A Parent's Guide To Children's Sleeping Habits

Know what to expect of your child's sleeping needs and patterns, from birth to adolescence.


Infants sleep approximately 17 to 20 hours in a 24-hour cycle. It is rare for an infant under six months to sleep more than 6 hours in a spurt. It is more likely they will sleep for three to four hour cycles at a time throughout the day and night.


Babies still need approximately 16 to 18 hours of sleep in a 24-hour cycle, however their schedules should begin to shift and regulate. They will most likely start sleeping through the night for an 8 to 12 hour period, and require two to three naps during the day, lasting anywhere from 2 to 4 hours each. This is an ideal time to begin arranging your schedule and meals around naps. Set bed time and waking times to encourage sleep pattern regulation.


As babies approach their toddler years, they will slowly decrease the amount of sleep in a day to 12 to 14 hours. They are more likely to sleep 8 to 10 hours per night, and probably down to one nap out during the day. As you see your baby's sleep needs lessening, gradually shift scheduled naps, bed and waking times to accommodate it.


By this time, children are usually able to sleep through the night for 10 to 12 hours, and begin to phase out naps all together. This can be a stressful time for toddlers. They may not be tired enough to take that early afternoon nap anymore, but some days will become extremely tired and cranky in the late afternoon. However, allowing them to sleep in the late afternoon may completely disrupt their dinner and bedtime schedule. If this is the case, try instilling a quiet time in the early afternoon with relaxing activities in place of a nap, and set an earlier bed time to help your little one make it through the day, and still get enough sleep at night.

From the ages of four to seven, many children will begin having nightmares. This is a normal part of childhood development. The brain is busy processing all the information it is taking in and trying to make sense of the world, and sometimes bad dreams are the result. When nightmares disrupt a child's sleep, encourage them to stay in bed and go back to sleep. Sit with the child if it makes him feel better, and help him deal with the dream, but try to keep him in bed to prevent the sleep pattern from being disrupted. Children will often learn to just roll over and go back to sleep when they are awakened by dreams as long as they are not encouraged to get out of bed and become active.


By the age of five, children will generally have grown out of naps. Children still need around 10 hours of sleep per night through this period in their lives. Determine what time the child needs to get up in the morning, and set bed time to allow for a full night of sleep. Avoid changing sleep schedules on the week-ends or during vacations to keep the child's routine steady.

As the child grows, don't allow her to sacrifice sleep to do homework late, or to participate in leisure time activities. Set a quiet time for at least an hour before bed time in order to help the child's body prepare for sleep. During this time, the child should not do any type of exercise or play games. Reading, a warm bath or listening to quiet music can help her body wind down. Many children who seem to need less sleep are really just too over-stimulated to fall asleep at night because they are playing video or computer games, watching TV, engaging in physical activities, or studying- all things which keep them from relaxing. The effects of sleep deprivation at this age can mirror the symptoms of ADHD or ADD. To avoid these pitfalls, keep the child to a regular sleep schedule.


As children approach puberty, there is a hormonal shift in their biological rhythm that causes them to become sleepier later in the evening. However, their bodies still need a full 9 or more hours sleep per night. This is the time of life when a child is most in danger of suffering from the effects of sleep deprivation. Because of the shift they typically are unable to fall asleep before midnight, yet the demands on their growing schedules with school, jobs, extra-curricular activities and maintaining a social life, force them to rise early and stay active during the day. Sleep deprived teens are more likely to suffer from mood swings and irritability, usually get lower grades and have school problems, more at risk for car accidents, and are more prone to violence and drug use.

It is important as your child is going through this phase shift to keep instilling a winding down period before bed time, to keep up with regular routines and to enforce scheduled bed times. Good sleep habits instilled early on in life will usually make the transition easier.


If your child is having trouble falling asleep, waking frequently, having nightmares often, having excessive problems with bed wetting (especially well after potty-training has kicked in), experiencing daytime fatigue even after a good night's sleep, or unable to stop napping by elementary school, you may want to consider taking your child to a doctor. Some sleep disorders can be serious if they go undiagnosed or are ignored. They may need medical treatment in order to correct the problem.

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