How Much Sleep Does Your Child Need?

We all require the right amount of sleep in order to remain healthy and alert, but a good night's rest is especially important for little ones. Every child follows a different sleep routine, but unfortunately, most kids do not get the recommended daily amount of sleep for their age group.

Let's dive deeper into sleep expectations and recommendations for kids of all ages, as well as strategies for helping them get enough rest.

Recommended Daily Sleep for Babies, Children and Teenagers

Starting from birth, kids will gradually require less sleep per day or night as they age. As many parent can attest, children often have a hard time settling down and falling asleep without trouble ― particularly newborns, infants and toddlers, who require the most sleep of all. In order to ensure your child is getting enough sleep, it's important to take the specific needs of their age group into account.

Here are some daily sleep recommendations for kids of all ages

Newborns younger than four weeks should receive at least 15 to 17 hours of sleep every day, although this will most likely be broken up into several separate sleeps ranging from two to six hours apiece. The reason their sleep is so scattered is because newborns do not follow the same, light-based circadian sleep cycle as adults or older children. As a result, they will nap ― and wake up ― at all hours of the day and night.

Between the ages of one and three months, your baby can scale back slightly to 14 to 15 hours daily. During this period, short napping sessions will become less frequent as the newborn begins to follow a circadian rhythm and adapts to a more consistent sleep schedule.

Infants between the age of four to 12 months will require 12 to 15 hours of sleep per day; try to prevent them from sleeping less than 10 and/or more than 17. Prior to the six-month mark, infants will typically supplement their nightly sleep with three naps: one in the morning that lasts about an hour; one in the early afternoon that lasts roughly two hours; and one in the late afternoon/early evening that lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours or more. So ideally, your infant should be getting anywhere from seven to 11.5 hours of sleep per night, depending on their daily nap schedule.

After six months, most infants will drop one nap from their regimen (usually the morning or late afternoon/early evening session) and take two naps per day, in addition to their nightly allotment.

Toddlers aged one to three years need roughly 11 to 14 hours of sleep on a daily basis; however, most receive no more than 10 hours of sleep each day. After their first birthday, most toddlers will drop to a single nap in the mid-afternoon that lasts two and a half hours or less. This means the bulk of their sleep will occur during the nighttime ― which is fine for most, since children often begin sleeping through the night for the first time when they reach this age.

Children in daycare, preschool and kindergarten (ages three to five) should get at least 10 to 12 hours of sleep every day; fewer than eight or more than 14 are not recommended. Most children in this age group will still nap on a semi-regular basis; this is usually confined to a single nap per day that lasts between one and three hours. For some, napping will take place at a daycare center or in a preschool classroom.

At this point, bedtimes will be set later in the day ― but it's up to you (the parent) to make sure their bedtime aligns with their wake-up time. If your child gets up at 8am, then a 9pm bedtime might be appropriate. On the other hand, a bedtime no later than 7pm or 7:30 is recommended for children who get up around 6am or 7am.

Elementary students represent the widest range, from six to 12 years of age. This is a tricky age group because these children tend to become more involved in extracurricular activities, socialize with their friends on a regular basis and go to bed later. On top of that, most children stop taking daily naps at age six. However, sleep experts recommend at least nine to 12 hours of sleep per night for kids in elementary school.

The same bedtime rules apply, even as children this age begin staying up later in the evening. If he or she needs to get up by 7am, then put them to bed no later than 9pm.

Teenagers (13 to 18 years of age) require roughly eight to nine hours of sleep per night ― and no fewer than seven. Unfortunately, most teens only receive the bare minimum, if that. A recent study published by the CDC found that only 31% of teenagers get eight hours of daily sleep or more.

Athletics, jobs, social lives and increased academic requirements all play a major role in adolescent sleep deprivation. Another major issue is pubescent development, which can meddle with a young person's circadian rhythm and create sleep irregularities. To mitigate these effects, some teens will burn the midnight oil during the week and plan to catch up on their sleep when the weekend arrives. Others resort to caffeine, nicotine, and ― in some cases ― prescription drugs like Adderall to stay awake. But these measures are usually not successful, and may actually exacerbate the problems to an unhealthy, even dangerous, degree.

How to Help Your Kids Sleep Better

Putting kids to bed on time and ensuring they get enough sleep is one of the biggest challenges in parenting. Here are a few tips for helping your gets kid enough sleep each night.

For Parents of Newborns, Infants and Toddlers

  • To help newborns acclimate to their circadian rhythm, make sure they get plenty of natural sunlight during the day and put them down for daytime naps in well-lit areas of the house. Also use adjustable lights in the newborn's bedroom, and gradually dim them in the hours leading up to bedtime; this can help induce sleepiness and, eventually, establish sleep patterns. Baby-safe night lights can also be helpful.

  • Avoid turning on the light if your newborn or infant wakes up in the night; this may confuse them and make them think it's time to get up. Rather, attend to them with the lights out.

  • Be sure to time your child's daytime naps correctly. Contrary to popular belief, insufficient naps will not help them sleep more at night ― in fact, this may actually hinder their ability to fall and/or remain asleep. Also make sure the late-afternoon nap doesn't occur too close to their scheduled bedtime; this can also prevent them from becoming tired when it's time to fall asleep.

For Parents of Daycare, Preschool, Kindergarten and Elementary Students

  • Many kids enjoy playing games on their computer, tablet and other electronic devices, but these gadgets ― as well as TVs ― have been linked to poor sleep due to the 'blue light' they emit; a 2016 study published by the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that exposure to blue light can suppress melatonin (a hormone that induces sleepiness) by up to 85 percent. A good policy is to cut out electronics in the hours leading up to bed and devote that time to pleasure reading, board games and other activities like that instead.

  • Don't ignore parasomnias, or irregular nighttime activities like sleepwalking, night terrors and enuresis (also known as bedwetting). Many children exhibit parasomnias beginning at age five; in some cases, these behaviors are early indicators of psychological conditions.

  • If your child reports trouble falling or staying asleep, try incorporating some soporific foods into nightly meals. Some of the most effective foods for inducing sleep include rice, whole grains, beans, bananas and chicken or turkey. Dairy can also help them sleep, so be sure to include a glass of milk (unless your child is lactose intolerant, in which case a milk substitute may also work).

  • As kids grow and establish their sleep routines, many will adopt a preferred sleep position ― and this will affect how they sleep on different mattresses. Side sleepers, for example, tend to feel less comfortable on traditional innersprings and more comfortable on mattresses made of soft, body-conforming materials like latex or memory foam. If your child seems to have a hard time sleeping, consider swapping out their mattress for a model that's more conducive to their sleep preferences.   

For Parents of Teenagers

  • Most parents must walk a fine line between monitoring their teen's sleep patterns and giving them the independence they need at this stage of their lives. Initiate a conversation with your child about the importance of sleep, as well as some strategies for getting enough rest during the school week and on the weekend. Educate them about habits and activities that can hamper their ability to get tired and remain asleep; these include watching TV, consuming caffeine and exercising too close to bedtime. If they seem resistant to these ideas or you notice that they aren't getting enough sleep, then consider making these suggestions a household policy.

  • Try to prevent your teen from sleeping late or napping on the weekends. These habits can negatively impact their sleep during the rest of the week. Encourage them to leave their room and get some natural sunlight instead.

If your teen still has trouble sleeping after these other measures have been taken, then you may want to have them checked for a sleep disorder. According to WebMD, one common disorder in teens is delayed sleep phase syndrome, which occurs when kids have a hard time falling asleep and getting up in the morning; this disorder usually indicates that their circadian rhythm is out of whack. Irregular sleep-wake disorders are also common in kids who like to stay up late, and can lead to trouble remaining asleep and getting up on time. If a sleep disorder is suspected, then you and your teen should meet with a sleep doctor to discuss treatment options and possible lifestyle adjustments.

 

Ben Murray is a writer and researcher for sleep science hub Tuck.com. He can usually be found running, hiking, biking or kayaking around the Pacific Northwest ― though he enjoys a good nap as much as the next person.