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How Much Sleep Do Babies Need?

Written by: Alison Deshong

Updated April 2, 2021

 

Babies are asleep for more than half of their first year of life (1). This time spent sleeping allows an infant's brain and nervous system to develop, preparing them for the years to come.

We cover how much sleep your baby needs to promote healthy growth, why sleep is so crucial for infants and toddlers, and answers to the most frequently asked questions about infant sleep habits.

How Much Sleep Do Babies Need by Age?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, babies require an enormous amount of sleep (2) compared to the seven to nine hours recommended for adults. In fact, an average baby sleeps the majority of the time in a 24-hour period. Sleep recommendations for babies and toddlers vary by age:

Age Hours of Sleep
Newborns (0-3 months) 14-17 hours
Infants (4-12 months) 12-15 hours
Toddlers (1-2 years) 11-14 hours
Preschool (3-5 years) 10-13 hours

The National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations are based on a review of relevant scientific literature conducted by a panel of 18 sleep experts. Keep in mind that these numbers represent the recommended amount of sleep for a 24-hour period, which means they include daytime sleep.

Why Do Babies Sleep So Much?

If you’re a new parent, you’ve probably noticed that your baby spends most of the day sleeping. That’s because the first year of your baby’s life is a time of major growth made possible by sleep.

In the first year of life, the entire central nervous system, including the brain, undergoes immense development. Brain cells divide and differentiate prenatally, but then must reorganize and mature (3) in infants. This maturation process helps your baby develop new motor and cognitive skills.

Chronic sleep deficits can majorly affect infant development negatively. Not sleeping enough in infancy can lead to delays in a child’s cognitive, behavioral, and physical development (4). Infants that don’t sleep enough are also more likely to be overweight later in childhood (5)

How Many Naps Should a Baby Take?

Unlike adults, babies and young children don't receive all of their required sleep in one long stretch during the night. Instead, experts recommend infants and children younger than 7 years old supplement with naps (6) to reach the optimal amount of sleep in a 24-hour period.

There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to exactly how many naps your baby needs. Any number of daytime naps works as long as your baby's total sleep time falls within the recommended number of hours.

Try out different nap times to find what works for you, your baby, and your family. Learn your child’s sleep cues and try using the natural lulls in your child’s energy throughout the day to work out the best napping schedule.

When Do Babies Sleep Through the Night?

Learning how to nurture and care for an infant is a challenge, one made much harder when you’re running on insufficient sleep. As a result, most new parents are eager to know when their baby will sleep through the night.

It's considered normal for babies to wake up frequently throughout the night (7). However, as your baby matures, their sleep patterns change. In infants, the ability to sleep through the night correlates with cognitive development and typically occurs by age 1 (8).

Why Is Sleep Important for Toddlers?

During the toddler stage, sleep continues to play a significant role in your child’s developmental health. Young children who consistently sleep less than their peers are more likely to have poor physical, emotional, and social health outcomes (9).

The effects of lost sleep in the toddler years may stay with your child for longer than you think. One study found that sleep problems in the toddler stage were associated with emotional and behavioral issues (10) in school-age children.

Should Toddlers Cut Down on Napping?

As your child reaches toddlerhood, you don’t need to intentionally cut down on their napping time. Toddlers still need quite a bit of sleep compared to older children. With this in mind, napping can serve as an important tool to help ensure your toddler gets the right amount of sleep.

Toddlers who miss naps are more likely to have negative emotional responses (11). Their ability to learn and process language (12) may suffer as well. However, your child’s napping habits will naturally evolve (13) as they grow older and get closer to school age.

Nap becomes shorter and less frequent (14) during early childhood and many children stop taking regular daytime naps between the ages of 4 and 5. Try letting any changes to your toddler’s napping schedule happen naturally when they seem ready and able to cut back on daytime naps.

How to Modify Your Baby’s Sleep Habits

As a new parent, you may feel like your own sleep schedule is subject to the whims of your newborn, but there are a few strategies you can use to modify your baby’s sleep habits.

If you’re trying to coax an infant to sleep through the night, consider sleep training your baby (15) once they have reached 6 months. Also referred to as controlled crying, sleep training is a well-known sleep strategy. Parents wait longer and longer before responding to their baby’s cries at night to promote independent settling after waking up.

Not all babies respond to sleep training, but 10% to 25% of infants may benefit. For younger infants less than eight weeks old, swaddling may help (16) if they’re prone to excessive crying.

The first few months of an infant's life can be tough on new parents, especially when it comes to sleep. Try to learn your baby’s sleep cues, and take advantage of their numerous daytime naps to catch up on shut-eye yourself if you can. Rest assured, as your baby matures, so will their sleep habits. With time, they’ll be sleeping through the night.

 

References

 

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19928384/ Accessed on March 29, 2021.
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29073412/ Accessed on March 29, 2021.
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24378955/ Accessed on March 29, 2021.
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19185519/ Accessed on March 29, 2021.
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18391138/ Accessed on March 29, 2021.
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27707447/ Accessed on March 29, 2021.
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30420470/ Accessed on March 29, 2021.
  8. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1479-8425.2011.00525.x Accessed on March 29, 2021.
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24843067/ Accessed on March 29, 2021.
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25867179/ Accessed on March 29, 2021.
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21988087/ Accessed on March 29, 2021.
  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26237777/ Accessed on March 29, 2021.
  13. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1479-8425.2006.00205.x Accessed on March 29, 2021.
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25915066/ Accessed on March 29, 2021.
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29358251/ Accessed on March 29, 2021.
  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17011324/ Accessed on March 29, 2021.