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Is my child getting enough sleep?

Baby _swing _sleep

A good night’s rest is crucial for children because it is the primary activity of the brain during early development. Circadian rhythms, or the sleep-wake cycle, are regulated by light and dark and they take time to develop. That is why newborns have irregular sleep schedules. The rhythms begin to develop when a baby is six weeks old and by three to six months old, most infants begin to have a regular sleep-wake cycle. Overall, a child will spend 40 percent of his or her childhood asleep because sleep is an important factor that directly impacts mental and physical development. Learn about the different amounts of sleep a child will need at different ages and some tips to help promote healthy sleep patterns:

Newborns (0-3 months)

As any new parent or guardian will tell you, newborns typically sleep around the clock with sleep-wake cycles interact with a baby’s need to be fed, changed, and nurtured. On average, a newborn will sleep a total of 10.5 to 18 hours a day on an irregular schedule with periods of one to three hours awake. Sleep periods may last a few minutes to several hours and during sleep, a baby is often active, twitching their arms and legs, smiling, sucking and seemingly restless.

Every baby is different, but typically, a newborn will express their need for sleep by fussing, crying, or rubbing their eyes. A baby should be put to bed when they appear sleepy, but not yet asleep. By doing so, a baby will likely fall asleep quickly and eventually learn how to fall asleep on their own. To help a newborn sleep, place the baby to sleep on his/her back with their face and head clear of blankets and other soft items.

Infants (4-11 months)

When many babies are between six and nine months of age, they typically will not need nighttime feedings, allowing them to sleep through the night. Typically, an infant will sleep 9-12 hours during the night and take one to four naps a day that can last between 30 minutes and two hours. Infants that are put to bed when they are drowsy—but not yet asleep—are more likely to become “self-soothers” which allows them to fall asleep by themselves at bedtime and put themselves back to sleep during the night. Other babies who may become accustomed to assistance from a parent or caregiver often become “signalers,” crying for help from an adult to help them return back to sleep.

Sleep tips for infants include the development of a regular daytime and bedtime schedule; encouraging a baby to fall asleep on their own; establishing a regular and enjoyable bedtime routine (like being read to); and creating a “sleep-friendly” environment (ideal temperature, lighting, white noise machines, etc.)

Toddlers (1-2 years)

In the first two years of life, a child needs about 11-14 hours of sleep during a 24-hour period. By 18 months of age, a toddler’s nap time will decrease to once a day and last from one to three hours. Parents and guardians should also avoid putting a toddler down for a nap too close to bedtime because it may delay sleep later at night. One thing to note about toddler sleep is that many children that age will begin to experience sleep problems that can be related to a drive for independence, an increase in motor, cognitive, and social abilities, separation anxiety, or nightmares. Daytime sleepiness and behavior problems may indicate that a child is experiencing poor sleep or having sleep problems. To help a toddler sleep better, parents, and guardians should maintain a daily sleep schedule and a regular bedtime routine for their child. Bedtime limits should also be consistent and enforced.

Preschoolers (3-5 years)

Most preschool-aged children will need 11-13 hours of sleep each night. After the age of five, most preschoolers will not need a nap. Just like toddlers, preschoolers often have difficulty falling asleep and may wake up during the night. This is also the age where a child develops their imagination and it may lead to nightmares. Sleep tips for preschoolers include maintaining a regular sleep schedule, establishment of a relaxing bedtime routine that ends in the room where a child will sleep; and having a soothing bedroom atmosphere that is cool, quiet, and dark—and without TVs, tablets or any stimulating device.

School-aged children (6 to 13 years)

Children between six and 13 typically need 9-11 hours of sleep. During these years, many children exhibit sleep problems that can be blamed on a variety of sources, including overstimulation from TV, video games, and being online. Parents and caregivers should be aware that poor sleep can lead to mood swings, behavioral problems and poor performance in school. Sleep tips for school ages children include keeping TVs and computers out of the bedroom, avoiding caffeine, and parents and caregivers continuing to emphasize the need for a regular and consistent bedtime routine.

Additional Sleep Resources

Establishing a healthy sleep environment
Sleep habits and tips 

By ABC Quality Team on October 27, 2020