How Much Sleep Does A Child Need?

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Everyone is aware of the optimum amount of sleep needed for adults, but what about children? Children need more sleep than adults, and it’s vital to their development. Let’s break it down by age and examine their needs further.

0–12 Months

Sleep time: 14–15 hours.

Infants are highly variable and many experts around the world don’t recommend actual sleep times for infants aged 0–3 months old. Their sleeping patterns are too erratic, they don’t sleep through the night, so therefore there’s no standard to determine how long they should be sleeping.

However, babies require a lot of sleep from birth—more than half their days, so that their brains can develop effectively. This is why they sleep around 14–15 hours every day, including naps.

Naptime decreases as the babies age, and as they learn to sleep through the night at around six months old. Even while sleeping through the night, you can expect the infants to take a 2–3 hour mid-day nap, despite the decrease.

On top of that, you shouldn’t expect every infant to start sleeping through the night at 6 months old. One study shows that even at 12 months, some infants have difficulty sleeping for 6–8 consecutive hours at night.

Premature Babies

There’s a small difference when a baby is born prematurely. In the case of premature birth, babies can spend up to 90 percent of the day sleeping.

During the infant’s first year, this evens out to match the sleeping patterns of a full-term baby.

When Should This Age Group Go to Bed?

It’s incredibly difficult to determine when infants should be going to bed as they’re going to wake up during the night anyway. The general advice is to put the baby down for the night around 6:30pm, so long as this is at least two hours after baby has woken up from a nap.

You can’t force the baby’s sleep pattern so it’s impossible to say when the baby should be waking up for the day—move your infant downstairs with you whenever you wish, so long as there’s somewhere safe and comfortable they can nap the late morning and day away.

1–3 Years

Sleep time: 12–14 hours

Toddlers still need a significant amount of sleep. They can usually sleep through the night, and their sleep time comes from early bedtimes and daytime naps.

These naps often come twice per day for younger toddlers, but as they get older, the naps typically decrease to a single 1–2 hour slumber in the afternoon.

When Should This Age Group Go to Bed?

Putting your toddler to bed between 6:30 and 7:30pm is the most natural way to go about it. It’s not much different from when they were a baby and still lets them sleep for a lengthy nighttime period alongside the daytime napping.

3–6 Years

Sleep time: 10–12 hours.

Children around this age start requiring slightly less sleep, but they still need quite a lot to aid their development. Ideally, this sleep should take place throughout the night, thanks to an early bedtime.

While naps are still okay, and even beneficial, most children stop napping around this age.

When Should This Age Group Go to Bed?

It’s rarely recommended that you put children this age to bed any later than 8pm. Play it by ear—what time do you want your child to wake up?

If they need to be up early for a creche, nursery or their early school years and tend to sleep 12 hours, around 7pm is best.

If it’s fine for them to sleep in, then 8pm is okay too.

7–12 Years

Sleep time: 10 – 11 hours.

Children's sleep patterns usually closely mirror that of adults, while requiring longer nights. That’s why it’s important to ensure your child gets an early night and sleeps well throughout it.

However, this 7–12 age range is quite wide so it’s normal to have some variations, where kids sleep slightly more or less than the duration stated above.

The younger the child is, the more sleep they need is a good way to gauge how long your child should be sleeping. So, as your child approaches the end of the range above, they may slip into the teen-year sleeping patterns instead of the more ‘child' ones stated here.

What Happens If Children Don’t Get Enough Sleep?

A lack of sleep in children can cause:

A lack of sleep is also tied in with obesity, which is also an overwhelming issue in children.

Since it can be difficult to see when your child is overtired and not sleeping enough, keep the following things in mind:

  • Do you need to wake your child multiple times before they get up?
  • Does the child complain of tiredness frequently?
  • Does the child nap well into their older years?
  • Does your child sleep in on the weekends beyond a typical amount?

If the answer is yes to any of those questions you may want to consider an earlier bedtime.

When Should This Age Group Go to Bed?

This age group is highly varied, so any time between 7pm and 9pm works well for them. Calculate what time your child usually wakes up, or what time they need to wake up, and set a bedtime based on this.

Consider setting an earlier bedtime if your child gets sleepy in the evening, or seems lethargic and sluggish but doesn’t complain of tiredness.

12–18 Years

Sleep time: 8–9 hours.

Sleep is essential for teenagers, in general, and proven by studies.

As children enter their teen years, their sleep patterns change considerably. They still need slightly more sleep than adults, but it comes in a new rhythm.

Teens’ natural circadian rhythm determines that they want to stay up later—think 11pm to midnight—and sleep in later, around eight or nine in the morning.

School start times restrict this natural rhythm considerably—schools usually start right around the time teens should be waking up.

This is why it’s vital for teenagers to actively schedule their sleep time into their day. It goes against their natural rhythms, but teenagers should work to go to bed earlier to get the sleep they need.

One way to help your circadian rhythm is by using artificial light. Perhaps using an alarm light that gradually turns off as you near bedtime, then gradually lights to aid with wake-up could be helpful. One study shows this method of using artificial light to regulate sleep patterns is helpful.

It’s best to use this scheduled every night, including on weekends, to avoid creating inconsistency in the sleeping schedule. Sleep is just as important for teens as it is for child-age kids so keeping things on track is vital.

Importance of Sleep for Teens

There’s high pressure on teens at school to perform well, and school can also be a highly emotional environment due to the budding social relationships. A lack of sleep can severely impact a teenager’s academic thinking and emotional health, too.

Academia and Thinking

Sleep helps people think creatively and expansively, and without it, the teens may suffer in school. On top of this, sleep can harm academic performance in general.

Part of this may come from the link between attention deficits and drowsiness—being sleepy makes it harder to concentrate and therefore harder to learn during the school day.

Emotional Health

A lack of sleep harms emotional development and can lead to mental health issues. Some of these issues include depression and anxiety, and even bipolar disorder—all of which are associated with poor sleep.

If the teen has mental health issues already, increasing sleep may help combat some of the worse symptoms they’re experiencing.

When Should This Age Group Go to Bed?

As you edge into teen territory, your child will protest and want to stay up later—this is natural. However, it’s best for teens to go to bed early, whether they’re heading for 13 or 18.

Determine your child’s school start time and how long it takes them to get ready in the morning. If they need to be in school by 8am, a 10pm bedtime is best—they’ll wake up at 6–7am, and have an hour or two to get up, washed, dressed, have breakfast and travel.

If school starts later, at 9am, then an 11pm bedtime could work but again, it depends on the morning schedule.

Adult and Beyond

Finally, you hit the adult stage with the age-old eight hours of sleep per night—though technically it’s 7–9 hours of sleep. Once you hit your elderly years this decreases to 7–8 hours of sleep per day. For tips on how to get enough sleep as an adult, see the video below.

Final Thoughts

Children need more sleep than adults, right up until they’re 18. They may transition to an adult sleep cycle a little before or after turning 18, but this is just a general guide. Here’s a quick recap:

  • 0–12 Months: 14–15 hours
  • 1–3 Years: 12–14 hours
  • 3–6 Years: 10–12 hours
  • 7–12 Years: 10–11 hours
  • 12–18 Years: 8–9 hours

If you have any comments or concerns, please leave them below.

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