid bedtime routine, to ensure that your little one is in bed at a good time and getting enough sleep. If a predictable routine is in place for them, then bedtime doesn’t have to be a battle each night, but rather a time of day that you both look forward. A time of calm, when you can bond and cuddle and end the day on a positive note, sending your baby off to dreamland feeling safe and loved.
School-age children – 4 to 7 years of age
Once your child is of the age where they are starting school, their sleep habits will change again, and you will notice that they will be sleeping less. For children who are 4 and 5, they are slowly getting rid of that final nap, and therefore require a good solid night’s sleep to make up for those lost napping hours.
School-age children benefit from around 10-12 hours of sleep each night. They usually head to bed between 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. and wake up between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. Unfortunately, with extracurricular commitments, social activities, sports, and homework, kids aren’t always able to get into bed at the time parents would like them to, so most school-age children average closer to 9 hours of sleep a night rather than the recommended 10-12 hours.
Older school-age children – 8 to 12 years of age
By this age, the social calendar and various commitments take up even more time, and kids are getting by on less sleep. Ideally though, your older school-age child should still try to average 10-11 hours of sleep each night to be at optimal health and energy. Most 12-year olds go to bed quite a bit later than 8-year olds, so there is quite a range by this age. Many 12-year old kids go to bed around 9:00 p.m. or later, while 8-year old kids go to bed anywhere between 7:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.
Teenagers – 13 to 19 years of age
At this point, it’s pretty hard for parents to be very involved in how much sleep their child is getting, because their child is becoming more and more independent. They are staying up later, they have more homework, and they have a busier social schedule than most parents! Typically, teenagers should try to get about 8-9 hours of sleep each night. It’s not always easy to get that much sleep, but their bodies and minds are developing and changing almost as much as a toddler’s, so it is still vital that they get enough sleep each night.
Signs That Your Child Is Not Getting Enough Sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, there are several signs to keep an eye out for that indicate your child is not getting enough sleep.
Babies & Toddlers
- Is cranky, whiny, or fussy, especially in the late afternoon
- Acts especially clingy or needy
- Has trouble sharing or taking turns
- Wants to lie down and nap during the day
- Falls asleep during short car rides
- Has difficulty changing from two naps to one nap during the day
- Is hyperactive
- Falls asleep at inappropriate times
- Lacks interest, focus, and/or motivation
- Seems drowsy at school and at home during homework
- Has academic struggles
- Has trouble falling asleep
- Experiences night terrors/sleepwalking for the first time
- Has anxiety being separated from you during the day and night
- Has extreme difficulty waking in the morning
- Experiences mood swings (more than normal)
- Has trouble concentrating
- Is unmotivated
- Sleeps for long periods on the weekends
- Is hyperactive or aggressive
- Acts irritable in the early afternoon
Ways To Help Your Child Get Enough Sleep
If you think that your child may not be getting enough sleep, there are a few things you can do to help increase the amount of sleep they get each night.
Set up a bedtime routine
I can’t stress this enough, it is so important to establish a bedtime routine when your child is little. It paves the way for healthy sleep habits later in life, and the predictability of it helps your child to unwind and prepare for sleep at the end of the day. A bedtime routine for a toddler will look different than a bedtime routine for an older child, however both will benefit from it. Your toddler may enjoy a story and some cuddles, while an older child would likely take comfort in a quiet chat about their day before they head off to sleep. Whatever your bedtime routine encompasses, try to stick to it each night, as your child’s sleep will benefit from it.
Limit screens before bedtime
In our fast-paced world of technology, it can sometimes seem that our devices are permanently attached to our hands. It is important for older children to take a break from screens, especially right before bedtime. The blue light emitted from these devices can cause the brain to remain on alert and make it harder for your child to fall asleep. Have your child turn off the screens an hour before bedtime and play some quiet activities or read a book instead. This will allow their brains to quiet down and prepare for sleep.
Keep regular sleep times
By having similar wake up and sleep times each day, your child’s body gets into its own rhythm, making it easier for them to fall asleep each night. Try to keep their waking/sleeping hours the same each day (within 1 to 2 hours), and this will help them to sleep better at night. It is understandable that this would change during family vacations or disruptions to the regular routine, but maintaining consistent times as much as you can is very beneficial.
Make sleep a top priority
You are the parent, so you are the one who is able to establish these things right from day 1. Set sleep as a top priority, and schedule it in to your day, just as you would anything else. If your 6-year old child typically wakes up around 7:00 a.m., and you know that they should be getting about 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night, then you want them hitting the pillow by around 8:00 p.m. ideally. So, work backwards from there. If your bedtime routine takes about half an hour to complete, then you should be heading up to start the bedtime routine by about 7:30 p.m., with the goal of them being in bed, lights out by 8:00 p.m.
Your child’s sleep patterns will ebb and flow over the years, increasing and decreasing depending on what development stage they’re at. But, ensuring that they have adequate sleep each night can help to set them up for better health throughout their lives. Make sleep a priority in your house, and work to ensure that everyone (including you!) is getting enough zzz’s each night.