How much sleep do infants & young children need?

by Mary Riggs, pediatric sleep consultant

*Update 2/27/2020; please note that since the posting of this blog entry, the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations have changed.  Please visit this site for up to date info.

These are general guidelines for the average amount of sleep needed during a 24 hour period.  Each child is different, though, and there may be some variation for your child from day to day.  However, try to keep the routine as consistent as possible, and remember that your child will sleep better if he arrives at bedtime well-rested from naps. It may not sound logical, but an over-tired child will be a poor sleeper.  Keep in mind that this is total sleep, divided between naps and nighttime sleep.

Age                                    Total sleep

Newborn                           16-18

5-8 weeks                         15½ – 17

9-12 weeks                       15-16

4-5 months                       15

6 months                           14½ – 15

9 months                           14 – 14½

12 months                         13¾ -14¼

18 months                         13 ½

2 years                               13

3 years                               12

4 years                               11 ½

5 years                               11

Remember, children need A LOT of sleep!   It’s a myth that some children just don’t need much sleep.  In fact, your child may actually be sleep-deprived IF: he falls asleep every time he rides in the car; has a difficult time waking in the morning; falls asleep at unpredictable times for naps and at night; or has behavioral challenges that include inability to concentrate, irritability, moodiness, or obesity.

Here are things to consider if your child is NOT getting close to the amount of sleep above:

Is bedtime too late?  Are naps sufficient?  Your child needs A LOT of sleep, and the quality and quantity of their sleep will be affected by the entire 24 hour pattern of each day.  Watch both the clock and your child’s sleep cues to get him into bed at the right times. If he misses his sleep windows, his body becomes stressed and releases cortisol to stay awake (think “second wind”), instead of melatonin to relax him.  Naps that are skipped or too short will cause him to be overtired at bedtime, and make falling asleep challenging.  There is a myth that some children just don’t need as much sleep, but the research is all fairly consistent – children are negatively impacted in many ways (mood, appetite, ability to focus and learn, and even physical development) by insufficient sleep.

Is your child already asleep when he is put into the crib or bed?  Do you rock, walk, nurse/feed, or lie down with your child until he falls asleep?  It is important to have a comforting, calming bedtime routine, but if your routine goes on until you have actually put your child to sleep before he goes into his crib/bed, he has not learned how to fall asleep on his own.  And then, each time he wakes in the night (and we all do) he will need you to come back and put him back to sleep because he has learned to rely on your help.

How do you respond when your child wakes during the night?  The most important key to success will be having a plan and being consistent.  There are many methods for helping your child sleep, and one will be the right fit for your child and family. When you try a different response to each night waking, your child becomes more confused and agitated instead of being comforted.   You may be causing more crying!    Know your plan before the night… 3am is not the best decision-making time for anyone.

Where is your child sleeping?  There will, of course, be times when your child may have to sleep “on the go.” However, make his sleep a priority, and make sure that he is sleeping in his own bed as often as possible, for deeper and more restorative naps & night sleep.  A calm, consistent, non-stimulating, and darkened room is best.

Are there any indications that your child has underlying medical conditions that are disrupting sleep?  If you have any indications that your child has asthma, allergies, reflux, or sleep apnea, please consult your pediatrician.  Sleep issues can be behavioral or medical, but untreated medical conditions often lead to behavior challenges.

Are developmental milestones being achieved?  Often, major milestones such as sitting up, crawling, walking, and beginning to talk can all cause temporary sleep disruptions – usually less than a week.  These are the times to STAY CONSISTENT!

testimonialMary Riggs is a Pediatric Sleep Consultant, and founder of Good Night Child, dedicated to helping tired parents.  She trained with Kim West, LCSW, author of  Good Night Sleep Tight, and graduated as one of the “First 50” students from her Gentle Sleep Coach Program – one of the most extensive and comprehensive sleep coaching programs  available.  This training included classes by some of the leading experts in the field of sleep science, child development, and medical issues related to sleep disturbances.

Mary holds a BS in Psychology, and certifications from AMS (American Montessori Society) and AMI (Association Montessori Internationale), and has over 25 years of classroom experience with infants, toddlers, and pre-school age children. She developed and led Parent/Infant classes, supporting and guiding parents through the early months, teaching them the value of getting to know their child through observation and gentle participation. 

Mary is a member of the Association of Professional Sleep Coaches, and the National Sleep Foundation.  She is available to Coast Families to help you create a gentle, gradual sleep plan that will fit your parenting style and the temperament and needs of your child.   Mary’s years of experience with her 3 amazing daughters and two perfect grandchildren, and in the classroom, are evident when she guides you towards a respectful and responsive plan to put sleepless nights behind you.



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