A practical guide to bedtime for children

Sleep is vital whether we are 50 years old or 50 hours old. Many mental and physical health problems — including obesity, type 2 diabetes and attention problems — can plague children and adolescents if they don’t get enough and good sleep. Children are also at higher risk of injury and delayed cognitive development when this important activity is lacking.

Building a solid bedtime routine can help ensure your kids get enough sleep. While experts may recommend age-specific guidelines, it’s important to remember that every child is different.

Newborn Bedtimes

The majority of newborns sleep 18 hours or Lake one day in their first three months. They tend to wake up at short intervals of 1.5 to 3.5 hours to eat, change and socialize. Even during these wakeful periods, babies can drift in and out of a sleep state.

Children in this early stage of life do not have a set bedtime. Instead, babies sleep and wake up as needed according to their natural body rhythms.

A newborn baby girl is sleeping Catherine Delahaye / Getty Images

Waking periods are increasing

As newborns grow and stay awake longer, a sleep routine and bedtime are now available, much to the parents’ relief. Around four months, babies start staying awake for 2 to 4 hours and generally only wake up once a night. At this point, it’s more realistic to establish a regular bedtime between 8:00 PM and 11:00 PM.

newborn baby sleeping Jomkwan / Getty Images

Older Babies

By the time babies are 6 to 12 months old, bedtimes are more common. The waking periods now last 6 to 8 hours and getting up through the night decreases or stops. Parents can start setting bedtimes as early as 6pm or late at 8am. The length and frequency of daytime naps affect this bedtime range and vary from child to child.

one year old boy sleeping with pacifier ljubaphoto/Getty Images

Critical neural development

While babies sleep, neural connections form. This critical brain development occurs during deep sleep† In fact, 1,000,000 neural connections form every second during a child’s infant and toddler years. Bedtimes for infants are therefore critical.

A routine that includes a consistent and reasonable bedtime allows babies to fall asleep faster and sleep longer, leaving plenty of time for that essential cognitive development. It is important to note that daytime naps, while important, do not provide the deep sleep necessary for brain development.

toddler sleeping nanausop / Getty Images

A toddler’s busy brain

toddlers need 11 14 hours of sleep during any 24-hour period. Most children aged one to three years sleep about 12 hours a night and have a 1 to 2 hour nap during the day.

Toddlers’ brains absorb so many experiences during their waking hours. As active explorers of their environment, they investigate everything with zeal and curiosity. Not only is deep sleep when toddlers “lock in” these new memories and the vital skills learned during the day, but a growth hormone produced in the pituitary gland is released right after toddlers reach deep sleep. This hormone affects not only physical growth, but also the development of vital organs.

toddler sleeps with hug olesiabilkei / Getty Images

Best bedtimes for children aged 1 to 3

Because their world is so stimulating, toddlers are the ultimate sleep disruptors. This general refusal to close their eyes makes a bedtime routine even more important at this age. Children may never seem tired, but they generally need 10 hours of sleep every night.

Optimal bedtimes for toddlers are between 6:30 PM and 7:30 PM – their deepest sleep occurs between 8:00 PM and midnight.

little girl sleeping d3sign/Getty Images

Sleeping in the preschool and early elementary years

The preschooler’s brain continues to develop, building skills for self-care in addition to critical neural connections. At this age children learn how to “wind” down” after a busy day† In addition to fostering this nascent independence, the routine of a regular bedtime routine for 2- to 4-year-olds teaches discipline and instills a sense of security.

little girl sleeps hugging toys fizkes / Getty Images

Bedtimes vary for children aged 4 to 6

During the preschool years, bedtimes vary widely. Kids turning four may still be napping, while older four- and five-year-olds may no longer need this afternoon rest. Bedtime for children of this age depends on these and other factors, but usually falls between 7:00 PM and 9:00 PM. Preschoolers need ten to twelve hours of sleep a night.

boy sleeping in bed Tetra Images/Getty Images

Challenges for school-age children

As kids get older, increased homework demands, sports, and other extracurricular activities keep them active later in the evening. Unfortunately, these activities sometimes prevent school-aged children from getting the recommended amount of sleep every night. Although they build positive social structures, insufficient sleep can lead to sleep disturbances.
including nightmares, teeth crunching, sleepwalking and snoring

young boy asleep on the couch in the living room Stephen Simpson / Getty Images

School-age children still need bedtimes

Children with sleep disorders have trouble regulating emotions and may show signs of hyperactivity. Furthermore, sleep deprivation interferes with concentration, memory and creativity, causing them to struggle in class.

An average of 10 hours of sleep is ideal for children under 10, but again, this is highly variable: many do well with just nine hours, and others may need 12. Now is not the time to give up bedtime routines and consistent bedtimes. School bedtimes between 7:30pm and 9:00pm seem to work best.

boy sleeping in bed Siri Stafford/Getty Images
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