How Much Sleep Do Children Need?

A good night’s rest is essential to healthy growth and development for children of all ages. The amount of sleep a child needs each night gradually decreases from infancy to their teenage years. At each stage of childhood, getting enough sleep plays a major role in learning, concentration, emotional management, and overall physical and mental health.

Lack of adequate sleep has been linked to negative health outcomes for children such as mental health problems, behavioral issues, poor attention, obesity, and higher risk for diseases like type 2 diabetes. An estimated one-third of kids and teenagers experience sleep problems. Parents can help their children sleep better by encouraging good sleep hygiene and establishing a healthy bedtime routine with them.

How Many Hours of Sleep Do Kids Need?

The amount of sleep a child needs depends largely on their age. This number will change as they grow, but the importance of adequate nightly sleep remains constant. That said, minor deviations from the recommended amounts may not have a major effect on some children. Parents should consult their family doctor or pediatrician about the appropriate steps to take if their child’s overall total sleep falls short of recommendations.

Age Group
Recommended Amount of Sleep

Newborns

14 to 17 hours per day

Infants (up to 12 months)

12 to 15 hours per day

Toddlers (1 to 2 years)

11 to 14 hours per day

Preschoolers (3 to 5 years)

10 to 13 hours per day

School-age children (6 to 12 years)

9 to 12 hours per day

Teenagers (13 to 17 years)

8 to 10 hours per day

How Many Hours of Sleep Do Babies and Infants Need?

According to current recommendations, newborns and infants should sleep for the majority of the day. Newborns need roughly 14 to 17 hours of sleep for every 24-hour period, and infants between 4 and 12 months should sleep 12 to 15 hours. Since newborns and infants sleep so much, their sleeping periods typically take place throughout the day and night.

Why Do Babies Sleep So Much?

Newborns require more sleep than children in any other age group. In the weeks and months following birth, babies begin developing the circadian rhythm that will eventually guide their sleep cycle. This transition period is defined by intervals of sleeping throughout the day and night. As their bodies become entrained to circadian cycles, babies start to follow a more consistent sleep routine. Researchers have observed sleep trends with babies in certain age groups.

  • 10 to 12 Weeks: Parents begin observing their baby following a circadian cycle. Babies have an easier time sleeping through the night.
  • 4 Months: At the 16-week mark when babies enter infancy, their total sleep duration during a 24-hour period will shift from 16 to 17 hours to 14 to 15 hours.
  • 6 Months: The 6-month mark also sees a decrease in total sleep time. Infants in this age group should sleep 13 to 14 hours per day.
  • 12 Months: By the time they reach their first full year, most infants have fully established circadian rhythms that follow nocturnal sleep routines and have shifted to sleeping primarily at night.

Healthy sleep is integral to the cognitive development of newborns and infants. Sleep is believed to play a pivotal role in memory consolidation for babies. Research shows daytime naps lasting as little as 30 minutes can boost memory recall in children between the ages of 6 to 12 months. Some studies also suggest babies who get enough sleep are better equipped to learn languages.

When Do Babies Start Sleeping Through the Night?

Even though infants mostly sleep at night, nocturnal awakenings are still somewhat common. Roughly 20% to 30% of babies and infants up to age 2 experience consistent nighttime awakenings. These episodes typically decrease as the child gets older. By 12 weeks old, 50% to 75% of babies sleep through the night. This number increases to 90% by the 6-month mark.

Breastfeeding often plays a role in nighttime awakenings for babies and infants. Studies show more than 60% of infants nurse at least once during the night between the ages of 6 and 12 months. Awakenings are common during these nighttime breastfeeding sessions. As the child grows, they won’t need to nurse as often during the night. Most children 9 months or older can sleep for 8 to 10 hours without feeding.

How Much Sleep Do Premature Babies Need?

Premature or preterm babies are defined as those whose births occur up to 37 weeks into pregnancy. These babies typically require more sleep than babies born after a full term, and sleep up to 90% of the time. How prematurely they were born and how healthy they are after birth often influence sleep patterns for preterm babies.

Preterm babies tend to fall asleep more easily compared to term babies. They also have less trouble falling asleep alone in their own bed.However, most preterm babies exhibit inconsistent sleep patterns during their first year of life. Their sleep occurs in shorter intervals, and tends to be lighter and more active compared to sleep for term babies. By 12 months, many have sleep patterns similar to those of infants born at full term.

Emotional delays are common for preterm infants, and they may struggle to express their need for daytime naps. Preterm infants between the ages of 4 and 9 months may benefit from naps during the day. Researchers have also observed less secure attachment relationships between mothers and preterm infants, particularly those with low birthweight. Secure attachments have been linked to higher-quality sleep for infants.

What to Do If Your Baby Isn’t Sleeping Enough

While recommendations for newborns call for at least 14 hours per day, differences in sleep patterns and durations have been observed in children younger than 4 months. Getting slightly less sleep than the recommended range of 14 to 17 hours per day should not be cause for alarm.

By the 4-month mark, infants generally sleep 6 to 8 hours at a time. This increases to 10 to 12 hours when they reach 6 to 9 months. Daytime naps are common during the first year of life. Most of these naps last between 30 minutes and 2 hours.

Your baby may show signs they are not getting enough sleep. These include crying, being fussy, or rubbing their eyes. Putting your child to bed when they are tired – as opposed to already asleep – can teach them to fall asleep without supervision and help prevent nighttime awakenings.

Parents can take additional measures to help their babies sleep. These include:

  • Taking your baby outside during the day to give them plenty of natural light exposure.
  • Dimming the lights and reducing noise throughout the residence as evening approaches.
  • Before bed, cuddle or rock the baby to help them relax.
  • Avoid turning on the lights when the baby wakes up for a nighttime feeding.
  • Calm the baby if they become upset when you leave their room, but do not remove them from their bed.

What Is the Safest Sleep Environment for Babies and Infants?

Infants one year or younger are at the highest risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). To reduce this risk, parents should ensure their baby’s crib is safe and conducive to healthy sleep. Recommendations for establishing and maintaining a safe sleep space for babies and infants include:

  • Set the Baby on Their Back During Nightly Sleep and Naps: Babies are at low risk for choking when lying on their back compared to their side or stomach. This is true even if they spit up food while sleeping.
  • Make Sure the Baby’s Sleep Space Meets All Safety Standards: A crib mattress should be flat and firm. Aside from a fitted sheet for the mattress, keep the crib free of blankets, pillows, quilts, and other bedding, as well as toys. On cold nights, dress the baby in warm clothing.
  • Sleep in the Same Room as the Baby for the First 6 Months: Sharing a room with infants 6 months or younger can decrease a child’s risk of SIDS by as much as 50%.  Many parents manage this using bassinets or cribs set up in their own bedroom.

In addition to taking precautions against SIDS, parents can reduce risks to their baby by making sure their crib meets certain standards. The crib should be fully installed without any loose metal hardware, such as screws or brackets. Slats should be completely intact and spaced apart no more than 2.375 inches. Parents should also check the crib’s corner posts – if they measure more than 0.0625 inches high, they can potentially snag the baby’s clothing.

How Much Sleep Do Toddlers and Older Children Need?

Children 2 years and older need less daily sleep than newborns and infants, but getting the right amount of sleep is still crucial for proper health, growth, and cognitive development. Sleep recommendations for kids largely depend on their age group.

Toddlers (1 to 2 Years)

Children in the age range of 1 to 2 years should sleep 11 to 14 hours for every 24-hour period. This includes nightly sleep as well as daytime naps, which are integral to cognitive functioning and memory development. The average toddler naps twice per day, but the duration of these naps gradually decreases over time. By the time they reach 2 years old, toddlers typically nap no longer than one hour at a time.

Preschoolers (3 to 5 Years)

The recommended amount of sleep for children between the ages of 3 and 5 is 10 to 13 hours. As daytime napping continues to decrease, preschoolers gradually start to receive most of their daily sleep at night. Consistent bedtimes are important, though the specific time your child goes to bed may depend on their cultural background. Kids who attend a daycare or preschool with designated nap times may not feel as tired early in the evening compared to children who do not nap during the day.

A healthy bedtime routine can help kids in this age range fall asleep more quickly and remain asleep without waking during the night. Important components of a bedtime routine include bathing, brushing teeth and other hygiene-related tasks, communication in the form of reading or singing, and cuddling or rocking.

Experts recommend against including excessive screen time as part of a child’s bedtime routine, because smartphones, tablets, televisions, and other devices with screens emit blue light that can interfere with natural circadian rhythms and disrupt healthy sleep. One study found each hour of screen time was linked to later bedtimes and less overall sleep for children between the ages of 2 and 5.

School-Age Children (6 to 12 Years)

For elementary school children between the ages of 6 to 12, the ideal amount of sleep each night is nine to 12 hours. Most, if not all, of their sleep occurs at night, but daytime naps can still be beneficial for kids in this age range. Studies from cultures that incorporate naps in elementary school have found regular naps are associated with elevated happiness, strong academic performance, and a lower risk of emotional or behavioral problems.

The beginning of puberty, which typically occurs around age 10 for girls and age 12 for boys, often brings about major changes to a child’s sleep patterns. Starting in the early stages of puberty, children often start to fall asleep later and experience disrupted sleep. An overall decrease in sleep quality has also been observed, which helps explain why many pubescent young people feel tired or sleepy during the day.

Teenagers (13 to 17 years)

Eight to 10 hours of sleep each night are recommended for teens between the ages of 13 and 17. A notable decline in nightly sleep often occurs between pre-adolescence and adolescence, but this is not necessarily healthy. Surveys reveal one in five teens sleeps less than seven hours on the average school night. Parents can help ensure their teen gets enough sleep by encouraging regular bedtimes that allow sufficient time for sleep.

Some experts argue school start times can have a negative impact on sleep for young people. Starting classes at 8:30 a.m. or earlier has been linked to insufficient sleep in teens. Academic demands, socializing, lifestyle choices, and other factors can also impact a teenager’s sleep.

Frequently Asked Questions About Children and Sleep

What Is the Best Bedtime for My Child?

The ideal bedtime for any child depends largely on their age. Since the recommended amount of sleep for children gradually decreases as they age, young kids generally go to bed earlier in the evening than older ones. A consistent bedtime routine is integral to proper sleep hygiene, so ensuring your child goes to bed and wakes up at the same time may be more important than when they specifically do so.

Also keep in mind that attitudes about bedtime can vary by cultural background. Some cultures emphasize going to bed early, while parents belonging to other groups may permit their children to stay up later at night.

What if My Child Is Not Getting Enough Sleep?

While parents should strive to help their children get an adequate amount of sleep each night, it is important to remember that slight deviations from age-specific sleep duration recommendations are fairly common.

That said, if your child’s sleep patterns appear problematic or if they have trouble sleeping for no apparent reason, consider sitting down with your pediatrician or family doctor to discuss the situation. Your child may have a treatable sleep disorder or health condition that is interfering with their sleep.

There are measures you can take as a parent to help your child get enough sleep. These include establishing a bedtime routine with consistent sleep and waking times, keeping devices with screens that emit blue light out of their bedrooms, and scheduling time for daytime physical activity to help them feel tired and ready for sleep at night. Young kids are also impressionable, so parents with healthy habits and proper sleep hygiene can often inspire children to follow their lead.

Should My Child Be Napping?

Most children ages 5 and younger receive a portion of their recommended amount of sleep each day from naps. Not sleeping through the night is fairly common for young children, so they need an extra boost from daytime naps to ensure they get enough sleep for any given 24-hour period.

Daytime napping for young children has been associated with healthy cognitive development. However, as children grow, their daytime sleep needs change, and most children stop napping between the ages of 2 and 5.

Your child may be ready to stop napping if they have trouble sleeping at night. Conversely, it may be too early to give up the nap if they appear sleepy or fitful during the day. Once your child stops napping, you may need to push bedtime earlier so they still sleep enough overall.

How Do I Know if My Child Is Getting Enough Sleep?

When children are younger than 2 years, they’ll often display signs of being tired like crying or rubbing their eyes. As they grow older, children may show additional signs of insufficient or deprived sleep. These include:

  • Trouble getting up on time
  • Dark circles under their eyes
  • Sleepiness or tiredness during the day
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Difficulty focusing or paying attention
  • Behavioral problems such as being late for or skipping school

Do Teenagers Need as Much Sleep as Adults?

The recommended amount of daily sleep for teens falls between eight and 10 hours, which is slightly more than the seven to nine hours recommended for young adults and adults. Unfortunately, many teens do not reach the eight-hour threshold due to employment, academic demands, early school start times, and social pressures. According to surveys, sleep durations for teens have been steadily decreasing over the last few decades.

Resources

References

+28 Sources

  1. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29073412/
  2. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27250809/
  3. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/infographic/children-sleep.htm
  4. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31135911/
  5. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28553151/
  6. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25973527/
  7. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002392.htm
  8. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/preterm-birth
  9. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29691876/
  10. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28760193/
  11. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23482430/
  12. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/suddeninfantdeathsyndrome.html
  13. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/features/baby-safe-sleep/index.html
  14. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://www.cpsc.gov/safety-education/safety-guides/cribs/crib-safety-tips
  15. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29576733/
  16. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29195725/
  17. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25915066/
  18. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26607843/
  19. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26900325/
  20. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/puberty.html
  21. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28588517/
  22. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24497657/
  23. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23082111/
  24. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27940688/
  25. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21600346/
  26. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/134/3/642/74175/School-Start-Times-for-Adolescents
  27. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://journals.lww.com/nursingmanagement/fulltext/2014/08000/sleep_deprivation_in_children__a_growing_public.5.aspx
  28. Accessed on December 13, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25687142/