Sleep routines for children

Healthy Sleep Habits: How Many Hours Does Your Child Need?

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​​From infants and toddlers to school-aged kids and teens, parents want to know how many hours of sleep are recommended. While it's true that sleep needs vary from one person to another, there are some very reasonable, science-based guidelines to help you determine whether your child is getting the sleep he or she needs to grow, learn, and play.

Childhood Sleep Guid​elines

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) provides some helpful guidelines regarding just how much sleep children need at different stages in their development. Keep in mind that these numbers reflect total sleep hours in a 24-hour period. So if your son or daughter still naps, you'll need to take that into account when you add up his or her typical sleep hours.

Do those numbers surprise you?

So, are you sending your child off to bed early enough? If those numbers are surprising to you, you're not alone. Working and single parents, especially, are often forced to get by on 5, 6, or even fewer hours of sleep each night. This is likely impacting your own social and mental functioning, as well as increasing your risk for other health problems. It might be tempting to think that your children can also get by with less sleep than they need, or that they should be able to cope fairly well with a few skipped hours here and there. However, all children thrive on a regular bedtime routine. Regular sleep deprivation often leads to some pretty difficult behaviors and health problems—irritability, difficulty concentrating, hypertension, obesity, headaches, and depression. Children who get enough sleep have a healthier immune system, and better school performance, behavior, memory, and mental health.

Healthy Sleep Habits - Tips from the AAP

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports the AASM guidelines and encourages parents to make sure their children develop good sleep habits right from the start.

  • Make sufficient sleep a family priority. Understand the importance of getting enough sleep and how sleep affects the overall health of you and your children. Remember that you are a role model to your child; set a good example. Staying up all night with your teen to edit his or her paper or pulling an all-nighter for work yourself isn't really sending the right message. Making sleep a priority for yourself shows your children that it's part of living a healthy lifestyle—like eating right and exercising regularly.

  • Keep to a regular daily routine. The same waking time, meal times, nap time, and play times will help your child feel secure and comfortable, and help with a smooth bedtime. For young children, it helps to start early with a bedtime routine such as brush, book, bed. Make sure the sleep routines you use can be used anywhere, so you can help your child get to sleep wherever you may be.

  • Be active during the day. Make sure your kids have interesting and varied activities during the day, including physical activity and fresh air. See Energy Out: Daily Physical Activity Recommendations for more information.

  • Monitor screen time. The AAP recommends keeping all screens—TVs, computers, laptops, tablets, and phones out of children's bedrooms, especially at night. To prevent sleep disruption, turn off all screens at least 60 minutes/1 hour before bedtime. Create a Family Media Use Plan and set boundaries about use before bedtime.​

  • Create a sleep-supportive and safe bedroom and home environment. Dim the lights prior to bedtime and control the temperature in the home. Don't fill up your child's bed with toys. Keep your child's bed a place to sleep, rather than a place to play. One or two things—a favorite doll or bear, a security blanket—are okay and can help ease separation anxiety. See Suitable Sleeping Sites for more information specifically for babies under 12 months of age.

  • Realize that teens require more sleep, not less. sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty. At the same time, most high schools require students to get to school earlier and earlier. The AAP has been advocating for middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later. It is important that parents and local school boards work together to implement high school start times that allow teens to get the healthy sleep they need. See the AAP policy statement, School Start Times for Adolescents, for more information.

  • Don't put your baby to bed with a bottle of juice, milk, or formula. Water is okay. Anything other than water in the bottle can cause baby bottle tooth decay. Feed or nurse your baby, and then put him or her down to sleep.

  • Don't start giving solids before about 6 months of age. Starting solid food sooner will not help your baby sleep through the night. In fact, if you give your baby solids before their system can digest them, he or she may sleep worse because of a tummy ache.

  • Avoid overscheduling. In addition to homework, many children today have scheduled evening activities (i.e., sports games, lessons, appointments, etc.) that pose challenges to getting a good night's sleep. Take time to wind down and give your children the downtime that they need.

  • Learn to recognize sleep problems. The most common sleep problems in children include difficulty falling asleep, nighttime awakenings, snoring, stalling and resisting going to bed, sleep apnea, and loud or heavy breathing while sleeping.

  • Talk to your child's teacher or child care provider about your child's alertness during the day. Sleep problems may manifest in the daytime, too. A child with not enough, or poor quality sleep may have difficulty paying attention or "zoning out" in school. Let your child's teacher know that you want to be made aware of any reports of your child falling asleep in school, as well as any learning or behavior problems.

  • Talk to your child's pediatrician about sleep. Discuss your child's sleep habits and problems with your pediatrician, as most sleep problems are easily treated. He or she may ask you to keep a sleep log or have additional suggestions to improving your child's sleep habits.

Additional Information from

  • Brush, Book, Bed: How to Structure Your Child's Nighttime Routine
  • Smart Solutions for Safe and Sound Sleep​ ( webinar)
  • Sleep Tips for Children's Mental Health
Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2016)

The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

9 Ways to Make a Child’s Bedtime Easy

Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors

In this Article

  • 1. Make sleep a family priority.
  • 2. Deal with sleep troubles.
  • 3. Work as a team.
  • 4. Routine, routine, routine.
  • 5. Bedtime snacks.
  • 6. Dress and room temperature.
  • 7. Sleep environment.
  • 8. Security object.
  • 9. One last thing.

If you’re a parent, you know the nightly challenge: to get your kids to go to bed -- and stay there. It’s not easy, but it’s one of the most important things you can do for them.

When children don't get enough sleep, they have a harder time controlling their emotions. They may be irritable or hyper, which is no fun for anyone. Kids who are always sleep-deprived are more likely to have behavior problems, have trouble paying attention and learning, and be overweight. So although it's not easy, it's important to do all you can to help your child get the sleep they need.

Regular schedules and bedtime rituals play a big role in helping kids get sound sleep and function at their best. When you set and maintain good sleep habits, it helps your child fall asleep, stay asleep, and awake rested and refreshed. They can help take the stress out of bedtime, too.

There are no hard-and-fast rules for bedtime, and every child is different. What's important is to build a routine that works for your family -- and to stick with it. Here are nine ways to get started.

1. Make sleep a family priority.

Set regular go-to-bed and wake-up times for the entire family and be sure to follow them -- even on weekends. You can tell that children are getting enough sleep when they fall asleep within 15 to 30 minutes of going to bed, wake up easily in the morning, and don't nod off during the day.

2. Deal with sleep troubles.

Signs of sleep struggles include trouble falling asleep, waking up at night, snoring, stalling and resisting going to bed, having trouble breathing during sleep, and loud or heavy breathing while sleeping. You might notice problems in daytime behavior, as well. If your child seems overtired, sleepy, or cranky during the day, tell their doctor.

3. Work as a team.

It's important to discuss and agree on a sleep strategy for your child with your spouse or partner beforehand and work together as a team to carry it out consistently. Otherwise, you can't expect your child to learn or change their behavior.

If you are starting a new sleep routine for your child, make them part of the team by explaining the new plan to them if they are old enough to understand. For a young child, try using a picture chart to help your child learn the new routine, showing actions like changing clothes, brushing teeth, and reading a book.

4. Routine, routine, routine.

Kids love it, they thrive on it, and it works. One study found that a consistent nighttime routine improved sleep in children who had mild to moderate sleep problems. It helps your child learn to be sleepy, just like reading in bed often puts adults to sleep. It can also make bedtime a special time. That will help your child associate the bedroom with good feelings and give them a sense of security and control. There is no single routine that's right for everyone, but in general, yours should include all the things that your child needs to do before going to sleep, including brushing teeth, washing up, putting on PJs, and having a snack or drink of water. Your child may want to read a book with you, talk about the day, or hear a story. Whatever you choose to do, keep the routine short (30 minutes or less, not including a bath) and be firm about ending it when it's time to sleep.

5. Bedtime snacks.

Children may need more than three meals a day to keep them going, so a small snack before bedtime can help their bodies stay fueled through the night. Healthy options include whole-grain cereal with milk, graham crackers, or a piece of fruit. Avoid large snacks too close to bed, especially with older kids, because a full stomach can interfere with sleep.

6. Dress and room temperature.

Everyone sleeps better in a room that is cool but not cold. A rule of thumb is to dress your child basically as you dress yourself, keeping in mind that very young children often kick off the covers at night and can’t cover themselves.

7. Sleep environment.

Make sure the bedroom is dark and quiet and the noise level in the house is low. If your child does not like a totally dark room, turn on a small night light, or leave the hall light on and the door to the bedroom open.

8. Security object.

Bedtime means separation, and that can be easier for kids with a personal object, like a doll, teddy bear, or blanket. It can provide a sense of security and control that comforts and reassures your child before they fall asleep.

9. One last thing.

Kids will always ask for that one last thing -- hugs, a drink of water, a trip to the bathroom, just one more book. Do your best to head off these requests by making them part of the bedtime routine. And let your child know that once they are in bed, they have to stay in bed.

If they get up, don't react -- simply take them by the hand and walk them back to bed. If you argue or give in to requests, you’re giving them the extra attention -- and delayed bedtime -- they want. And don't give into the "just this one time" pitfall. If you read one more story or let them stay up longer "just this once," the bedtime routine you’ve built could come undone.

Baby sleep mode

All parents dream of their baby sleeping well. And not only because they themselves need to snatch a piece of time for rest, but also because healthy sleep is vital for the normal functioning of the child's body.

A newborn and a child in a year or two sleep differently. The total duration of sleep in the first months of life is 16-20 hours a day, gradually decreasing to 12 hours at the age of five and up to 10 hours at the older age. However, with age, not only the duration of sleep changes, but also its rhythm. In young children, REM sleep with dreams predominates over slow-wave, deep sleep. nine0005

By about eight months, the proportion of REM sleep decreases and is about 20-25% of the total sleep duration, which corresponds to the sleep rhythm of an adult.

A child is born with an unformed circadian rhythm, and quite often even during pregnancy the baby slept or was awake contrary to his mother. A newborn usually sleeps no more than an hour and a half in a row - that's how long the sleep-wake cycle takes him. At the age of two to eight weeks, this cycle is extended to 4 hours. nine0005

Sleeping through the night without waking up, most children will learn before the age of one. At the age of two, children finally form a well-established daily rhythm, but it becomes more difficult to put the child to sleep.

Here are some average norms for the duration of daytime and nighttime sleep for children of different ages: hours;

  • 1.5 - 2 years: daytime sleep lasting 2. 5-3 hours, nighttime - 10-11 hours; nine0022
  • 2 - 3 years: daytime sleep lasting 2-2.5 hours, nighttime - 10-11 hours;
  • up to 7 years: daytime sleep lasting 2 hours, nighttime - 10 hours;
  • after 7 years: daytime sleep is optional, nighttime - at least 8-9 hours.
  • It is important to note here that all children are, of course, individual and do not necessarily fit into these average parameters. Do not wake the child unless absolutely necessary, fearing that he will oversleep an extra hour. However, it should not be forgotten that compliance with the sleep regimen has a beneficial effect on the physical and psychological development of the child. nine0005

    In order for the child to sleep well, certain conditions must be observed. Firstly, the bed and the room in which the child sleeps should be clean and cool, the air should not be too dry. Secondly, the child should not be prevented from falling asleep by extraneous sounds, it is advisable to turn off or dim the light. And, thirdly, before going to bed, the child should not be overfed, but not hungry, otherwise the discomfort in the stomach will prevent him from falling asleep.

    Before going to bed, it is better not to play active games with the child - nervous excitement will not soon allow him to fall asleep peacefully. A warm bath soothes a child before bedtime, especially if you add a few drops of lavender essential oil to it. Lullabies should not be neglected - this daily ritual gives the baby a feeling of comfort and stability, calms him down. nine0005

    Several factors can interfere with a child's normal, healthy sleep. If the baby is hungry, thirsty or feels wet, he wakes up. If the baby is hot or, on the contrary, too cold, he can also wake up.

    Intestinal colic can interfere with children's sleep, especially in the first months.

    Colic is associated with the immaturity of the baby's digestive system: gases accumulate in the intestines and press on its walls, causing pain. Usually colic disappears by 2 months, but can last up to 4-5 months. Special medications, such as Espumizana, a vent tube, dill water, will help soothe the pain. Before using any means, you need to consult a pediatrician. nine0005

    Erupting teeth cause pain to the child, which, of course, causes disturbances in the usual sleep pattern. To make the baby sleep more peacefully, you can give him special rings filled with gel before going to bed. Such rings are cooled in the refrigerator, after which they are given to the child.

    Night terrors may appear in a child around 2 years of age and greatly interfere with his restful sleep. However, rare nightmares are not necessarily a sign of pathology; on the contrary, children who have never had nightmares are an exception to the rule. If nightmares become frequent, the same nightmare repeats (this can be judged by the description given by the child himself), then it is better to contact a psychologist. nine0005

    Sometimes the child wakes up at night, but not completely, and in less than a minute he falls asleep again. Such "awakenings" should not frighten parents. Therefore, it is not necessary, having heard the slightest sound from the child’s crib, to immediately run to him, grab him in his arms - perhaps it is precisely from the actions of the parents that the child will wake up completely and become capricious.

    In order to instill a proper sleep pattern in your child, it is important to remember the following:

    • you don't need to wake your baby on purpose, even if it's time to feed him; nine0022
    • before putting the child to bed, you need to make sure that he is full;
    • night feedings should take place in a quiet, calm environment, with subdued lights;
    • if there is such an opportunity, then at 10-12 months it is advisable to refuse night feedings;
    • it is necessary to put the child to bed always at the same time;
    • daytime feedings should not lull the child, but on the contrary, set them up for activity;
    • it is desirable to start a special ritual of falling asleep, for example, to sing lullabies before going to bed or to put his favorite toy next to the child. nine0022

    Daily routine for a child under 1 year old

    Daily routine is a system for distributing periods of sleep and wakefulness, meals, hygiene and health procedures, activities and independent human activities throughout the day.

    Compliance with a rational daily routine corresponding to the age characteristics of the child contributes to his healthy growth and development. Getting used to performing various types of activities at the same time, the child is prepared for the upcoming type of activity at every moment of time, which ensures their easier and faster implementation. Compliance with the correct daily routine provides a good mood for the child and maintains a keen interest in the study of the world around him, contributing to his normal motor and psychoverbal development. nine0005

    The child's daily routine includes the following obligatory elements: diet, time spent outdoors during the day, frequency and duration of sleep, mandatory classes to develop skills in accordance with age, free time.

    In the first months after birth, a healthy newborn baby sleeps for most of the day, since all external stimuli are very strong for the nervous system of a child, accustomed to a cozy intrauterine environment, and cause its rapid exhaustion. As the child grows older, the duration of sleep gradually decreases and the time of wakefulness increases. nine0005

    nine0083 4 times 2 hours
    Age Daytime sleep mode Night sleep Wake mode
    From birth to 2 months 6 x 2.5 hours 6 hours During feeding
    2-4 months 5 times 2-2.5 hours 6.5 hours 4 x 1.5 hours
    4-6 months 4-5 times for 2 hours 7 hours
    6-9 months 3-4 times for 1.5-2 hours 8 hours 4 x 2.5 hours
    9-12 months 2 x 1. 5-2 hours 9-10 hours 4 times 3-4 hours

    Closely related to the sleep-wake mode is the feeding mode of the baby. The sleep of a child in the first months of life is very sensitive and is easily disturbed under the influence of various extraneous stimuli, including hunger. nine0005

    Age Mode Example
    From birth to 2 months 7-8 times, every 3 hours 6,9,12,15,18,21,24 (no night feeding)
    From 2 to 6 months 6-7 times, every 3.5 hours

    6, 9.30, 13, 16.30, 20, 23.30 (without night feeding)

    6, 9.30, 13, 16.30, 20, 23.30, 03 (with night feeding)

    From 7-12 months 5 times, every 4 hours 6,10,14,18,22

    The child's stay in the open air is essential in the daily routine.

    Learn more