Hey there, tired mama. I see you. Wondering when your new baby will sleep for more than a few hours at a time. Imagining that you’ll never sleep well again (you will).
When it comes to kids, especially babies and toddlers, sleep can be a loaded topic. The idea that there’s a right or wrong way to approach it or that good sleepers somehow correlate to something you are (or aren’t) doing, makes the topic sensitive at best, divisive at worst.
So, first thing’s first: let’s remember that 1. sleep has a lot to do with genetics and varies by individual, and 2. while there are certainly things you can do to help assist with sleep, if it doesn’t work, it is not a reflection on your parenting skills. You have not failed. You and your kiddo will sleep again, and you’ll barely even remember the worst of these days.
With so much sleep advice, tips, and information out there, it’s confusing and overwhelming for any mom—new or experienced—to navigate through it all, especially if you’re worried about whether your little one is getting enough.
To help you sort through the info, we consulted pediatricians and pediatric sleep experts, researchers, and consultants to break it all down. In general, how much sleep do kids need by every age? Read on to learn more. And remember, every child is different, so schedules will vary based on your little one’s specific sleep needs.
Newborns (0-3 months)
While sleep deprivation is something we all know comes with the all-encompassing needs of a newborn, Dr. Harvey Karp of Happiest Baby said that one of the biggest misconceptions for new parents is that once the baby gets through the first few weeks, sleep gradually but consistently improves.
“The reality for many, if not most babies, is a bit of a roller coaster with happy victories alternating with frustrating regressions,” Dr. Karp said.
In general, the experts we consulted suggested aiming for 16-20 hours of sleep in the first two months, and somewhere between 14-18 hours by the third month.
Unfortunately, this typically isn’t going to look like a nice eight-hour stretch at night, followed by a few naps during the day. Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett of Mom Loves Best shared that newborns tend to sleep in bursts of 1-3 hours at a time around-the-clock, generally waking up to feed.
But if your little one doesn’t seem to fit this mold, it’s not necessarily cause for worry. Dr. Sarah Mitchell of Helping Babies Sleep reminded me that the research shows that the amount babies sleep at this age varies wildly.
And, of course, remember to follow the AAP safe sleep recommendations of putting infants to sleep on their back on a firm surface like a mattress in a crib with no other bedding or soft objects to reduce the risk of SIDS and suffocation.
The official sleep recommendation from the AAP is for infants 4-12 months to sleep 12-16 hours including 2-3 naps a day on a regular basis. Dr. Karp broke it down a little more because, as any mom who has survived year one can attest, every month brings something new:
4-8 months: 12-14 hours a day, aiming to start the day between 6-8 a.m., depending on your baby. Most little ones are taking two to three naps totaling 3-5 hours at this point, and going down between 7-9 p.m.
8-12 months: 12-14 hours a day, waking between 6-7 a.m. and going to sleep between 7-9 p.m., as they continue to nap 2-3 times a day. This is also when gross motor skills like crawling start to develop, so many babies go through the 8-month sleep regression around this time.
One of the keys to quality sleep at this age and into the toddler years is keeping them from getting overtired, sleep researcher and consultant Macall Gordon of Little Live Wires explained.
“Knowing how long your child can be awake at a time for their age is really the key to good sleep,” Gordon said. “Under 6 months, it’s only about 60 or 90 minutes. At 6 months, it’s about two hours. Going over that amount of time can mean the child is into their second wind zone and then the nap or bedtime is twice as hard to get.”
The ideal hours of sleep for a 1-2-year-old is 11-14 hours total. This is also a transition phase when naps tend to become shorter and most toddlers will transition to one nap during the afternoon at some point during this time, Dr. Poinsett shared. This is also a good time to set good hygiene habits and make sure toothbrushing is a part of the bedtime and wakeup routines.
Naps tend to become shorter and most toddlers will transition to one nap during the afternoon at some point during this time.
Another transition that may come closer to the end of this timeframe? Moving to a toddler bed. While every child is different, some toddlers start trying to climb out of their cribs around this time, which can be risky. Of course, some may still be completely content in their cribs, so it’s certainly not a must to transition just yet.
Preschool-age kids should ideally be sleeping 10-13 hours, including naps. Speaking of naps, this is the age range when many preschoolers start forgoing them. If the thought makes you cringe because you really need those couple hours of alone time, sending your little one to their room for “quiet time” or “rest time” is always an option.
In fact, in my personal experience with a 3.5-year-old teetering on giving up naps, I’ve had more success getting him to actually take a nap by taking the pressure off of it. Instead of telling him he must stay in his bed with the lights off, I let him know that he can play quietly with dimmed lights until I come back upstairs in an hour. I’d say that about 75 percent of the time, he’s asleep before that hour is up.
As kids get into the kindergarten years and beyond, experts recommend aiming for 9-12 hours of sleep. Most kids this age are done with naps, but that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy some quiet or alone time in their room during the day—to give both you and them a break.
And if you haven’t already, this is also a good time to make your child’s room as sleep-friendly as possible by keeping screens like TVs, tablets, and computers out, Dr. Poinsett recommended.
At the End of the Day…
Quality sleep is important, but one thing the experts agreed on is that every child is unique and sleep schedules can vary significantly—so these numbers should be taken as general targets rather than set-in-stone requirements.
When it comes to helping our kids sleep, it’s more like a rollercoaster than a straightforward path to perfection.
Some days will be better than others, and as long as overall, we aren’t contributing to long-term sleep deprivation, our little ones should be OK. Of course, if you have concerns about your child’s sleep, talking to your pediatrician is a great place to start.
Just remember, when it comes to helping our kids sleep, it’s more like a rollercoaster than a straight path to perfection.