Baby and toddler sleep
We all need sleep to help our bodies grow, heal and develop, and as children have more growing and developing to do than adults, they naturally need more sleep. But often children don’t get as much sleep as they need, and that can lead to problems, both short term and in the future. Children who don’t get enough sleep may be difficult to wake in the morning or sleepy during the day, and over-tiredness can make it even more difficult for a child to fall asleep at bedtime. Long term sleep deprivation can lead to serious health issues, such as obesity and depression, and children can experience learning and behavioural difficulties if they don’t get enough sleep.
How much sleep is enough?
Everyone is different, of course, but the chart below gives the average sleep requirements for every stage of childhood.
- Birth to 3 months 16-18 hours per day – split between 10-12 hours at night and 4-5 naps
- 3-6 months About 15 hours per day – 10-12 hours at night and 2-3 naps
- 6-12 months About 14 hours per day – 11-12 hours at night and 1-2 naps
- 12 months – 3 years 12-13 hours – 11-12 hours at night and 1 nap
- 3-5 years 10-11 hours, probably at night. Some toddlers still have a daytime nap but they tend to stop around the age of 3
- 5 years onwards 9-10 hours at night, no nap
Your child’s sleep diary
If your baby or child seems to sleep a lot more than the recommendations above, or doesn’t seem to get enough sleep, it might be worth keeping a sleep diary for a week or two. Make a note of the actual time your child falls asleep – many children may be in bed but not asleep in the evening or morning – and don’t forget to include any naps in the car or pushchair. You’ll probably find that your child is actually getting the right amount of sleep, but if they aren’t the following tips may help.
Don’t make bedtime too late. Overtiredness can really affect your child’s sleep, and putting your child to bed before they are over-tired will not only improve night time sleep but will help the quality of daytime naps too.
While most children become cranky if they’re not getting enough sleep, not all do – if your child is getting a lot less sleep than the recommendations then it’s worth trying to give them more, even if they seem happy.
On the other hand, if your child is only just missing the recommended amount of sleep but you know they are happy and healthy, don’t stress about it too much. Just keep an eye on them for any signs that they are becoming over-tired.
Finally, as children get older they do need less sleep – gradually withdrawing the opportunity for daytime naps by keeping them active will ensure they get the sleep they need at night instead.