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How Much Sleep Does My Child Really Need?

KerriAnn Mahon, MD, FAAP
ACMC-Willmar, Pediatrics

Sleep. We all love—and need—a good night's sleep. But it's especially important for kids to get enough sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, children spend 40 percent of their first two years of life sleeping. And for good reason. Sleep directly affects your child's mental and physical development. How do you know if your child is getting enough sleep?

It's important to teach children to fall asleep on their own. It's best to teach kids how to do this right from the start.

Sleep Tips for Newborns

  • Observe baby's sleep patterns and identify signs of sleepiness.
  • Put baby in the crib when drowsy, not asleep.
  • Don't feed baby to sleep.
  • Place baby to sleep on his/her back with face and head clear of blankets and other soft items.
  • Encourage nighttime sleep.
  • Night-time wakening can often be helped by making sure they have good habits falling to sleep. It's hard to fall back to sleep by yourself if you never fall asleep on your own.

Sleep Tips for Infants

  • Develop regular daytime and bedtime schedules.
  • Create a consistent and enjoyable bedtime routine.
  • Establish a regular "sleep-friendly" environment.
  • Encourage baby to fall asleep independently and to become a "self-soother."
  • Put baby in the crib when drowsy, not asleep.
  • Don't feed to sleep or give a bottle in bed.
  • Encourage night-time sleep.
  • Night-time wakening can often be helped by making sure they have good habits falling to sleep. It's hard to fall back to sleep by yourself if you never fall asleep on your own.

Sleep Tips for Toddlers:

  • Maintain a daily sleep schedule and consistent bedtime routine.
  • Make the bedroom environment the same every night and throughout the night.
  • Set limits that are consistent, communicated and enforced.
  • Encourage use of a security object such as a blanket or stuffed animal.

Sleep Tips for Preschoolers:

  • Maintain a regular and consistent sleep schedule.
  • Have a relaxing bedtime routine that ends in the room where the child sleeps.
  • Child should sleep in the same sleeping environment every night, in a room that is cool, quiet and dark—and without a TV.

Sleep Tips for School-aged Children:

  • Teach school-aged children about healthy sleep habits.
  • Continue to emphasize need for regular and consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine.
  • Make child's bedroom conducive to sleep—dark, cool and quiet.
  • Keep TV and computers out of the bedroom.
  • Avoid caffeine.

Sleep Tips for Teens:

  • Stick to a schedule all week long
  • Nix long naps
  • Cut caffeine intake
  • Wind down at night with a relaxing activity
  • Unplug the electronics

Newborns (0-3 months)

Newborns sleep around the clock, needing somewhere between 14 and 18 hours a day. Waking mainly to be fed, changed and nurtured, it's common for newborns to be up only a few hours at a time before needing more sleep. You've undoubtedly notice when your newborn is tired that they fuss, cry or rub their eyes. It's best to put babies to bed when they are sleepy to help them fall asleep more quickly and learn patterns to help soothe themselves to sleep.

Infants (4-11 months)

By six months many infants are sleeping through the night. Add in a few daytime naps, and most infants should be getting 14 to 15 hours of sleep a day, but most only get about 12 hours. It's important to continue the pattern of trying to put your baby to sleep when they begin to get drowsy to continue to teach them to self-soothe.

Toddlers (1-2 years)

Toddlers need about 12 to 14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period though the average toddler clocks 10 hours a day. At about 18 months, your toddler may begin taking just one one-to-three-hour nap. Make sure your child's nap isn't so close to bedtime that it will affect how he or she sleeps at night. As your toddler becomes more independent and his or her motor, cognitive and social skills continue to develop, he or she may resist bedtime or awaken more frequently at night. If you notice your toddler is sleepier than normal during the day or acts out when he or she normally wouldn't, adjust their sleeping schedule to allow for more sleep.

Preschoolers (3-6 years)

Your preschooler needs somewhere between 11-13 hours of sleep each night. Around age five many children don't take naps. Bed time may be more difficult as your preschooler resists going to bed. Many kids in this age group will also awaken sometime during the night.

School-aged Children (7-12 years)

As your child reaches school-age, they should still be averaging nine to 11 hours of sleep. It's fairly common for an increasing demand on your child's time with social, school and family activities pushing bedtime later and later. TV, electronics and caffeine can lead to difficulty falling asleep as well as increase disruptions to their sleep. Studies have show that watching TV too close to bedtime increases resistance to going to bed, difficulty falling asleep and sleeping fewer hours. You may notice your child has more sleep problems at this age. Poor sleep can lead to mood swings and behavioral issues and cognitive problems that affect their ability to focus and learn in school.

School-aged Children (12-18 Years Old)

Even though sleep is just as important for a teenager's health as it is when they were younger, teens often do not get an adequate amount of sleep for good health. Recent studies have shown teens are not getting the eight to 10 hours of sleep they need each night. One study found that only 15 percent of teens reported sleeping eight-and-a-half hours on school nights. Poor sleep can lead to impaired reasoning, academic problems, mood swings, breakouts, weight gain and even substance abuse.

It's important to help your child develop good sleep habits from the start—and that includes getting enough sleep. Just like parenting, it can be challenging at times. You conquered that first diaper, his first cold and many other firsts. You can do this, too. Sweet dreams!