How Much Sleep Do Kids Need?
Table of Contents
While parents know sleep is an important pillar of their child’s health, many parents are not sure how much is enough. From infancy to their teen years and beyond, kids go through a series of developmental stages, so their sleep needs can and will change. Whether we’re talking about babies beginning to walk or teens going through puberty, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, and kids need plenty of sleep to support those processes. Ahead we look at how much sleep kids need throughout each developmental stage.
How Much Sleep Do Kids Need?
Getting enough sleep has a wide variety of benefits for children — this healthy habit has been associated with a variety of positive outcomes, including improvements in attention, learning, memory, emotional regulation, physical and mental health, and more. (1).
On the flip side, not getting enough sleep can be to the detriment of children and has been linked with an increased risk of:
Getting too much sleep isn’t ideal for kids, either — frequently sleeping more than is recommended may be linked with outcomes like hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and mental health problems. (1)
So where’s the sweet spot? The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) developed the following consensus recommendations for sleep duration in children and adolescents (1):
For newborn babies and infants up to three months, there is a wide range of normal variations in duration and patterns of sleep. Infants’ circadian rhythm begins to develop around the age of 3 months — that’s when they begin to secrete melatonin. This is when parents start to see more of a consistent day-night pattern to their baby’s sleep (2). On average, babies ages 0-3 months sleep about 13.6-14.6 hours per 24 hour period, with a range of anywhere between 9.3 and 20.0 hours. (3)
While babies at this stage need about 12 to 16 hours of sleep per day, those who were sleeping well to this point may start waking more throughout the night. Macall Gordon, M. A. and Sr. Lecturer for the Dept. of Applied Psychology at Antioch University, Seattle, notes this is likely due to their four-month sleep regression triggered by a massive burst of brain development.
At six months, infant sleep becomes more consolidated. As a result, daytime sleeping decreases, and parents will notice their children sleeping for longer stretches during the night.
At this stage in their development, babies still need about 13 to 14 hours of sleep per day, and 90 percent of babies sleep through the night. (4)
At seven to nine months, the duration and frequency of your baby’s naps will continue to drop.
Parents can expect about one or two naps per day. Babies at this age need about 11 to 14 hours of sleep per day, and parents should expect an eight-month sleep regression as their child hits developmental milestones and begins to experience separation anxiety for the first time. (1) (5)
9 Months-2 years
From nine to 24 months, your baby’s need for daytime naps continues to tumble. Your little one may sleep for longer overnight stretches and may only go down for 1 or 2 naps during the day. Big developmental milestones like walking and talking are likely to contribute to another (and hopefully the last) sleep regression in their babyhood. Overall, kids at this age need about 11-14 hours of sleep per day. (1)
Between the ages of 3 and 5, your child will be blazing through developmental milestones. Not only will they start school and venture out into the world without you, but they’ll also learn tons of fun things like how to play, socialize, and dress themselves. Cognitively, your child’s memory and recall will improve, too. (6) The amount of naps children need continues to lessen. Your child should be getting about 10 to 13 hours of sleep per day. (1)
Sleep supports positive mood, cognition, problem-solving skills, and proper immune function. (7) (8) (9) So, as the little ones get into the swing of things with school and being out in the world, getting enough sleep is critical. School-age kids should get around 9 to 12 hours of sleep per day. (3)
While parents may think that a 13th birthday somehow flips a switch and turns their teen into a night owl seemingly overnight, it’s actually a matter of biology. Along with the many changes puberty triggers, it also triggers a later shift in their circadian rhythm. (10) At this stage, teens are dealing with a 2 to 3-hour delay in sleep onset, a slower building sleep drive, and melatonin production that kicks on later as well. (11)(10)
Parents are cautioned here that teens still need 8 to 10 hours of sleep per day, and when you take later bedtimes with early morning waking for school, your teens may be missing out on some much-needed shut-eye if their sleep schedules aren’t managed. (1)
Is It Normal for Kids to Nap?
Your child’s early years are a time of exponential growth, so naps are not only normal, they’re a crucial part of your child’s growth and development. (12) And when little bodies and brains do such hard work day after day, you can bet naps are part of the equation. Essentially, naps give the little ones time to rest and recharge so they can resume anything and everything they were up to. (13) A number of recent studies support the benefit of naps on learning and emotional regulation in preschool children. (14,15)
In addition to mood cognition and problem-solving skills, research has shown that naps may also help the little ones with memory consolidation and storage. (16)
Most parents come to a point in their toddler’s development when they ask the perennial question of, “When does a child grow out of napping?” Nap duration typically decreases between 3-4 years of age and most children will stop napping between 5-6 years of age, which corresponds with more adult-like sleep patterns of having one consolidated block of sleep at nighttime (17). Parents can look at their child’s behavior for hints that they may be outgrowing naps, such as delayed nap onset.
“Though naps are a critical part of children’s cognitive and physical development in toddlerhood, it is important to recognize that naps can be challenging because children don’t always have the same level of natural sleep pressure or circadian push that they may usually have at nighttime,” says Gordon. “Napping means they have to stop their play and sleep — and that’s just no fun for most children. Kids who are alert, active, and high-octane are even harder to power down, and that’s what often makes naptime so darned hard for a lot of parents.”
How to Help Your Child Nap
“Having a well-rested child will make bedtime and nighttime so much better, and the first step to getting a child to nap is to get the timing right,” says Gordon. “Try a shorter wake window before you try a longer one. If contact or motion (e.g., stroller) naps work (and these are the norm for babies under six months), do that.”
For parents hoping their child will put themselves down for a nap, Gordon says, “Work on nighttime sleep skills first. Once they’ve got the hang of putting themselves to sleep at bedtime, you can work on getting them to do that at naptime, too.”
Other ways to help your child nap:
- Look for naptime cues like a slowdown in their pace, yawning, eye rubbing, and fussiness
- Be sure to follow an age-appropriate nap schedule
- Maintain a consistent naptime routine
- Take care to put your child down for a nap when they’re sleepy — not exhausted
- Like bedtime, be sure nap spaces are cool, dark, and quiet (18)
Signs Your Child Is Ready to Stop Napping
While only a small portion of kids stop napping before age two, 94 percent will break from their daytime naps by age 5. (19) If you’re unsure where your child is in the process, the following cues are signs that daytime naps may be coming to an end.
- Difficulty falling asleep at nap time
- They don’t meltdown or get cranky if they skip a nap
- Difficulty falling asleep at bedtime
Helping Kids Sleep Better
From falling asleep on their own and soothing themselves to sleep when they wake at night, sleep is a skill that must be learned. “If you want them to go back to sleep without your help in the middle of the night, you have to help them set that template at bedtime,” says Gordon. She adds that if a child is struggling to fall asleep on their own at bedtime, they’re unlikely to be able to do it in the middle of the night. More likely, they’ll look to repeat their regular bedtime winddown process — with you. Ahead we’ve outlined some tips for parents to help kids sleep better.
Have a Consistent Bedtime Routine
While bedtime routines promote healthy sleep, they also help kids develop a sense of well-being in early childhood. (20) For those reasons, parents are encouraged to establish and maintain a sound bedtime with their kids. When your child goes through the same processes (like dimming the lights, having bathtime, and reading) night after night, they begin to associate those rituals with bedtime and sleeping. Eventually, those cues become so ingrained that your child automatically associates them with bedtime.
Keep Their Sleep Environment Dark, Cool, and Quiet
One of the most important rules of good sleep hygiene is to keep your sleep environment cool, dark, and quiet. This goes for kids too. Parents should ensure that when it’s time for lights out, their little one goes down in a cozy room that’s ready for a good night’s rest.
Soothing Activities Before Bed
Every parent hopes that getting their little one to sleep is as easy as flipping the light switch on the wall, but that’s not always the case. If your child isn’t quite settled enough to sleep, there’s no harm in leaving them with a quiet activity until they’re ready to turn in. Allowing your child to read a book or play quietly is perfectly fine; just make sure it’s not TV or video games. (18)
Ramp Up Their Physical Activity
At the end of the day, tired kids are sleepy kids, so be sure your little one is getting plenty of physical activity during the day. While a few hours at the park and play dates with friends are great, remember that challenging them mentally can also do the trick. (21)
At what age should a child fall asleep on their own?
Children should be equipped with the necessary sleep skills to fall asleep on their own by age 3. However, it may vary, and parents shouldn’t panic if their child doesn’t hit that exact milestone.
What time should kids go to bed?
According to Gordon, “For most children up to about school age, lights out needs to be about 12 or 13 hours after their morning wake up.”
The Last Word From Sleepopolis
Kids need plenty of sleep to support the exponential growth and development their bodies and brains go through. To ensure your child gets the right amount of sleep, familiarize yourself with the requirements for each stage, and start teaching sleep skills early.
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Macall Gordon, M. A. Email Communication. August 18, 2023.