Q: How much sleep do infants need?
A: Infants between the ages of 3 and 11 months need a lot of sleep; in total, they should be sleeping about 14 to 18 hours a day. By the age of 6 months, most infants will not need to feed during the night and many will start sleeping through the night without waking up. About 4 in 5 infants should be sleeping through the night by the age of 9 months. The number of daytime naps that an infant will take ranges from 1 to 4 each day, and they are likely to last from 30 minutes to 2 hours at a time. The duration of night-time sleep should range between 9 and 12 hours a night.
Q: Why should infants be put to bed while drowsy rather than when they’re asleep?
A: Putting infants down while they are about to go to sleep will help them learn to fall asleep independently, and will also help them go back to sleep if they wake up, rather than being dependent on someone else to put them back to sleep.
Q: My infant cries a lot when she wakes up during sleep–what could be causing that?
A: There are a number of reasons why an infant might cry during sleep. Is your child accustomed to you staying with him or her the whole time while he or she falls asleep? Has your child learned that each cry during sleep brings you running to the crib? Perhaps your child is going through a phase of separation anxiety (typically occurring between 8 and 9 months of age). Make sure that your child’s daytime and night-time routine is consistent and the sleeping environment conducive to sleep. Illness can also affect an infant’s sleep patterns, so seek medical advice, if required.
Q: How much sleep do toddlers need?
A: Children between the ages of 1–3 years need about 12–14 hours of sleep in total during a 24-hour period. Naptimes during the day decrease with age and shouldn’t be more than 1–3 hours in duration, the older the child gets. This is very much dependent on the sleep needs of the child in terms of development and genetically determined sleep needs that may already be apparent.
Q: What kind of problems with sleep can occur at this age?
A: This can be a trying time for getting the child to sleep. It is a time in the developmental process where boundaries are being tested and children become more self-aware. There can be resistance to going to bed at night. Children are able to get out of bed by themselves and once their imagination starts to develop, nightmares and night terrors, as well as sleep-walking, can start to occur. It is therefore important that a routine is kept for sleep-wake times and reinforced as much as possible. Consistency is the key to success. Sometimes security objects (like a toy or a blanket) can be useful. If you have more than one child of this age in the household and they have different sleep patterns, it is often a good idea to have them sleep in separate rooms if at all possible.
Q: How much sleep do preschoolers need?
A: After the age of 5 years, it is unusual for a child to require daytime naps. Children of this age still need a lot of sleep though–generally between 11 and 13 hours a night. Behavioral problems involving sleep can occur, with more awakening and opposition to bedtime. Once again, a consistent routine is the best way to counter this.
Q: How much sleep do school-aged children need?
A: Between about 5 to 12 years of age, children have about the same sleep requirements as when they were preschoolers. Generally, 10 to 12 hours a night are needed to ensure maximum daytime functioning. At this period in their development, children experience many disruptions in their sleep patterns, such as extracurricular activities, engagement with computing and television, and less supervised intake of foods and drink which may contain caffeine (such as soft drinks). Disturbances to the sleep-wake cycle and inadequate sleep can lead to poor school performance, mood disorders, and hyperactivity. Many primary sleep disorders come to the fore during this time, including sleep apnea, narcolepsy, sleep-walking, and sleep-talking. A consistent bedtime routine is important.
Q: How much sleep is enough during adolescence?
A: During adolescence, sleep requirements slightly fall, but are still more than in adults. Somewhere around 9 to 10 hours a night (especially in early adolescence) is necessary. However, there will be a lot of variation in this depending on genetically determined requirements.
Q: What can disrupt the sleep of an adolescent?
A: Extracurricular and social activities and heavy homework schedules during adolescence take a toll on sleep. Many adolescents have independent access to computers and televisions in their own rooms that may deprive them of sleep. It is not unusual for adolescents to develop a phase shift in their sleep or for the first signs of delayed sleep phase syndrome to occur. This can have a negative impact on school or job performance. A routine and consistent bedtime schedule is important during this phase of development, however hard it may be for parents to enforce it.

Sleep Hygiene for Children

Children and adolescents need a well-planned routine. No child will ever hold it against you if you enforce a routine sleep-wake cycle. It is as important as all the other basic aspects of self-care (like appropriate toilet training, brushing teeth, and bathing). Sleep hygiene for children is very similar to sleep hygiene for adults except for a few extra considerations (see here).

  • Bedtimes should be consistent and predictable, while allowing for some flexibility, and should be firmly and consistently reinforced.

  • As for adults, the child’s bedroom should be kept quiet and dark during the night.

  • The temperature in the bedroom should be comfortable (less than or equal to 75°F or 24°C).

  • Try to minimize environmental noise. White noise may be helpful to mask a noisy environment.

  • Children need to learn to fall asleep on their own. This means getting them to bed when they are drowsy but still awake so that they can learn to get themselves to sleep independently.

  • Make sure that the environment is safe and secure and that the child feels this way about his or her bedroom. The child must be reassured that access to his or her parents is available if needed but not to help get to sleep.

  • All vigorous activities should cease 1 to 2 hours before bedtime. If your child’s bath-times provide too much excitement and stimulation at night, choose another time for bathing, such as late afternoon or in the morning.

  • Avoid all products containing caffeine or alcohol. Note that references to the caffeine content may be hidden in the ingredient list in many types of food.

  • If your child is hungry, give him or her a snack. Children should never be sent to bed hungry.

  • Keep fluids before bedtime to a minimum and ensure that the child has been to the toilet before going to bed.

  • Children should be allowed to protest and cry for a period of time that is appropriate for their age. Once the limit of protestation is reached, parents or caregivers can intervene and calm the child down. They should then leave the room while the child is awake and allow the child to fall asleep by him or herself. This process should continue until the child is asleep. It may take several hours to settle a child in this way, but if you are persistent and consistent, then the problem will settle quickly.

  • Parents or caregivers should ensure that morning awakening times are consistent and strictly reinforced, because this is the most important part of the day in establishing a regular sleep-wake cycle.

  • Daytime naps should be appropriate for the child’s age and requirements. Naps should not be taken close to bedtime.

Bedtime routines

Every family has its own routine and the one suggested here can be easily adapted to suit the way you interact with your children to get them to bed in as stressfree a manner as possible. It is important to be consistent as children thrive on routine. Being consistent also gives them a sense of security and purpose.

Resist crying, calling out, and enreaties to read more or reenter the bedroom. Sometimes the child may take a while to settle, but he or she must learn to get to sleep by himself or herself.

  1. An early dinner.

  2. Quiet play after dinner–avoid computer games and other stimulating activities that might wind your child up or get him or her running around the house.

  3. Bathtime with favorite toys about 1–3 hours before bed.

  4. Dress in pyjamas after bath.

  5. Quiet play or television in a room other than the bedroom for about 20–30 minutes. Your child should not have a television in his or her bedroom. Generally it is a good idea to watch something that is prerecorded so that if it is stopped, the program can be rewound and re-watched and your child knows that the next installment is still available.

  6. Brush teeth.

  7. Go to the toilet.

  8. Get into bed.

  9. Short bedtime story.

  10. Lights out.

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