How Much Sleep Do Kids Really Need? Help!
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As a mom, you already know that sleep is essential. And as a mom, you probably already find it a little challenging to get the sleep your child needs (and maybe even the rest you need). And if that’s the case, you’re not alone. You're going to learn how much sleep your child needs and tips for making that sleep happen.
With work and the daily activities we have going on, it can be challenging to achieve the maximum sleep your child needs to be well-rested. (And since you matter too, for YOU to also get the rest you need).
I’ve been there too, and as a Life and Wellness Coach for moms, I’ve also met countless moms in the same situation. The good news is that through this blog post, you’ll know not just how much sleep kids need, but also how to set up your family life to get the sleep your child needs.
Why do kids need more sleep than adults?
A child’s life is busy. They are developing in their childhood years, but also they have school, homework, play, family activities, learning social skills, emotional regulation, etc. Their bodies need rest.
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The recommended amount of sleep for adults is 7-9 hours a night. But for children, they need anywhere from 9 to 16 hours of sleep (depending on their age).
Kids need more sleep than adults because, during their sleep cycles, their brains (which do not fully develop until 25 years old) are busy growing, storing memories, and solving problems.
Getting your child good sleep also helps children grow up well and healthy. The lack of sleep can result in the immune system weakening. And as most parents can attest to, lack of sleep leads to behavioral problems, crankiness, and easily frustrated. Not getting enough sleep can also result in hypertension, obesity, headaches, and depression.
Because children cannot regulate their routine, it’s on us parents to set up routines and schedules that allow them to get the sleep they need. I’ll be walking you through how to do that.
What are the sleep cycles of a child?
A child’s sleep cycle is about 45 - 60 minutes each (whereas an adult sleep cycle is 90 minutes). During sleep, both children and adults cycle between two sleep patterns.
Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep is also known as deep sleep. We spend the majority of our sleep in this cycle. It’s during deep sleep that our muscle blood supply increases, energy restores, and essential hormones for growth and development are released.
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The next sleep cycle is one you’ve probably heard a lot about, rapid eye movement REM), also known as light sleep. During REM, which we spend about 25% of our sleep in, the brain is active; this is also where dreams occur. And in REM, our bodies are still, breathing slows down, and heart rates are irregular.
Typically adults go into NREM sleep first, but for young children, they enter sleep in REM. Either way, both adults and children cycle through these sleep patterns throughout the night.
Sleep Chart By Child's Age
Here’s the recommended sleep for children broken down by ages. The American Association of Sleep Medicine (AASM), the National Sleep Foundation, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) established these guidelines.
I’ll share that for a lot of my parent coaching clients, their kids are getting a few hours less of sleep than the recommended amount, so I do realize that it can be common to not be within these ranges.
However, parents that commit to solid sleep manage to raise the hours of sleep to meet the recommended rest for their kids. So, it’s doable! Keep reading because I’ll cover tips on how to do that.
Babies 0 - 4 Mos: 14 - 17 hours a day
Moms of young babies receive popular advice to sleep-train their babies. However, something valuable to note is that both the AASM and the AAP do not have a recommended amount of sleep for babies under four months. And the reason is that babies have erratic sleep schedules during this time, due to frequent feedings and brain growth.
The idea that babies under four months should sleep through the night is not one based on science nor evidenced-based. You can implement healthy sleep habits during this time, but sleep training goes against their biological needs. It’s best to wait until after four months to implement any sleep training method.
I recommend that mothers of young babies to practice reducing baby sleep expectations and to re-frame the thought process around baby's sleep -- your young baby needs a lot of sleep, and your baby will get this sleep erratically for months of the first few months.
Babies 4 mos - 11 mos: 12 - 16 hours of sleep a day
Babies 4 - 11 months require a fair amount of sleep during 24 hours, but there’s more structure around their sleep cycles than the first four months.
For naps, it’s typical for this age group to have 3-4 naps a day. There isn’t any recommended length of naps. And the duration of naps varies by the child.
Usually, at around six months, they can begin to consolidate some of their sleep, but in one study, most babies at 6 months and 12 months did not sleep a solid six hours straight. So it varies greatly.
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Toddlers 1 - 2 years old: 11 - 14 hours a day
Toddlers need 11-14 hours of sleep a day, which includes 1-2 naps during the day. Most toddlers enter toddlerhood taking two naps a day, and somewhere after 18 months they reduce their naps to one nap a day.
Preschoolers 3- 5 years old: 10 - 13 hours a day
Preschoolers require 10 - 13 hours of sleep a day. It’s during the preschool age that children will eliminate napping, but it’s not uncommon to have a five-year-old that takes a daily nap. Some cultures continue to take a daily nap, and in some countries, they have found that children’s behavior improves with a daily nap.
6 - 13 years old: 9 - 12 hours of sleep a night
While the age group of 6 - 13 years old does not usually take a day time nap, they still need a good amount of sleep with 9-12 hours of sleep at night.
13 - 18 should: 8-10 hours of sleep a night
Teenagers will begin to have difficulty sleeping due to their shifting hormones; however, teens need 8 - 10 hours of sleep a night. Anyone who has a teenager can agree that the more rest in that range, the better.
Is your child getting enough sleep?
Most likely not, and like I mentioned earlier, that is normal. With the many things we juggle as busy families, it can be challenging to accomplish good sleep.
The answer to maximize the amount of sleep your child gets is by implementing an earlier bedtime.
How to Shift to an Earlier Bedtime
The easiest way to shift to an earlier bedtime is to consider the child’s usual wake-up time for the day and make bedtime 12 hours before wake-up time. For older children, such as preteens and teens, you’d make bedtime 10 hours before wake-up time.
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The general guideline above assumes that you take into account the number of hours your baby, toddler, or preschooler naps. If your child is not taking enough naps, then you’ll want to add more sleep to the nighttime.
An early bedtime may mean that for some families, bedtime is 6 pm - 7 pm. Considering that working parents may get home between 5:30 pm - 6:30 pm, this does not leave a lot of room for evening awake time with the children. In that case, I would aim for a 7 pm - 7:30 pm bedtime.
Tips for healthy sleep:
- Routine: set up a consistent family routine, including a calming bedtime routine.
- Bedtime routine: make your bedtime routine short and sweet (15-20 mins max) so that your child does not become overtired (which leads to hyperactivity) right at bedtime.
- Live an active life: Physical activities with our children, whether it’s walks and outdoor activities such as parks, or active play through the day is beneficial to getting solid sleep.
- Be a good sleep role model: Sleep is not just crucial for your child but also vital to your well-being—model good sleep habits by practicing them yourself.
- Bedrooms are solely for sleep: The children’s bedtime should not also be active play stations. Simplify bedroom decor by removing toys and games into the main living space or (if you have one) a playroom.
- Bath time is playtime: while a soothing bath is relaxing for you, a bath is an active play for a child. Many parents will implement a bath right at bedtime, causing the child to get active and then expecting the child to relax enough for sleep right after. I recommend that baths happen outside of the bedtime routine (before dinner or right after)
- Eat an early dinner: even if you can’t be home for dinner, your child can have dinner early and then sit to enjoy a snack with your dinner when you get home.
- Limit liquids an hour or two before bedtime so that your child does not need to wake up to go to the bathroom (which can be disruptive to sleep).
- Simplify your life: As a culture, families are over-scheduled. There’s swim class, Little League, music class, dance class, and other activities. Find ways to simplify your schedule so that sleep a priority to your family.
If these sound challenging, then Positive Parenting Coaching is a good fit for your family. Together, we will achieve better sleep and routine for your family.
To get your child the maximum amount of sleep hours your child needs, you may find that your family routine needs to be tweaked and that sleep becomes a priority. However, you’ll also benefit from good rest, and your child’s wellness will increase when you both get adequate sleep.
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