Along with a balanced diet and regular exercise, getting enough sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. When a child isn’t getting adequate sleep, behavior, concentration, school performance and mood can all be affected. But what is adequate for your 7-month-old? Your 7-year-old?
As a parent, you know that your children are constantly changing, and their needs change as well. Sleep is no exception to this. The recommended amount of sleep for children varies with age. Although every child is a bit different, here are the general guidelines:
Child’s Age Recommended hours of sleep (including naps)
Infant (4-12 months) 12-16 hours
Toddler (1-2 years) 11-14 hours
Preschool (3-5 years) 10-13 hours
Grade School (6-12 years) 9-12 hours
Teenagers 8-10 hours
Getting a good night’s sleep
Establishing healthy sleep habits at a young age not only helps to ensure your child gets the sleep they need, but good sleep habits can provide a strong foundation for sleeping well for years to come. I encourage parents to establish a regular bedtime routine starting in infancy. Routines often include taking a bath, brushing teeth, reading (it is never too soon to start reading to your child!), and singing. Routines should not be too complicated and should be easily reproducible if you are away from home. Toddlers and school-age children often do well with a special stuffed toy or blanket that they take to bed. Try to avoid TV or screen time for at least 30 minutes before bed. Children should sleep in their own bed, allowing everyone to get a better night’s sleep.
Even with a well-worn routine, going to sleep or staying asleep can sometimes fall short of the ideal. Here are some additional tips to maintain a more consistent and successful sleeping schedule:
Infants: Try to make nighttime separate from daytime. Change your baby into pajamas and keep the room quiet and dark during overnight feedings. As your baby gets older, try to put him or her down in the crib tired but not fully asleep – babies need to learn to fall asleep on their own. As babies grow out of the need to feed overnight, they also need to learn how to fall back asleep without relying on a feeding. If your baby does wake up in the middle of the night, try to wait a few minutes before going into the room. If you do go in to check, reassure your baby that everything is okay, and tell him or her it is time to sleep. Try not to pick up your baby, and gradually increase the time intervals between when you check on him or her. This can be a very hard thing to do, and parents should do this at their own comfort level.
Toddlers and School-aged children: Maintain a regular schedule during the day, with regular meal times and nap times, avoiding naps late in the day. Consistent bedtimes with consistent routines help your children know what to expect.
Teenagers: Many teens have very busy schedules, with after-school activities, homework, and spending time with friends. But sleep is just as important in the teen years as it is for younger children, and lack of sleep can cause changes in mood, school difficulties, headaches, and fatigue. Encourage your teens to get at least 8 hours of sleep each and every night. Sleeping less on weeknights and trying to make up for it by sleeping longer on the weekends doesn’t provide the quality sleep they need. You should also discourage your teen from napping, as it can interfere with nighttime sleep. Getting regular exercise, having three healthy meals, and avoiding caffeine after lunchtime are all helpful ways to sleep well at night.
SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)
As a pediatrician, safety is always a top priority for me, so I’d be remiss when talking about sleep if I didn’t discuss SIDS. While the cause of SIDS is not known, multiple risk factors for SIDS have been identified, and establishing a safe sleeping environment for infants is essential. I encourage parents to follow these recommendations to decrease the risk of SIDS in infants 0-12 months.
If you have questions or concerns regarding your child’s sleep, talk to your pediatrician who can be a helpful resource.