How Much Sleep Do Children Need?
There are no absolute rules as to how much sleep children need because every child is different. However, that does not mean that you shouldn’t follow the generally accepted guidelines that are available.
Believe it or not, some studies have shown that as many as one in five children set their own bedtime. This is not a good idea for many reasons, but the main reason is this: In general, children simply cannot accurately assess their need for sleep. This is particularly true for children under the age of ten years old.
So children who “go to sleep when they feel like it” may well be operating under a sleep deficit a great deal of the time. This can affect their physical health in a negative way, not to mention their school performance and even their behavior.
So just how much sleep do children need? It will vary from child to child and change as they get older. But in general this is what you are looking at:
0 – 6 Months
Newborn babies and babies up to about six months generally need to sleep and/or drowse for roughly twelve to sixteen hours a day. It’s never too early to start establishing a bedtime routine.
It’s also important to note that babies can sometimes sound as though they are awake, even when they are not. Giving a baby a minute or two to go back to sleep when younger than six months is not harmful. You don’t have to run to a child the instant he or she starts to cry. Simply use your common sense and don’t ignore it for too long either.
Crying often means that something is wrong although this could be anything from being hungry, needing a diaper change, or illness.
6 – 12 Months
From six months to twelve months children should nap roughly three hours during the day and sleep about eleven hours at night.
At this age, your child may begin to be able to put him or herself back to sleep if they awake in the night. You may want to allow your child five minutes to get back to sleep on their own when they wake up at night.
Some people have the idea that if they go to a child when they cry that this will make the child spoiled. Nothing could be further from the truth. Children need to know that their needs will be attended to; no baby should be left to cry for more than a few minutes.
1 – 3 Years
At the age of about one year to three years old (often referred to as toddlers) a child will generally need to sleep from about ten to thirteen hours a day. At this age, it is probably not helpful to force a child to nap unless he or she is very cranky in the daytime or overly tired for some reason.
Often at this age a child can show separation anxiety from parents, and so rituals and/or comforting objects like teddy bears can be helpful. Remember that when a child gets too tired, rather than just going to sleep, it can actually make it harder for the child to go to sleep. Giving the child some time to wind down and having those bedtime rituals (a bath, a story, a glass of water, etc.) helps the child get used to going to sleep.
Toddlers can wake up at night from bad dreams or teething and will need a parent to comfort them.
3 – 5 Years
At three to five children need about ten to twelve hours of sleep per night. Napping in the daytime is not an absolute necessity and a “quiet time,” can be substituted for a nap.
Some children still have nightmares at this age and will need comforting.
6 – 9 Years
From ages six to nine, children will need about ten hours of sleep nightly. In this age group, children will often need alone time with their parents. Building this into the nighttime routine can help things go more smoothly.
If you have children of different ages, avoid the temptation to put them all to bed at the same time. Younger children need more sleep and should go to bed earlier. It’s also important to older children to see that with their growing up comes more privilege and responsibility.
10 – 12 Years
At about ten years and up, most children still need roughly nine hours of sleep.
There are negative consequences for children who do not get an adequate amount of sleep. Everything from behavioral issues to health concerns to ADHD symptoms can be caused by getting less sleep than is needed.
Fixed bedtimes will help your child get the sleep they need. That’s not to say that you have to be a slave to time of course. But if you are going to make exceptions then they should be just that; an exception.
A bedtime routine is very helpful in making bedtime go smoothly rather than being a huge source of conflict.