Whether or not they like it, kids need plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep can be a bigger problem than sleepiness. Over time, not getting enough shut-eye can lead to tired children who struggle with regulating their moods and paying attention in school. Insufficient sleep may even contribute to childhood obesity.
But as with many things, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to how much sleep your kiddos need.
In fact, children’s sleep needs change throughout their growing years. By learning how much rest your kids require at each stage, you’ll establish a framework for helping them develop healthy sleep habits as they grow.
Babies (0 to 12 months)
Most sleep charts don’t include guidelines for newborns since sleeping habits vary widely during the first few months of life. That said, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) suggests 14 to 17 hours of sleep per 24-hour period for babies between 0 and 3 months old.
Older babies have a slightly lower sleep requirement. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that babies between 4 and 12 months old should get 12 to 16 hours of sleep each day.
For infants and young children, sleep recommendations are given for 24-hour periods.
This means that you shouldn’t expect your little one to sleep for 16 hours straight each night. Instead, that total comes from overnight sleep and multiple naps throughout the day.
What about sleeping through the night?
“Sleeping through the night” refers to a 6- to 8-hour stretch of uninterrupted sleep overnight. And this much-anticipated milestone rarely happens before 3 months. It’s not typically a sudden change, either, but instead slowly starts to become more common around 6 months.
In one study, 72% of 12-month-olds frequently slept all night.
While you can’t force your infant to become an all-night sleeper, establishing a bedtime routine and encouraging her to fall asleep without being held may help her reach this milestone sooner rather than later.
There are plenty of sleep training methods you can choose from, but always start with your child’s pediatrician for the latest (and safest) sleep training tips if you’re desperate for better sleep — for you and your babe.
Toddlers (1 to 3 years)
According to the AAP, 1- and 2-year-olds do best with 11 to 14 hours of sleep each day. As with babies, this sleep total includes both daytime naps and overnight sleep.
How many naps should my toddler take?
Around the time your toddler turns 1, he’s probably taking two naps a day. By the time his second birthday rolls around, there’s a good chance he’ll be down to one longer afternoon nap instead of two shorter naps.
One of the top signs that your child is ready to make that transition is that he starts resisting nap time. When it comes time to rest, he may protest or spend the hour playing in bed.
Despite this apparent readiness, your youngster may struggle with adjusting to a one-nap lifestyle. Moving the afternoon nap to a time slot between the two former nap times may cut down on crankiness during the transition process.
Point being, different kids sleep differently, with some sleeping longer overnight and some taking longer daytime naps. If you have concerns about your kiddo’s sleep — or lack thereof — always start with his pediatrician for advice.
Preschoolers (3 to 5 years)
As your youngster starts to make the transition from baby to big kid, she’ll need a bit less sleep overall. Between the ages of 3 and 5 years, most preschoolers need about 10 to 13 hours of sleep each day.
This may include naps, but it’s not uncommon for kids to drop their daily naps when they’re around 4 years old. Other children still need afternoon naps in kindergarten.
Can preschoolers have nightmares?
Yes. The increasing independence that develops during the preschool years can lead to feelings of stress or anxiety that children process while dreaming. Nightmares may occur regularly during this season, and your child will turn to you for comfort.
Steps that may help reduce nightmare occurrences include:
- Establishing a predictable daytime schedule
- Avoiding scary books and movies
- Following a regular bedtime routine
When nightmares do happen, you can comfort your child by turning on the lights for a few minutes and giving hugs. Then, tuck your youngster back into her own bed.
Wait until morning to help your child process the contents of the dream.
School-aged Children (6 to 12 years)
From ages 6 through 12, most kids need to get 9 to 12 hours of sleep each night. But as sleep needs shift, it can be hard to know if your child is getting enough shut-eye each night. Cleveland Clinic shares these signs of a sleep shortage:
- Difficulty waking your child in the morning
- Frequent complaints of daytime sleepiness or fatigue
- Daily naps for older elementary students
- Significant need for extra sleep on the weekends
When should I see a doctor?
Occasional bad nights of sleep might not be worrisome, but if you notice a pattern of poor sleep or those symptoms outlined above, it’s probably time to check in with your child’s pediatrician.
When children aren’t getting enough sleep, experts recommend gradually moving bedtime to an earlier hour, establishing a sleep schedule that’s similar on weekdays and weekends. Creating a bedtime routine that helps children wind down each night may also help.
Along with the signs of poor sleep listed above, here are a few more signs that it’s time to reach out for professional help:
- Snoring that interrupts sleep
- Anxiety that rears its head at bedtime and makes falling asleep tough
- Recurrent wake-ups in the middle of the night
- Regular bedwetting in children over age 7
- Daytime exhaustion in kids who seem to be meeting the recommended sleep guidelines
Your child’s pediatrician can help you on where to go from here. Maybe your 4th grader just needs more daily activity or a more consistent bedtime routine, or maybe he needs to see a sleep specialist. Either way, start with the pediatrician for support.
Middle Schoolers (12 to 14 years)
Junior high is a period of transition, so it’s not surprising that kids’ sleep requirements tend to shift during this time.
Sleep charts tend to lump young junior highers in with other school-aged children. Adolescents typically do best if they’re getting at least 9 to 12 hours of sleep each night.
By the end of middle school, students have entered their teen years. Teenagers don’t usually need quite as much sleep as younger children. Most do best with 8 to 10 hours of sleep.
Is screen time affecting my child’s sleep?
It’s possible. In one study, more than 57% of junior high students didn’t get enough nighttime sleep. And at this age, screen use may be one of the biggest culprits. Screens include televisions, cell phones, computers and other devices.
It’s a good idea to set a no-screens-in-the-bedroom rule for your kids. To help tweens and teens prepare for sleep, you could also establish the rule that screens need to be turned off at least 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime.
Research has shown this approach to be most effective for kids who are currently short on sleep. Those who have already established good sleep habits may not need a turn-off time for their devices.
High Schoolers (15 to 18 years)
Like older junior high students, most high schoolers need 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night. This advice applies until age 18. Around ages 18 or 19, kids transition into adulthood, which means at this age, 7 hours might be enough total sleep for some.
Even as teenagers, kids still need your guidance about establishing good sleep habits, such as bedtimes and wake-up times.
After all, studies show that over 70% of high schoolers are short on sleep.
Still, heavy-handed rules may not be as effective as allowing your kids to have a say in the matter. You and your teens can work together to decide when they should turn off their devices, switch off the lights and set their morning alarms.
Helping them see the value of good sleep and teaching them to make wise decisions in that area are important steps toward sending them out into the world as well-rested adults who are ready to tackle each day.