When you become a parent, you have to put a lot more thought into sleep, squeezing in shuteye when you can while making sure your little one is clocking the recommended hours too. As your child grows and your schedule gets more crowded, it may take even more effort to schedule naps and bedtimes to ensure they’re getting the sleep they need to support their growing bodies.
By practicing good sleep hygiene, you can create an environment and daily routine that promote quality sleep for you and your little one. Here, we dig into how much sleep your kids should get each night and what you can do to make that happen.
What happens in your body when you’re asleep?
Sleep is your body’s chance to rest and recover from the day. It does this in four different stages: light sleep, deep sleep, slow wave sleep, and REM sleep. Altogether, these phases make up the sleep cycle, which lasts between 90 and 100 minutes and repeats throughout the night. Though you won’t feel any different as your body cycles through these phases, each is a distinct and essential part of the sleep cycle.
Drowsiness when still awake is the first stage of the cycle. For the first 5 to 10 minutes after we lay down, technically sleep has begun even if we’re still quite conscious. As thoughts start to veer off into the dreamscape this stage ends and the next begins.
Light sleep is the second stage of the cycle. It usually lasts 5 minutes or less, which is only about 5% of the total time you spend asleep. You can think of light sleep as the stage when you start to doze off but aren’t fully asleep yet. It also happens during the night in between sleep cycles.
Deep sleep is next. During this stage, your brain waves slow down but stay active as your brain organizes your memories. If you grind your teeth, it’s during this part of the cycle. The deep sleep stage can last between 10 and 60 minutes, and it typically gets longer with each consecutive sleep cycle.
Slow wave sleep is the deepest form of non-REM sleep. It’s when your brain stops processing the previous day and your body works on repairing itself. Waking up from slow wave sleep is difficult, and it can cause “sleep inertia,” or excessive grogginess or confusion, for up to 30 minutes after you wake. This stage typically lasts 20 to 40 minutes.
REM sleep can last between 10 and 60 minutes, and it usually gets longer throughout the night. This sleep stage is most associated with vivid dreams, and it’s not considered very restful. Your brain is highly active during REM sleep, using up to 20% more calories than during other sleep stages. During REM sleep, you may experience erratic breathing, eye movements, and muscle twitches.
What makes good sleep for kids?
For kids and adults, good sleep means going through the sleep cycle multiple times without interruption. (Interrupted sleep can be just as bad for your health as not getting enough sleep.) Good sleep should also start and end at the right time. Our bodies follow a natural circadian rhythm, and exposure to bright indoor light after the sun sets can make it harder to fall asleep. Likewise, irregular sleep schedules can make it more challenging to get the good sleep you need for your health and well-being.
How much sleep do kids and babies need by age?
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has guidelines for the recommended amount of sleep for babies and children. Kids who sleep the recommended hours on a regular basis are more likely to have better health outcomes, including improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, mental health, physical health, and overall quality of life.
Kids who regularly sleep fewer than the number of recommended hours may be more likely to experience problems with attention, behavior, and learning. Sleep deprivation can also dysregulate the immune system and lead to autoimmune disorders or diabetes. Regularly sleeping more than the recommended hours can also be harmful, increasing the risk of health problems like hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and mental health conditions.
Newborns (under 4 months)
Babies spend most of the day sleeping, and that’s good! Their little bodies are growing and so rapidly that they need extra sleep to keep up. Newborns tend to sleep between 16 and 18 hours a day, accumulated through lots of naps ranging from 2.5 to 4 hours each.
Infants (4 to 12 months)
By the time your baby is 4 months old, they will have started to learn the difference between day and night. While that doesn’t always mean they’ll start sleeping through the night, they should begin to have a more regular sleeping and napping schedule. At this age, infants should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours, including naps.
Toddlers (1 to 2 years)
Around the time your child starts taking their first steps and forming those precious first words, their sleep schedule will begin to evolve. Toddlers typically switch to a single nap during the day, getting the rest of their sleep overnight. That nap plus their nighttime sleep should total between 11 and 14 hours.
Preschool (3 to 5 years)
As your kid gets closer to their first day of school, their sleep schedule will start to look even more like yours. At some point during this time, they’ll drop their afternoon nap. Whether your child is still napping or not, they should get a total of 10 to 13 hours of sleep each 24 hours.
School-age children (6 to 12 years)
When your kid’s schedule starts to fill up during their elementary and middle school years, it can get difficult to maintain a consistent bedtime. However, you should try to make time for them to get 9 to 12 hours of sleep each night—they’ll need it to help them focus and stay engaged in school.
Teenagers (13 to 18 years)
As your child reaches their teens, they have to juggle even more demands for their time and attention: school, friends, jobs, extracurriculars, and the list goes on. Getting 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night can help your teenager get the rest and restoration they need to navigate their increasingly complicated life.
How can I tell if my kid is getting enough sleep?
Up to 50% of kids experience sleep problems at some point during childhood. Identifying these problems early can help you minimize the effects of bad sleep on your child’s health and well-being. Signs that your child may not be getting enough sleep include:
- Trouble waking up in the morning
- Less interest in activities
- Decreased school performance
- Trouble concentrating
- Irritability or difficulty regulating emotions
- Upset stomach or nausea
How do I help my kid get better sleep?
If you’re worried your child may not be getting enough quality sleep, there are plenty of at-home remedies that may fix your problem. You should also bring up your concerns with their pediatrician, so they can help you monitor your child’s sleep and ensure that poor sleep won’t negatively impact their health. They may recommend keeping a sleep journal or using a wearable sleep tracker to help get a better picture of your child’s sleeping habits.
First, shore up the basics.
A consistent bedtime routine can work wonders for your child’s sleep quality. You should start the routine at the same time every night, including nighttime activities like changing into pajamas, brushing teeth, and reading bedtime stories. Habits like this set your child up for deeper, more restorative sleep by signaling to their brain that it’s time to start winding down for the night.
Then, make sure their bedroom is peaceful, comfortable, and free from distractions that may keep them from falling or staying asleep. The room should be as dark and quiet as possible (except for a small nightlight or a white or pink noise machine, if needed). Lastly, keep their bedroom at a comfortable temperature and maintain healthy indoor air quality to promote good sleep.
Wind down between dinner and bedtime.
After dinner, each activity should get quieter and calmer. Try to tackle stressful or energizing tasks—such as homework, television, or outdoor activities—earlier in the day, so you can transition to lower-energy activities as bedtime approaches. For a gradual transition from dinnertime to bedtime, avoid screens and bright lights after you eat, focusing instead on activities like gentle playing, reading, and spending time together in a room without screens (even ones that are turned off).
Control what you can.
Evening screen time, irregular sleep routines, and a poor sleep environment may all keep your child from getting quality sleep each night. Be firm with your rules about screen time and bedtime routines so your child understands what to expect every night when it’s time for bed. (They may not always like it, but at least they’ll know it’s coming.) It may also help to give them plenty of opportunities to exercise and get their energy out during the day, so they’re more likely to be tired when bedtime rolls around.
Explore sleep-boosting technology and apps.
Parents today have an almost endless variety of sleep aids at their fingertips. Wearable technology like the Oura Ring can help to track sleep for kids old enough to wear it and give you an idea of how they transition through the different sleep phases throughout the night. You can also explore apps for sleep tracking, meditation, sleep education, sleep sounds, and lullabies to help improve your child’s sleep quality. Many smart home gadgets can also help promote a better sleeping environment, such as smart lights, gentle alarms, and devices to warm or cool the bed.
Try over-the-counter remedies.
Many adults and children across the country use melatonin as a sleep aid. It’s often called the “sleep hormone” because of its ability to help people fall and stay asleep. The long-term effects of taking melatonin aren’t well known, but the FDA has approved its use for everyone. Some research suggests that melatonin may be especially helpful for improving the sleep of children with autism or ADHD. Melatonin dosages as low as 0.2 mg can be effective in children, so you may want to start by giving them half of a dose or less.
Chamomile is one of the most-used herbs in the world, and chamomile tea is commonly used as a calming, mild sedative for children and adults. However, children with autumn allergies, like ragweed, or allergies to chrysanthemums, marigolds, or daisies may sometimes experience an allergic reaction to chamomile.
Talk with your pediatrician before giving your child melatonin, chamomile, or other supplements.
Keep yourself healthy
Most parents are all-too-familiar with the feeling of running on fumes. Between caring for your children, keeping up with housework, and managing a career, it’s hard to carve out 7 to 9 hours for sleep each night. But your kid isn’t the only one who needs sleep to stay happy and healthy! When you prioritize your own sleep hygiene, you not only get the rest you need to tackle the day, but you also teach your child to value quality sleep—a lesson they’ll benefit from for decades to come.