How Much Sleep Do Kids and Babies Need?
Dr. Nilong Vyas, Pediatrician
Dr. Nilong Vyas, MD is a board certified pediatrician. She earn eda Masters in Public Health degree from Tulane University as well as a Medical Doctorate from LSU Health Sciences Center. After completing her Pediatrics residency at LSU she worked as an ER Physician at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans.
Sleep is crucial for our overall health and wellness. But it is essential for babies, kids, and older children as they are still in the growth and development stages. And as your child moves through each developmental stage, you’re likely to see a wide array of sleeping habits and schedules.
Parents of newborns will see their infants sleep most of the day and experience nighttime wakings a little more frequently than anyone would like. Parents of teenagers will often find that their kids are willing to push back their bedtimes, opting to sleep late in the morning. And somewhere in between, parents of toddlers must keep a keen eye on daytime naps as they can quickly upend nightly bedtime routines if they become overtired.
While parental concerns may differ based on the child’s age, one thing is likely to remain the same—worries about whether or not the child is getting enough sleep.
Ahead we’ll look at how much sleep kids and babies need at each stage of their development. We’ll also examine why sleep is so important and how it changes from one stage to the next. And finally, we’ll share some telltale signs if your child isn’t getting enough sleep and offer tips to help them catch their zzzs.
Sleep Is Essential to a Child’s Health
While children sleep, their bodies perform various biological processes that keep them functioning at their peak. Then, under cover of night, their bodies shift into active repair mode, releasing the hormones required for growth, repair, and those needed to fight illness and disease.
While recharging and repairing, the brain is also hard at work with some cognitive housekeeping of its own. Forming and consolidating memories and processing and sorting information from the day are just some of the functions.
With so much going on, it’s easy to see why sleep is particularly important for children as their minds and bodies are still in the growth and development stage. A lack of sleep or poor quality sleep in children is often associated with behavioral issues, an impeded capacity to learn and retain information, and poor performance in school. Research also shows that a lack of sleep can predispose children to poor eating patterns, weight gain, and obesity 1 Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. See the source .
What Happens When We Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
Sleep is so crucial that consistent sleep problems and sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on health and well-being. Over the short term, sleep deprivation can lead to:
- Daytime fatigue and sleepiness
- Changes in mood or behavior
- Impaired judgment and cognition
Over the long term (if pediatric sleep issues bleed into adulthood), sleep deprivation can cause a host of serious health issues 2 Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. See the source , including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. If that weren’t plenty, common mental health conditions connected with sleep deprivation include depression, anxiety, and psychosis 3 Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. See the source .
How Many Hours of Sleep Do Kids Need?
The amount of sleep kids need depends on their age, and the CDC makes the following recommendations for sleep 4 Verified Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The United States’ health protection agency that defends against dangers to health and safety. See the source in a 24-hour period:
- Newborn 14 – 17 hours per day
- Infant 12 – 16 hours per day
- Toddler 11 – 14 hours per day
- Preschooler 10 – 13 hours per day
- School Age 9 – 12 hours per day
- Teens 8 – 10 hours per day
- Adults 7+ hours per day
How Many Hours of Sleep Do Babies and Infants Need?
Babies and infants need anywhere between 14 – 17 hours of sleep per day. The exact amount depends on the age of your baby, and that number will change as your child grows.
Typically, newborns require the most amount of sleep per day, coming in somewhere around 14 to 17 hours over the course of a 24-hour period and sometimes as much as 20 hours per day. Any new parent will probably tell you that right out of the hospital, it feels like all their newborn does is sleep, but rest assured that does change—and quickly.
Somewhere around 4 to 6 months, your baby’s melatonin 5 Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. See the source (a key hormone that helps regulate sleep and wake cycles) gets a nice bump, and their sleep schedule will begin to jibe with yours. And while it may not feel like it, babies at this age tend to log most of their sleep time at night—somewhere to the tune of 12 hours. The balance of their sleep time occurs during their daytime naps.
Research shows that by six months, 90% of babies 6 Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. See the source will graduate to sleeping through the night.
That means that nighttime awakenings will taper off, and your baby will sleep more at night and less during the day. During this stage in their development, daytime naps tend to consolidate down to 3 per day.
From 7 to 11 months, your baby’s total sleep time per day remains the same, but overnight stretches will become longer. You’ll find that your baby sleeps for 10 – 12 hours per night, and daytime naps will further consolidate from three down to two.
It’s worth noting here that these guidelines are just generalities, and every baby is different. Some babies may follow these guidelines right on cue, others may switch up their sleep schedules sooner, and some may even be a little late to the party.
The important thing to remember is that if your baby isn’t right on schedule, there’s no need to worry. If it’s taking far longer than you’d like, you can always speak to your child’s pediatrician or pediatric sleep coach for further guidance.
Why Do Babies Sleep So Much?
Babies only have two jobs in life: eating and sleeping. So, the simple answer to why babies sleep so much is as easy as: that’s just what their bodies need. Remember that sleep is a period of growth and development, and that’s no easy task. The fact is their wee bodies are in the throes of some big work, and that can leave them pretty tired.
What Is the Safest Sleep Environment for Babies and Infants?
For the first time in 6 years, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued updated guidelines for infant sleep safety.
Published in the journal, Pediatrics 7 Verified Source American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Professional society for pediatricians that aims to improve children’s health everywhere. See the source , the guidelines are as follows:
- Parents should sleep in the same room as their child, but co-sleeping under any circumstances is not safe
- Parents should put babies to sleep on their back on a firm, flat surface
- Infant sleep surfaces should comply with all federal safety standards.
- Inclined surfaces, including car seats, strollers, carriers, and slings, should not be used for routine sleeping. This is particularly important for babies 4 months or younger but these regulations should be followed at least for the first year of life.
- Sleep areas should be free of all bedding, blankets, bumpers, and toys.
- Cribs should only be covered in snug-fitting sheets.
- Swaddled babies should always be placed on their backs, and swaddling should stop once your baby starts rolling over. Parents should also know that swaddling does not reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) 8 Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. See the source .
- Parents should avoid all devices and products marketed to reduce the risk of SIDS; there is absolutely no evidence to support these claims.
- Parents should be wary of marketing claims made by manufacturers of home cardiorespiratory monitors or wearable monitors. There is no evidence that these products will prevent SIDS.
SEE ALSO: What Age Can a Baby Have a Pillow?
What to Do If Your Baby Isn’t Sleeping Enough
It’s crucial that your baby meets their daily sleep requirements; if you’re not quite sure that’s happening, you could look for a few telltale signs of short sleep in infants. These signs include:
- Trouble settling down
- Short catnaps
- Frequent wake-ups overnight
If you notice any of these signs and suspect that your little one isn’t getting the sleep they need, you want to speak with your child’s pediatrician.
How Much Sleep Do Toddlers and Older Children Need?
While toddlers and older kids may need less sleep than infants, they still need to catch plenty of shut-eye. Here’s a closer look.
Toddlers (1 to 2 Years)
Ideally, toddlers should get anywhere from 11 to 14 hours of sleep daily. For those in the early toddler stage, that sleep total also accounts for two daytime naps. For kids exiting the toddler stage, typically around two years of age, daytime naps will likely be knocked back to one per day.
Preschoolers (3 to 5 Years)
According to the CDC and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine 9 Verified Source American Academy of Sleep Medicine Society focused on sleep medicine and disorders, and the AASM is who authorizes U.S. sleep medicine facilities. See the source , preschoolers should get around 10 to 13 hours of sleep per day. During this time, naps will likely get shorter and eventually stop altogether.
SEE ALSO: Best Mattresses for Kids
School-Age Children (6 to 12 Years)
Parents of older children should see to it that their kids get a total of 9 to 11 hours of sleep every day. As you might suspect, those on the younger end of this spectrum should get more sleep, while older kids may start ramping down.
SEE ALSO: Best Memory Foam Mattresses for Kids
Teenagers (13 to 17 years)
While many people seem to think that teenagers don’t need a lot of sleep, this is a common misconception. Remember that teenagers are still in the throes of their growth and development, so they need plenty of sleep, even more than adults. Both the CDC and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend anywhere from 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night for this age group.
While these are clear guidelines, it may be worth noting here that current research shows that as much as 73% of high school-aged kids 10 Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. See the source are failing to meet even the minimum sleep requirement. Common barriers to sleep for teens include:
- Caffeine consumption
- Unrestricted screen time
- Heavy school workloads
Moreover, as children progress into puberty, their circadian rhythms begin to shift 11 Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. See the source , sometimes up to two hours later—yet another factor that ultimately affects how much sleep your teen gets each night.
How to Tell If Your Pre-School Child or Teen is Getting Enough Sleep
Not only is sleep crucial to your child’s health and well-being, but it’s also important to their academic performance. But, short of monitoring your kids every minute of the day, it can be difficult to figure out why your child isn’t getting the sleep they need. The truth is the child may not make the connection between what’s going on with them physically and emotionally with a lack of sleep. Parents can, however, look for cues that their kids aren’t getting enough sleep.
Common signs of short sleep include:
- Poor school performance
- Trouble waking in the morning
- Afternoon naps
- Complaints of being tired
SEE ALSO: Putting Kids to Sleep: Exploring Children’s Bedtime Habits and Sleep Recommendations
How to Help Your Kid Get Enough Sleep
You can do things to help your child get enough good quality sleep every night, and it all starts with healthy sleep habits.
Maintain A Consistent Bedtime
A consistent sleep schedule is key to getting a good night’s sleep. For that reason, parents should see to it that their kids go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This includes weekends and vacations.
Not only will consistent sleep schedules help maintain your child’s circadian rhythm (or their body’s internal clock), but research shows that maintaining a consistent sleep schedule can help them get better quality sleep 12 Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. See the source as well.
Maintain A Consistent Bedtime Routine
While bedtime routines are often associated with infants and young children, they are important for everyone. In fact, study 13 Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. See the source after study 14 Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. See the source has shown that a consistent bedtime routine will promote longer sleep duration, shorter sleep onset, and improved sleep quality.
Manage Their Screen Time
To help your child get enough sleep, you might consider monitoring their screen time more closely. Not only will less screen time keep them off the roller coaster ride of emotions that comes with screens and social media, but it will also cut down on their exposure to blue light before bed.
The latter is especially important as research shows that exposure to blue light suppresses melatonin production 15 Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. See the source (the hormone that regulates the body’s sleep and wake cycle) and shortens its duration of action. Either way, screen time is one of the worst offenders for getting a good night’s sleep (for you and your child).
See our screen time vs lean time guide for more information.
Encourage A Healthy Diet
One trip to the grocery store, and you’ll find an abundance of overprocessed, sugary foods—none of which is healthy for your child or good for their sleep habits. The fact is nutrition and sleep are closely intertwined. Eating a well-balanced diet is ideal for the best sleep quality. Likewise, sugary foods and drinks should be consumed sparingly.
Exercise is another factor that can make or break your child’s quality and duration of sleep. At the end of the day (literally and figuratively), if your child has trouble falling asleep, it could simply be that they didn’t expend enough energy throughout their day. After all, a tired body has no choice but to rest, recharge and sleep. To help your child fall asleep and sleep soundly, be sure they’re getting enough exercise/physical activity during the day.
Parents Must Set A Good Example
As a parent, your job is to set the example and lead the way. Your leadership applies to healthy sleep habits as well. Remember your kids watch and emulate everything you do.
That includes staying up later than you should, being bogged down and reactive to the goings on of your social media feeds, and even burning the midnight oil instead of going to bed. So, the next time you’re inclined to do any of the above, you may want to think about the example you’re setting and who’s watching.
When to See a Doctor
If you’re concerned about your child’s sleep patterns or if you notice a persistence in any of the short sleep symptoms outlined above, you will want to schedule a visit with your child’s doctor for advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Your doctor can also share the next steps and provide a referral to a sleep clinic or sleep doctor if necessary.
“Sleep is so essential to the health and development of all children, regardless of age. It is important to prioritize it as much as parents prioritze what children eat and drink. When sleep is a primary focus for families, those children tend to have overall better outcomes in life,” says Dr. Vyas, Pediatrician and Founder of Sleepless in NOLA Sleep Consulting.
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