Sleep — or lack of it — is probably the most-discussed part of baby
care. As new parents quickly learn, the quality and quantity of their baby's
sleep affects the well-being of everyone in the household.
So how do you get kids to bed — and keep them there? What
should you do when kids wake in the middle of the night? And how much sleep is enough
for your kids?
How Much Is Enough?
Sleep needs vary by age. But common "rules" about how many hours of sleep
an infant or a 2-year-old need might not be helpful when it comes to your own child.
These numbers are simply averages reported for large groups of kids of particular
There's no magical number of hours all kids need in a certain
age group. Still, sleep is very important to kids' well-being. The link between a
lack of sleep and a child's behavior isn't always obvious. When adults are tired,
they can be grumpy or lack energy. But kids can become hyper, disagreeable, and have
extreme changes in behavior.
Here are some numbers based on age, with tips to help you get your child to sleep.
Babies (Up to 6 Months)
Newborns' internal clocks
aren't fully developed. They can sleep up to 18 hours a day, divided about equally
between night and day. Newborns should be wakened for feeding if they sleep more than
4 hours until they have good weight gain, usually within the first couple of weeks.
After that, it's OK if a baby sleeps for longer periods.
After those first weeks, infants may sleep for as long as 4 or 5 hours at a time
— this is about how long their small bellies can go between feedings. If babies
do sleep a good stretch at night, they may want to nurse or get a bottle more often
during the day.
Just when parents feel that sleeping through the night is a far-off dream, their
baby usually begins to sleep longer stretches at night. At 3 months, a baby
averages about 14 hours of sleep total, with 8–9 hours at night (usually with
an interruption or two) and two or three daytime naps.
It's important to know that babies can cry and make all sorts of other noises during
light sleep. Even if they do wake up in the night, they may only be awake for a few
minutes before falling asleep again on their own.
But if a baby under 6 months old continues to cry, it's time to respond. Your baby
may be truly uncomfortable: hungry, wet, cold, or even sick. Keep routine nighttime
changes and feedings as quick and quiet as possible. Don't provide any unnecessary
stimulation, such as talking, playing, turning on the lights, or using a bright mobile
device while waiting for your child to sleep. Encourage the idea that nighttime is
for sleeping. You have to teach this because your baby doesn't care what time it is
as long as his or her needs are met.
Ideally, place your baby in the crib before he or she falls asleep. It's not too
early to establish a simple bedtime routine. Any soothing activities (bathing, reading,
singing) done consistently and in the same order each night can be part of the routine.
Your baby will associate them with sleeping and they'll help your little one wind
The goal is for babies to fall asleep by themselves and learn to soothe themselves
and go back to sleep if they wake up in the middle of the night.
Babies 6–12 Months
At 6 months, babies still need
an average of 14 hours of sleep a day, with two to three daytime naps, lasting anywhere
from 2 hours to 30 minutes each. Some babies, particularly those who are breastfed,
may still wake at night. But most no longer need a middle-of-the-night feeding.
If your baby wakes in the middle of the night, but you don't think it's due to
hunger, wait a few minutes before going to your baby. Sometimes, babies just need
a few minutes to settle down on their down. Those who don't settle should be
comforted without being picked up (talk softly to your baby, rub the back), then
left to settle down again — unless they are sick. Sick babies need to
be picked up and cared for. If your baby doesn't seem sick and continues to cry, you
can wait a little longer, then repeat the short crib-side visit.
Between 6 and 12 months, separation anxiety, a normal part
of development, comes into play. But the rules at night are the same through a baby's
first birthday: Try not to pick up your baby, turn on the lights, sing, talk, play,
or feed your child. These activities don't help your baby learn to fall asleep on
his or her own and encourage more awakenings.
From ages 1 to 3, most toddlers
sleep about 12–14 hours over a 24-hour period. Separation anxiety, or just
wanting to be up with mom and dad (and not miss anything), can motivate a child to
stay awake. So can the toddler style of always saying "No!"
It's important to set regular bedtimes and naptimes, and to stick to them. Parents
sometimes think that keeping kids up will make them sleepier at bedtime. But kids
can have a harder time sleeping if they're overtired. Though most toddlers take 1-
to 3-hour naps during the day, you don't have to force your child to nap. But do schedule
some quiet time, even if your toddler chooses not to sleep.
Establish a bedtime routine to help kids relax and get ready for sleep. For a toddler,
the routine might be 5–30 minutes long and include calming activities such as
reading a story, bathing, and listening to soft music.
Whatever the nightly ritual is, your toddler will probably insist that it be the
same every night. Just don't allow rituals to become too long or complicated. Whenever
possible, let your toddler make bedtime choices within the routine: which pajamas
to wear, which stuffed animal to take to bed, what music to play. This gives your
little one a sense of control.
Even the best sleepers give parents an occasional wake-up call. Teething
can wake a toddler and so can dreams. Active dreaming begins at this age, and for
very young children dreams can be alarming. Carefully choose the books you read with
your toddler before bedtime, and keep the content mild. Nightmares
are scary for toddlers, who can't tell imagination from reality.
Comfort and hold your child at these times. Let your toddler talk about the dream
if he or she wants to, and stay until your child is calm. Then encourage your child
to go back to sleep as soon as possible.
Time spent with screens (like a TV or tablet) can disrupt a child's sleep. That's
one reason why health experts recommend:
keeping toddlers away from screen devices in the hour before bedtime
not keeping devices in a child's bedroom
Preschoolers sleep about
10–13 hours a night. Those who get enough rest at night may no longer need a
daytime nap. Instead, they may benefit from some quiet time in the afternoon.
Most nursery schools and kindergartens have quiet periods when the kids lie on
mats or just rest. As kids give up their naps, they may go to bed at night earlier
than they did as toddlers.
School-Age Kids and Preteens
School-age kids need 9–12 hours of sleep a night. Bedtime problems can start
at this age for a variety of reasons. Homework, sports and after-school activities,
screen time (on computers,
TVs, smartphones, and other devices), and hectic family schedules all can contribute
to kids not getting the sleep they need.
Sleep-deprived kids can become hyper or irritable, and may have a hard time paying
attention in school.
It's still important to have a consistent bedtime, especially on school nights.
Leave enough technology-free time before bed to allow your child to unwind before
lights-out. Consider switching off the electronics at least an hour before bed and
keeping screens out of kids' bedrooms.
Teens need about 8–10 hours of sleep per night, but many
don't get it. Early school start times on top of schedules packed with school,
homework, friends, social media,
and activities mean that many are chronically sleep deprived.
Sleep deprivation adds up over time, so an hour less per night is like a full night
without sleep by the end of the week. Among other things, a lack of sleep can lead
being less attentive
short-term memory loss
delayed response time
This can lead to anger problems, trouble in school (academically and with teachers
and peers), the use of stimulants like caffeine
or energy drinks to feel more
awake, and car crashes due to delayed response times or falling asleep at the
Teens also undergo a change in their sleep patterns — their bodies want to
stay up late and wake up later, which often leads to them trying to catch up on sleep
during the weekend. But this irregularity can make getting to sleep at a reasonable
hour during the week even harder.
Ideally, a teen should try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up
at the same time every morning, allowing for at least 9 hours of sleep.
No matter what your child's age, establish a bedtime routine that encourages good
sleep habits. These tips can help kids ease into a good night's sleep:
Stick to a bedtime, and give your kids a heads-up 30 minutes and then 10 minutes
Include a winding-down period in the routine.
Encourage older kids and teens to set and maintain a bedtime that allows for the
full hours of sleep needed at their age.