Getting enough sleep is important for everyone but especially for children. Rest is critical to the tremendous growth and development that children experience during infancy and their early years. Inadequate sleep for children can lead to not just fatigue but also changes in temperament, mood, and behavior.
How much sleep is enough?
Sleep time can be affected by many factors, like illness, growth spurts, a mother’s return to work outside the home, family travel, child care provider practices, sleep environment, any sort of change in schedule, and more.
Also, children’s sleep time will vary, and an hour or two of difference from what’s recommended may be fine for your child. Watch for your child to be on-target with other signs of physical health. Those include growth, developmental milestones (sitting, crawling, walking), feedings, and diapers (wet and dirty), all of which indicate whether they’re getting enough to eat and enough sleep. Also be aware of signs of stress, including fatigue, fussy temperament, and poor feeding. If you notice any changes in energy, mood, or feeding, your child may need a bit more sleep.
Here are the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations for the amount of sleep that children should be getting up to age 5 and descriptions of typical sleep patterns. (“Total sleep” includes both naps and nighttime sleep during a 24-hour period.)
Sleep periods at this age may last a few minutes to several hours on an irregular schedule. Newborns can be encouraged to sleep less during the day by exposing them to light and noise and by playing more with them in the daytime. As evening approaches, the environment can be quieter and dimmer with less activity.
Infants typically sleep 9–12 hours during the night and take 30-minute to 2-hour naps one to four times a day—fewer as they reach age 1. Sleep tips include developing regular daytime and bedtime schedules and creating a consistent and enjoyable bedtime routine.
By about age 18 months, naptimes decrease to once a day and last about 1–3 hours. Naps should not occur too close to bedtime as they may delay sleep at night. Many toddlers experience sleep problems, including resisting going to bed and nighttime awakenings. Sleep tips include maintaining a daily sleep schedule and consistent bedtime routine, making the bedroom environment the same every night and throughout the night, and setting limits that are consistent, communicated, and enforced.
As with toddlers, difficulty falling asleep and waking up during the night are common. Sleep tips include maintaining a regular and consistent sleep schedule, having a relaxing bedtime routine that ends in the room where the child sleeps, and having your child sleep in the same sleeping environment every night, in a room that’s cool, quiet, and dark, and without a TV or other device with a screen.
Should my child sleep through the night?
Rather than trying to force your child into a structured sleep schedule, think of her wakefulness and sleep in terms of patterns that will become somewhat more regular as time goes on. As a newborn grows and his breastfeeding skills develop, he will breastfeed more efficiently and awaken less often.
Focus on expectations for your child’s sleep that are both appropriate for his age and development, and responsive to his and your family’s needs. In addition, parents may find it helpful to adjust their expectations about what it means for their child to sleep through the night.
Flexibility will be key as your child goes through a wide range of developmental stages during the early years.