Young children need a LOT of sleep!
Remember when your child was newborn they seemed to sleep for most of the time when they weren’t being feed or changed? As babies they need lots of rest to recharge and grow, and while they are sleeping they process all the things they have learnt while they are awake.
It may not seem like much to us, but something as simple as meeting new people or watching other children play can be very stimulating and tiring for a baby.
As they grow in to older babies and toddlers, they gain more stamina when it comes to staying awake for long periods, and they don’t need quite as much sleep as they used to, but adequate rest is still extremely important throughout early childhood.
Young children tire easily both physically and mentally, and lack of sleep has been proven to affect concentration, behaviour and emotional control. It is also said that sleep breeds sleep; the more rested your child is the longer and better they tend to sleep. This is why daytime sleep in the early years is key to obtaining a long stretch of deep sleep overnight.
So what is the ideal sleeping pattern? The ultimate aim is for the majority of your child’s daily sleep to be consolidated during night time, topped up by daytime sleep until pre-school age.
When the daytime naps occur depends on the child and how long they are able to stay awake – ideally before displaying tired signs, such as yawning, rubbing eyes, irritability and crying. Timing is important here especially for younger babies. In order to settle easily and sleep for a prolonged period, they need to be tired enough to fall asleep but not over tired which can cause them to fight sleep or wake after a short time.
As a rough guide, babies under 6 months can usually only stay awake for around 2 hours at a time before needing a nap, meaning you can expect 3 or 4 naps a day. By 9 months most babies have stretched their awake time to 3 hours and will only require 2 naps a day – one mid-morning and one in the afternoon.
They will probably hold on to this routine (although you will find the timings for each nap will get progressively later, along with bedtime) for at least 6 months, until they are able to drop the morning nap and take one nice long nap after lunch. This transition usually happens by 15-18 months, and can be tricky until they get used to it. You will need to be flexible, possibly alternating between 1 and 2 nap days or bringing lunch and bedtime forward, to avoid overtiredness.
Your child will ideally keep this afternoon nap until around 3 years old. It is recommended that even once your child no longer sleeps during the day, that you continue to offer some sort of quiet time after lunch to rest and recharge.
By 3 months of age, it is a good idea to start a bedtime routine with your baby. This could include a bottle of milk or breast feed, following by a bath, brushing of teeth, dressed into sleepwear, and then a cuddle or story. This should occur at roughly the same time each night.
Your baby should be placed in their crib or cot (with a comforter or dummy if needed), ideally sleepy but still awake, and left to settle themselves in a darkened room. A routine like this will help them to wind down each evening, signify bedtime whilst they are still finding their body clock.
It is a constant in their day which can remain throughout childhood, regardless of any changes that may occur as they grow in independance (such as transitioning to a bed, losing day time naps and starting school) and can be used to help them settle even when they are not at home. You can also replicate aspects of the routine before naptime.
An ideal bed time for under 5s is between 6-8pm. This will vary depending on the child and their day. Factors such as morning wake up time, amount of daytime sleep, timing of last nap and activity levels need to be taken in to account. It is quite normal for bedtime to vary from day to day, especially until their daytime routine is more predictable and daytime naps are a thing of the past. However, it should almost always fall in to the above bracket (along with a morning wake up time of 6-8am) or you may end up with a sleep deprived child on your hands.
Do not assume that reducing day time sleep, or keeping your child up later or longer before bed, will result in a better night sleep and that much-hoped-for lie in. You will usually find that when a child is overtired at bedtime the opposite will happen – they have a restless night and wake earlier (and grumpier) in the morning! So keep an eye on the clock, watch your child, and try and get that perfect timing every time.
We have found the guide below to be the most accurate (and realistic) age-by-age guide to how much sleep your child should be getting each day. Most well rested babies and toddlers will naturally follow this guide. If your child is falling short of the minimum recommendated amount of sleep, you might want to look at changing your child’s sleeping habits or daily routine.
You can also use this chart to check the optimum window of wake time between naps or before bedtime (really helpful with children who are good at hiding their tiredness), giving you the best chance of them going off to the land of nod without a fuss.
Baby and toddler sleep problems
Keep your eyes peeled for our next sleep-related blog, which will provide information and advice if your child:
- won’t go to sleep on their own
- refuses to nap or takes short naps
- goes to bed too late at night
- wakes during the night
- wakes too early in the morning