The Best Sleep Schedules for Kids

A Special Series on Sleep and Parenting

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

You schedule your children’s soccer practices, school activities, and play dates—but don’t forget to schedule their sleep, too. Setting your little one up with a consistent nighttime routine will give the whole family a better night’s sleep (and hopefully end the “I don’t want to go to bed!” tantrums). Follow these rules for sleep schedule success.

Rule #1: Know how much shuteye your kid needs

The first step in establishing a sleep schedule is determining when bedtime should be. Use this guide to ensure that your child is hitting the sheets with enough time to get the recommended amount of sleep for his or her age. If your tot’s bedtime needs tweaking, make gradual adjustments (moving it 15 minutes earlier each night, say) until you’ve fixed the problem.

  • Babies: need 12 to 16 hours of sleep each day and aren’t ready for a regular sleep schedule until about six months of age.
  • Toddlers: need a total of 11 to 14 hours of sleep, split between nighttime sleeping and daytime naps. Many kids will start with two naps a day and then cut back to just one near the end of their second year.
  • Pre-schoolers: should get 10 to 13 hours of sleep daily, including naps.
  • Grade-schoolers: need nine to 12 hours of sleep each night.
  • Teens: may try to convince you otherwise, but require almost as much sleep as their younger siblings—eight to 10 hours each night.

Rule #2: Keep the same bedtime.

If you frequently switch up what time kids go to bed, they can feel like they have jet lag. No wonder they get cranky! Just say "no" to pleas to stay up late—yes, even on the weekends. Kids sleep better when they have a regular bedtime, and the consistency helps prep their bodies for bed so that they can fall asleep faster.

Rule #3: Create a ritual.

Establishing a calming, pre-bed routine for a child at a young age will help your tot wind down, leading to better sleep and fewer middle-of-the-night awakenings. Running through the same activities every evening sends a cue to the brain that it’s time for sleep. For little kids, this might include taking a bath or singing lullabies, while older kids may prefer to listen to music or read a book before bed.