“Every child is different.” This is something all parents hear to help soothe the idea that their child isn’t sleeping through the night yet. While yes, all children are different, there are some similarities. One of those is that they mostly all need around the same amount of hours sleep. When they get, those hours will differ.
Here’s a look at your ultimate guide to children’s sleep. We’ll look at a number of hours your child needs based on age and tips to improve sleeping habits. We’ll also look at signs of lack of sleep (or even too much sleep).
Note that the hours are a rough guide. Your child may need an extra hour or an hour or so less than the recommended amount.
How Much Sleep Does Your Child Need?
There is a range of factors that go into sleep. You may find that your child goes through a stage where they need more than the guidelines, due to growth spurts and hormonal changes. There are other times where they just can’t seem to sleep, due to medical issues and stimulation problems throughout the day.
Yes, there are certainly those against the norm. But this is a rough guide to help you determine if your child is getting enough sleep. Remember that this sleep can be broken up throughout the day, especially for younger children!
Newborns sleep most of the day away. A typical newborn will need between 16 and 18 hours of sleep a day. Don’t think that you’re getting away with long peaceful nights, though! Most babies will have short bursts of 2-4 hours of sleep, waking for cuddles, feeding, and diaper changes.
Premature babies tend to sleep longer, while colicky babies tend to sleep less. However, you should find that your baby spends more time asleep than away because this is the time that so much is happening within the body. It genuinely is tiring being a baby.
There is also the problem with no internal body clock. It’s always been dark in the womb, so there are no patterns associated with daylight and night time. There won’t usually be a pattern for the first month or so, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try. Just don’t get too frustrated when they’re awake at 3am and full of smiles!
The first four months is still spent sleeping. After that new-born stage, you’ll find that many babies drop to sleep between 14 and 15 hours a day. Again, this is usually breaking up into short naps. The body doesn’t quite hold onto food long enough to get the long bursts of sleep through the night, although you may be lucky!
The longest period of sleep during months one to four is 4-6 hours. This is usually on a night when your baby is starting to get a body clock. Encourage the longer napping on a night. If your baby is up during the day and not cranky, play with them and encourage that wakefulness.
The rest of the first year will see the changing pattern. The amount of sleep a baby needs in the first year doesn’t change after the first four months. What does change is the amount of sleep that a baby will get in one sitting?This is when many babies start dropping their daytime naps to just two, so there will be a longer period of sleep on a night. You may be able to get 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
This will depend on the food and other lifestyle choices during the day. A baby who eats healthily and enjoys social interaction is more likely to follow your adult sleep pattern.
Don’t completely cut out naps, but do regulate the times. Create a routine that sees a nap around 9-10am and then one at around 2-3pm. If your baby still needs three naps, stick to the 9am nap but opt for a lunch time one and then a 3-4pm one.
The toddler years see 12 hours of sleep. From the first year until the third year, most children will move out of the two-three naps a day. This will depend on the quality of sleep on a night, stimulation during the day, and the child. Some in the first year will likely find they need two naps and drop to one by the time they’re three or four.
They’ll preferably need around 14 hours of sleep, but 12 is something to strive for at the very least. When on one nap a day, time it for the middle of their waking cycle. Most children this age will sleep from 7pm to 6am or from around 9pm to 8am.
When on two naps a day, look for two clear blocks at equal times from waking and sleeping. This helps to build energy for the middle of the day and just before sleeping.
If you’re not getting almost 10 hours of sleep on a night, you may be including too many (or too long) naps in the day. While there is a case of allow your child to sleep if needed, this is a case of encouraging more sleeping on a night. It will be tough at first, but worth it when they’re sleeping properly on a night.
Kindergarten children may skip naps. Between the ages of 3 and 6 you may find that your child wants to skip that afternoon nap. Most children between these ages will need 10-12 hours’ sleep, and will usually get that on a night.
Those who are around 3 will typically still have one nap a day. As they move into ages 4 and 5, when they are in kindergarten, they may skip the nap completely. You may have a child that asks to go to bed early because kindergarten can be so hard!
If your child is sleepy during the day, don’t be afraid to encourage a nap. Some parents will find a Sunday afternoon ritual of a nap is good for catching up. Children may not like it, but they’ll appreciate it afterward.
7 to 12 year olds need about 10 hours a day. As children go to school, they won’t be able to get the afternoon naps. Bedtime gradually becomes later. While the average 7 years old will go to bed around 8:00 PM, 12 years olds will stay up until 9:00 PM and sometimes a little later.
Children between these ages will need to get 10 hours sleep a night. The average is usually 9 hours sleep, due to decisions to go to bed later than recommended.
Weekends may still include a nap for the younger children. This is good for those with extra social and school activities through the week that leads to them being up extra late.
Teenagers need 8-9 hours. When the hormones start changing, teenagers will feel the need to sleep more. Their bodies are adjusting to puberty, and it’s completely normal to find your child that used to wake you up at the crack of dawn is now sleeping until 10am.
There are reasons for this. Most teenagers will stay up late. They want to be up in the middle of the night with their friends, feeling like they’re growing up. Technology and smart phones make it very easy to keep yourself awake without anyone in the house know. You may need to set some ground rules when it comes to the use of phones on a night.
By the time teenagers get to sleep, they will need to wake up! So, they want to sleep in to catch up on the hours that they’ve missed.
Teenagers usually don’t get the amount of sleep they need. There is too much pressure from friends at school and from school work for them to get the 8-9 hours necessary for development. Many will get 6-7 hours, which isn’t even enough for most adults!
The only time that extra sleep is considered good is when your teen is ill. The body needs the rest for the immune system to work.
What Happens When Children Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. As a parent, you likely know how it can feel not getting enough rest. You’re irritable, hormonal, and have this brain fog that clouds your judgment. You make mistakes when you know you shouldn’t, causing irritation directed at yourself.
So, what happens in children when they don’t get enough sleep?
Some children will start to get giddy when they’re tired. It’s that sign for parents to start helping them unwind and go to sleep. Others will be cranky and irritable. They decide not to eat their food and are more likely to throw tantrums. These signs are especially prevalent in babies, toddlers, and younger school-aged children.
When teenagers don’t get enough sleep, they can become less attentive. That brain fog makes it harder for them to concentrate or be aware of their surroundings. They can’t retain information they learn at school and will struggle to perform well academically and in sports consistently. Their response time is negatively affected, leading to them appearing clumsy or dangerous.
Sleep is linked to the hormones. When people don’t get enough sleep, they are more likely to act out. This can lead to teenagers getting into trouble at school or suffering from anger problems. They will turn to caffeine and energy drinks to wake themselves up, but this just leads to energy crashes later in the day.
Unlike younger children getting extra naps in the day, teenagers need to stick to a good sleeping pattern. Catching up on sleep over the weekend will lead to problems for the body clock. The irregularity means they’re more likely to be awake later in the day because their bodies think that they’ve had enough sleep.
Setting Routines for Your Children
One of the best things you can do to improve the amount of sleep your children get is to set a routine. This can start from the very first day, although newborns won’t understand. The routine is more helpful for you, as your children get older so you can enforce it.
Start by setting a time for your child to go to sleep. Your routine then works based on when your child wakes up. Set the naps for the same time each day and keep that bedtime routine the same. Your child’s body clock will automatically create its perfect wake-up time based on the time it gets to sleep.
When you start dropping naps, you’ll need to change the time that your child is napping. Work towards the middle of the day, so there is equal time between waking up and going to bed. You want to give your child enough time to work off the energy gained from the sleep and get ready for the sleep on a night.
With most children, you can let them wake up when they’re ready. Their body clocks are good at waking them on a morning. Therefore you’ll usually find your 5-year-old jumping up and down on your bed to wake you up! There are days when illness or excitement changes the wake-up time, but often it will be steady and consistent.
During the teenage years, you’ll need to work harder on the routine. You want to encourage your teen to go to sleep and get up at the same time each night. It seems boring; they want to chat or hang out with their friends! They see you’re up until midnight and want to follow suit. But they need the consistency more than any other ages. This is when their body clocks will easily get out of sync because they have more control over when they sleep!
You can help children and teens get used to their bedtime routine. Let them know 30 minutes before bed that their bedtime is coming up. Then give them a 5 or 10-minute warning. The warnings will help them finish off everything they need to do and wind down for the night. They can’t say “5 more minutes” and think that they can get away with it.
It’s not going to be easy to set the routine, but it is worth it. Your child needs sleep to recover and repair from a day of life. While the guides above are just guidelines, they will give you a start to help make sure your child gets enough sleep. Remember that exact ages, medical conditions, and social factors can affect the amount of sleep that your child needs on a night and throughout the day.