Despite the existence of a colorful chart hung in nearly every pediatrician’s office and a myriad of online resources, the question of how much sleep kids need is still a struggle for many parents — especially the ones who are sleep-deprived themselves. Sure, you know that sleep is crucial for your growing child, but are they actually getting the proper amount of rest? How can you know for sure?
I honestly thought that post-toddlerhood my kids wouldn’t wake up during the night, would sleep in later, and wouldn’t resist rest. But, bedtime battles can happen at any age. (Just ask my almost-9-year-old who thinks that it's OK to stay up as late as he wants when he’s reading, solely because “reading is good for you, too!”)
Especially for older kids who are in school, sleep is an essential part of success in the classroom. Read on to learn how much shut-eye kids of all ages should strive for and how to adjust your evening and morning routines for kids to help encourage healthy sleep habits.
Dr. Carleara Weiss, a Sleep Science Advisor at Aeroflow Healthcare, tells Romper that according to the sleep recommendations by age from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, newborns and babies will need approximately 14 to 17 hours of sleep from ages 0 to 3 months.
As Romper previously reported, many babies will be developmentally ready to sleep through the night around 4 to 6 months of age. However, any parent, pediatrician, or sleep expert will tell you that this milestone actually varies quite a bit.
For their first year of life, sleep psychologist Dr. Lynelle Schneeberg tells Romper that most babies require 12 to 15 hours of sleep each day, which includes naps.
Generally, toddlers from ages 1 to 2 will need approximately 11 to 14 hours of sleep daily. This can also include naps, as Schneeberg noted. Toddlers can experience sleep regression and even sleepwalking, so it’s important for parents to establish and follow through with healthy sleep habits during this stage.
Sleep consultant Christine Stevens recommends tracking your child’s sleep to make sure that you’re getting an adequate amount. “If your child is far outside the recommended range, they likely aren't getting enough sleep,” she tells Romper. “You can also tell if your child isn't sleeping well if they are awake very late into the evening, wake very early in the morning — 4:00 to 5:00 am — or wake multiple times per night and require a lot of help to get back to sleep.”
For kids between the ages of 3 and 5, sleeping 10 to 13 hours each day is recommended. At some point during the preschool years, most kids will be ready to stop napping, but this milestone is different for every child.
One simple way that Schneeberg says parents can tell if kids at this age are getting adequate rest is whether or not you need to wake them up for school. “If you need to wake your pre-K or elementary school-aged child for school, he or she is likely not getting enough sleep,” she explains. “Children should awaken naturally at these ages.”
Experts say that kids aged 6 to 12 should get between nine and 12 hours of sleep each night. By this point, you may need to adjust your child’s bedtime and morning routines to account for school schedules and extracurricular activities, but they still need to get enough rest in order to function well during the day.
“A child who sleeps well will be active, in a good mood, able to concentrate in activities, and have a learning progression compatible with their age,” Weiss tells Romper. “Meanwhile, a child that does not sleep well will present with behavioral issues, difficulty concentrating, and learning. A sleep-deprived child may get sick more often, is more prone to anxiety, irritability, and crying, and potentially experience more food cravings and weight gain.”
While the age-old trope that teens like to sleep all day does have some truth to it (just ask my 14-year-old stepdaughter), the actual daily sleep recommendation for teenagers is between eight and 10 hours.
“Remember that our kids aren't robots,” Stevens tells Romper. “They learn at different stages and definitely have different sleep needs. And some need more sleep than others. Kids will also need more sleep during different times in their lives such as when they are growing or aren't feeling well.”
So, if your teen does like to sleep in longer on the weekends or stays up a bit too late here and there, it’s OK to give them a bit of grace.
How To Set Up A Good Bedtime Routine
Depending on your child’s age, their bedtime routine and what works well to settle them down each night can vary. Younger kids may do well with the standard “bath, book, bed” trio, while older children may prefer to shower in the mornings and draw or write to unwind before bed.
“The critical component of a good bedtime routine is consistency, repeating it every night. The next step is to follow the recommended sleep duration per age group to determine when your child should be going to bed. Then, incorporate activities to promote relaxation and bonding, such as a bath or a shower, reading a book, massage, and cuddling,” Weiss tells Romper. “Avoid over-stimulating activities at bedtime. It is also important to create an environment that promotes sleep: dim lights while relaxing, a dark room for sleeping, low noise or white noise, and controlled temperature.”
Schneeberg tells Romper that younger kids may try to sneak in extra requests during their bedtime routine, so designing a chart with the steps of your child’s bedtime routine and then starting the routine at the same time each night (yes, even on the weekends and during the summer) can help them stick to it.
“A chart keeps kids from adding lots of extra steps to the routine — which they love to do! — and a chart allows a parent to say something like, ‘That’s not on the chart…’ or ‘The chart says it’s time to move on to teeth brushing…’ when kids try to stall or add those extra steps,” Schneeberg explains. “And, when you use the same steps in the same order every single night, the routine will eventually start to help your child become drowsy much more reliably.”
How To Set Up A Good Morning Routine
“Bedtime routines are very important but so are wake up routines,” Schneeberg advises, and your child’s morning routine should stay consistent each day of the week. “A great wake-up routine might be turning on some music and opening the drapes, and then teaching your child to do the same steps each morning: brushing teeth, brushing hair, washing face, getting dressed, making the bed, eating breakfast, and putting the backpack by the door,” Schneeberg says.
As Stevens puts it, “Kids thrive on routines and consistency!” She says that having a solid morning routine can encourage independence in kids, especially when they reach school age. “Use your routine like a checklist and teach your child the steps that it takes to get ready for school so they can learn how to do it for themselves and learn to respect time.”
Just as a nighttime routine is important to promote healthy sleep habits, a good morning routine can help kids start their day in a healthy way — they’re equally important. “A morning routine helps the brain create a clear separation from night and day activities from a behavioral standpoint,” Weiss tells Romper. “It also supports adjustment for the biological clock in the brain from a physiological perspective.”
Christine Stevens, children's sleep consultant and owner of Sleep Solutions by Christine
Dr. Carleara Weiss, Sleep Science Advisor at Aeroflow Healthcare