How Much Sleep Do Children Need?
Let’s be real here, once you become a parent, sleep suddenly becomes a BIG deal. We found ourselves wondering if our newborn was too sleepy? If our six month old would ever sleep again? If our three year old would ever go to sleep? If our seven year old would ever sleep past six AM? If our teenager would sleep for the rest of his adult life?
It sometimes feels as though kids' sleep patterns are always changing, with the one constant being that they are never quite right. But what is right? Ideally they’d sleep from 7PM to 7AM whilst you got a lovely restful night’s sleep too, but unfortunately babies and kids aren’t usually wired that way.
We’ve asked the experts, done our research and put together this guide to how much children should sleep to give you a bit of an outline of what’s normal. The main thing to remember is that sleep needs change throughout life, so a child’s sleep needs are different to yours. This means that if they aren’t following the same pattern as you it isn’t necessarily a problem, it just means you might need to go with the flow for a little while and adapt your sleep patterns to theirs - sometimes just accepting that you’re all early risers takes the stress away! However if they are consistently getting very little sleep and are consequently very tired in the daytime you can ask your GP for support.
How much sleep do newborn babies need?
You might have heard of ‘the fourth trimester’ - this refers to the first three months a baby spends out of the womb. Whilst most mammals are born and start walking and eating within hours, humans need a little more time to settle into life on earth and outside of mum. During this time, babies typically benefit from a lot of skin to skin contact, cluster feeding and regular sleep. Their brains and bodies are doing an awful lot of speedy development, and sleep is vital to give them the time to do this.
Newborns will sleep for around 15 - 16 hours a day during the first three months, with 8 - 10 hours of that happening overnight.* That sounds like a lot, but it often feels as though a newborn hardly sleeps at all. That is because their sleep cycles are very different to adults and they will typically wake every hour or two needing to feed, have a nappy change, or just to have some time with Mum and Dad. For adults used to sleeping for a solid eight hours this can feel gruelling, as it seems that just as you are nodding off the baby wakes again, and often it’s hard to fall straight back to sleep when the baby does. Teamwork is key here, if you can share the load and give each other longer stretches of sleep, or have one of you in charge of feeds and the other in charge of changes, do it!
How much sleep do babies need 6 months onward?
As baby grows older their sleep will slowly start to consolidate into longer stretches with fewer wake ups. Between 6 months and a year they will sleep for around 14 hours a day, with a glorious 10 hours or so of that happening at night. Their tummies are bigger so they can take on more food to keep them fuller for longer, and their sleep cycles become longer so they don’t stir as often.
Throughout the first year babies rapidly go through a number of development leaps, where they are learning new skills and their brains and bodies are forming new abilities. These leaps unlock amazing things, such as the ability to smile, laugh, sit up and crawl, and they happen at the same predictable time for most babies. However they tend to bring a bit of disruption and make babies unsettled as they go through them, this presents in the form of difficulty going to sleep, more frequent wake ups and baby being more difficult to soothe. The Wonder Weeks is a great guide to the leaps and will help you to predict when they are coming and how long they will last. This is really reassuring as it’ll show you that you don’t have a sleep problem, you just have a baby going through an entirely normal, predictable period of disruption that WILL end soon.
How much sleep do toddlers need?
Toddlers typically need around 13 hours of sleep a day.* Most toddlers have a nap in the middle of the day for around an hour to an hour and a half. This lunchtime nap will get shorter and shorter until they no longer need it - usually at around 3 years old. It can be hard to know when to drop the nap, but follow your toddlers lead on this one. If they are having difficulty settling down to sleep in the day, and are full of beans right up to bedtime even on days when their nap gets cut short, it’s probably worth trying skipping it and seeing what happens. However if you find that their afternoon behaviour really deteriorates with more tantrums and tears then perhaps they are not quite ready to go through a whole day without sleep yet. Remember that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, you can always try skipping it and then go back to your old routine if they aren’t ready yet, or just take each day as it comes and let them sleep if and when they need to, or skip it if they’re wide awake and having fun.
How much sleep do children need?
Once children begin school it’s important that they have a healthy sleep routine to prepare them for a busy day at school. Lack of sleep will affect their concentration and ability to learn, as well as energy for PE and playing with their friends. 3 - 6 year olds need 10 - 12 hours of sleep per day, and 7 - 12 year olds need 10 - 11 hours.** At this age bedtime can become a battle of wills, with endless requests for another story, a drink, a wee, warmer socks, cooler pyjamas - you name it, a kid at bedtime has asked for it! It can be frustrating but try to remain calm and in control, and keep repeating that it’s bedtime, night night. Routine is really important so that they are ready to nod off and get the benefit of a solid night of sleep, so try your best to maintain a bedtime that allows them to get the recommended amount of sleep and wake up at a good time.
As tough as it is to keep a cool head when you’re tired and crabby, try to remember that your child’s sleep needs are different to yours, and if they are struggling to go to sleep or stay asleep, there could be normal developmental reasons why. However if things are really tough you can access sleep support through your GP, or contact an organisation such as The Sleep Charity for expert advice.
Sources: * https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=infant-sleep-90-P02237 ** https://thesleepcharity.org.uk/how-much-sleep-does-my-child-need/