How Much Sleep Do Children Need?

Fact-Checked

Written By: Matthew Whittle
Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Sherrie Neustein

 

A good night’s rest is essential to healthy growth and development for children of all ages. The amount of sleep a child needs each night gradually decreases from infancy to their teenage years. At each stage of childhood, getting enough sleep plays a major role in learning, concentration, emotional management, and overall physical and mental health.

Lack of adequate sleep has been linked to negative health outcomes for children such as mental health problems, behavioral issues, poor attention, obesity, and higher risk for diseases like type 2 diabetes. An estimated one-third of kids and teenagers experience sleep problems. Parents can help their children sleep better by encouraging good sleep hygiene and establishing a healthy bedtime routine with them.

How Many Hours of Sleep Do Kids Need?

The amount of sleep a child needs depends largely on their age. This number will change as they grow, but the importance of adequate nightly sleep remains constant. That said, minor deviations from the recommended amounts may not have a major effect on some children. Parents should consult their family doctor or pediatrician about the appropriate steps to take if their child’s overall total sleep falls short of recommendations.

Newborns and Infants (Up to 12 Months)

Newborns require more sleep than children in any other age group. Current guidelines recommend 14 to 17 hours of sleep within a 24-hour period, divided between daytime napping and nightly sleep. However, differences in sleep patterns and durations have been observed in children younger than 4 months, so getting slightly less sleep than this recommended range should not be cause for alarm.

The recommended amount of sleep for infants between 4 and 12 months is 12 to 15 hours. Like newborns, infants tend to sleep for shorter periods throughout the day and night. Due to factors such as breastfeeding and co-sleeping, many infants do not sleep through the night.

Toddlers (1 to 2 Years)

Children in the age range of 1 to 2 years should sleep 11 to 14 hours for every 24-hour period. This includes nightly sleep as well as daytime naps, which are integral to cognitive functioning and memory development. The average toddler naps twice per day, but the duration of these naps gradually decreases over time. By the time they reach 2 years old, toddlers typically nap no longer than one hour at a time.

Preschoolers (3 to 5 Years)

The recommended amount of sleep for children between the ages of 3 and 5 is 10 to 13 hours. As daytime napping continues to decrease, preschoolers gradually start to receive most of their daily sleep at night. Consistent bedtimes are important, though the specific time your child goes to bed may depend on their cultural background. Kids who attend a daycare or preschool with designated nap times may not feel as tired early in the evening compared to children who do not nap during the day.

A healthy bedtime routine can help kids in this age range fall asleep more quickly and remain asleep without waking during the night. Important components of a bedtime routine include bathing, brushing teeth and other hygiene-related tasks, communication in the form of reading or singing, and cuddling or rocking.

Experts recommend against including excessive screen time as part of a child’s bedtime routine, because smartphones, tablets, televisions, and other devices with screens emit blue light that can interfere with natural circadian rhythms and disrupt healthy sleep. One study found each hour of screen time was linked to later bedtimes and less overall sleep for children between the ages of 2 and 5.

School-Age Children (6 to 12 Years)

For elementary school children between the ages of 6 to 12, the ideal amount of sleep each night is nine to 12 hours. Most, if not all, of their sleep occurs at night, but daytime naps can still be beneficial for kids in this age range. Studies from cultures that incorporate naps in elementary school have found regular naps are associated with elevated happiness, strong academic performance, and a lower risk of emotional or behavioral problems.

The beginning of puberty, which typically occurs around age 10 for girls and age 12 for boys, often brings about major changes to a child’s sleep patterns. Starting in the early stages of puberty, children often start to fall asleep later and experience disrupted sleep. An overall decrease in sleep quality has also been observed, which helps explain why many pubescent young people feel tired or sleepy during the day.

Teenagers (13 to 17 years)

Eight to 10 hours of sleep each night are recommended for teens between the ages of 13 and 17. A notable decline in nightly sleep often occurs between pre-adolescence and adolescence, but this is not necessarily healthy. Surveys reveal one in five teens sleeps less than seven hours on the average school night. Parents can help ensure their teen gets enough sleep by encouraging regular bedtimes that allow sufficient time for sleep.

Some experts argue school start times can have a negative impact on sleep for young people. Starting classes at 8:30 a.m. or earlier has been linked to insufficient sleep in teens. Academic demands, socializing, lifestyle choices, and other factors can also impact a teenager’s sleep.

Frequently Asked Questions About Children and Sleep

What Is the Best Bedtime for My Child?

The ideal bedtime for any child depends largely on their age. Since the recommended amount of sleep for children gradually decreases as they age, young kids generally go to bed earlier in the evening than older ones. A consistent bedtime routine is integral to proper sleep hygiene, so ensuring your child goes to bed and wakes up at the same time may be more important than when they specifically do so.

Also keep in mind that attitudes about bedtime can vary by cultural background. Some cultures emphasize going to bed early, while parents belonging to other groups may permit their children to stay up later at night.

What if My Child Is Not Getting Enough Sleep?

While parents should strive to help their children get an adequate amount of sleep each night, it is important to remember that slight deviations from age-specific sleep duration recommendations are fairly common.

That said, if your child’s sleep patterns appear problematic or if they have trouble sleeping for no apparent reason, consider sitting down with your pediatrician or family doctor to discuss the situation. Your child may have a treatable sleep disorder or health condition that is interfering with their sleep.

There are measures you can take as a parent to help your child get enough sleep. These include establishing a bedtime routine with consistent sleep and waking times, keeping devices with screens that emit blue light out of their bedrooms, and scheduling time for daytime physical activity to help them feel tired and ready for sleep at night. Young kids are also impressionable, so parents with healthy habits and proper sleep hygiene can often inspire children to follow their lead.

Should My Child Be Napping?

Most children ages 5 and younger receive a portion of their recommended amount of sleep each day from naps. Not sleeping through the night is fairly common for young children, so they need an extra boost from daytime naps to ensure they get enough sleep for any given 24-hour period.

Daytime napping for young children has been associated with healthy cognitive development. However, as children grow, their daytime sleep needs change, and most children stop napping between the ages of 2 and 5.

Your child may be ready to stop napping if they have trouble sleeping at night. Conversely, it may be too early to give up the nap if they appear sleepy or fitful during the day. Once your child stops napping, you may need to push bedtime earlier so they still sleep enough overall.

Do Teenagers Need as Much Sleep as Adults?

The recommended amount of daily sleep for teens falls between eight and 10 hours, which is slightly more than the seven to nine hours recommended for young adults and adults. Unfortunately, many teens do not reach the eight-hour threshold due to employment, academic demands, early school start times, and social pressures. According to surveys, sleep durations for teens have been steadily decreasing over the last few decades.

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