When should my kids sleep?

Posted by Sleep Mommy Allison in Articles on Mon, Sep 10, 2012

We’ve all heard the familiar joke (or is it a warning?)  “You’ll never sleep again after you have kids.”  Thankfully, that doesn’t have to be true.  Kids do sleep, and most of them sleep through the night well before their first birthday. It does, however, beg the question, “how much sleep SHOULD my kids get?”  And, there’s usually a follow-up, “WHEN should my kids sleep?”  So, here are some guidelines to help answer that question.  Please note, however, that these are just averages. So, individual children may vary slightly!

We’ll start with the easiest one, how much.  Here’s a chart of the average requirements from birth to 18 years old.  My kids are 2.5 and 5, and I STILL look at this chart at least once every couple of months to remind me of our sleep goals!  It really does help answer the inevitable question, “is he not going to sleep because he’s overtired or because he isn’t tired yet?”

Next, let’s talk about when children should sleep. Most children between 4 months and 6 years old fall asleep between 6:30 and 8:30 pm, and they wake up between 6 and 8am.  (7:30pm and 7am are “average”).  If your child is waking earlier than 6, particularly she is not getting the sleep reflected on the graph for her age, here are some suggestions on fighting early rising.  Please note that I said FALL ASLEEP and WAKE UP not go to bed and get up.  You probably want to aim for bedtime about 20 minutes prior to the time your child should be asleep so that she has time to settle down in her bed.  A child who is sufficiently tired, but not overtired, should take 10 to 15 minutes to fall asleep.

The final, and often most frustrating, piece of the sleep puzzle is naps.  The first thing to note is that they are VERY IMPORTANT.  Well-meaning friends and family will often suggest giving up naps when your child isn’t sleeping well at night, but this is NOT a good idea for a child younger than 4 or 5 years old.  Until this age, kids need daytime sleep, and dropping naps will actually make them sleep LESS at night!  You can see how much time your child should be napping on the chart above, but here are some additional quick notes:

  • A nap must be at least 45 minutes in order to count.  Otherwise, it doesn’t serve the necessary restorative purpose
  • A child is usually developmentally ready to drop from 3 naps to 2 between six and eight months old, and the second nap should be the longest of the day
  • A child usually drops to one nap between 15 and 18 months (even though a lot of daycare centers move them a lot earlier, when they are stable walkers)
  • Children need to nap until they are at least 4 years old, and they need an hour of quiet time until 6 (or even older)

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About Allison Smith

Allison Smith is a mother of three girls under 5 (including a set of twins!) and a certified Gentle Sleep Coach and owner of Everyone Sleeps, a pediatric sleep consulting practice serving Montgomery, Frederick, and Howard County, MD. She has a master’s degree in child development and completed her Gentle Sleep Coach certification with Kim West, LCSW-C and continues advanced level studies. Allison has helped over 250 families get better sleep, using a variety of methods tailored to the values and parenting style of the each family well as the temperament and developmental level (physical, intellectual, and emotional) of the child. To date, none of her plans have included just leaving a child to “cry it out” alone. You can find her at Everyone Sleeps, on Facebook, or Twitter where she is happy to answer questions and help out tired parents and is also available via phone or Skype to help families nationwide.

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