What is the Best Sleep Schedule for Kids?

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Sleep plays an important role in the growth and development of children. Similarly, a healthy and consistent sleep schedule has been linked to positive outcomes, particularly for kids. Not only can a proper sleep schedule encourage healthy behaviors (1) into adulthood, but it can lead to improved behavior and memory (2). Children who get enough sleep are also at a decreased risk of health issues, such as obesity (3).

While there are numerous benefits to a healthy sleep routine, creating and enforcing one can be challenging. There are multiple factors to consider when establishing nighttime habits, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution that will work for every child. Creating a sleep schedule that suits your child starts with learning to identify their needs.

How Much Sleep Do Children Need?

Different stages of growth require specific amounts of sleep, which is why the recommended amount of sleep for children depends on their age. The following guidelines (4) are intended to provide a general outline of how much sleep children should be getting in a 24-hour period, including their naps.

Age Recommended Amount of Sleep (Including Naps)
Newborn: 0-3 months 14-17 hours
Infant: 4-12 months 12-16 hours
Toddler: 1-2 years 11-14 hours
Preschool: 3-5 years 10-13 hours
School Age: 6-12 years 9-12 hours

Parents should be aware, however, that some children may need slightly more or less sleep than what these guidelines recommend. Watching your child’s behaviors and adapting as needed is an important step in establishing a sleep schedule that works for your child.

How to Incorporate Naps

Naps are an important part of a sleep routine for many infants, toddlers, and young children. Parents can also use naptime to rest, tackle household chores, or get some alone time. Similar to the amount of sleep, however, the recommended number and length of naps vary by age.

Age Naps per Day
Infant: 4-12 months 2-4 naps per day, ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours
Toddler: 1-2 years 2 naps per day, ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours
Preschool: 3-5 years 1-2 naps per day, ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours

Newborns typically spend the majority of the day sleeping, while children aged 5 years or older usually begin to phase out of naps entirely. Parents should monitor their child’s behaviors to determine the optimal amount of napping.

How Do I Know if My Child is Getting Enough Sleep?

Since children cannot always directly communicate that they are tired, it can be difficult to tell if they are getting enough rest. Watching their behaviors is one way to tell if your kid is getting enough sleep. Some signs to look for include:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Irritability or aggression
  • Difficulty getting out of bed
  • Trouble staying awake
  • Lack of focus

If your child is showing any of these signs, it may be useful to incorporate extra naps or an earlier bedtime. Making adjustments based on your child’s behaviors is an important aspect of building an effective sleep schedule.

What If My Child Has Trouble Sleeping?

Roughly half of children will experience sleep issues (5), such as insomnia or nightmares. These sleep disruptions can have negative effects for children, including behavioral issues, decreased memory, and learning difficulties. Addressing sleep problems early on can help prevent these negative consequences while encouraging healthy rest into adolescence and adulthood.

Enforcing good sleep hygiene and encouraging consistency can be beneficial, though it is always recommended to speak with a doctor if you have any concerns about your child’s sleep patterns. A sleep diary (6) may also be a useful tool for parents to track behavior, which can be helpful in identifying any potential issues.

Tips for Starting or Getting Back On a Sleep Schedule

 

  • Establish a Bedtime: Sticking to a consistent bedtime is a great way to set a regular routine. After several nights, your child may begin to feel tired automatically around bedtime.
  • Keep It Dark: The body runs on circadian rhythms (7), which use external cues such as light to determine when to initiate sleep. Dimming the lights close to bedtime can help signal that it is time to rest.
  • Limit Screen Time: Electronic devices emit blue light (8), which can interfere with circadian rhythms and make it difficult to fall asleep. Studies suggest that children are particularly sensitive (9) to blue light, so reducing screen time can help encourage deeper rest.
  • Incorporate Soothing Activities: Sleep schedules and bedtime routines can also be a time for bonding. Reading a book, singing a lullaby, or starting another soothing bedtime ritual can help set the expectation of sleep while allowing you to share important time with your kid.
  • Be Consistent: A sleep routine works best over time. Staying consistent with timing and sleep rituals is an important aspect of establishing any routine.

Making small changes in your kid’s sleep schedule can lead to healthier habits and better rest.

References

+ 9 Sources
  1. 1. Accessed on March 23, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29195725/
  2. 2. Accessed on March 23, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28251722/
  3. 3. Accessed on March 23, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25517022/
  4. 4. Accessed on March 23, 2021.https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html
  5. 5. Accessed on March 23, 2021.https://www.aafp.org/afp/2014/0301/p368.html
  6. 6. Accessed on March 25, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28199718/
  7. 7. Accessed on March 23, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30137792/
  8. 8. Accessed on March 23, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26900325/
  9. 9. Accessed on March 23, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24840814/

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