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All About The Sleeping Habits Of Children; From Newborn to Five Years Old


Childrens Sleep 101

Sleep is an essential, healthy part of your baby’s life. In the same way that good nutrition is important for the development of his body, baby sleep is crucial for the development of his brain.  A baby sleep schedule is necessary because unlike adults, infants cannot just go to sleep whenever!  As your baby establishes and maintains a regular healthy sleep schedule, he is more likely to sleep longer and less likely to awaken during the night, with all the health benefits of that kind of sound sleep which make a happy baby.

No wonder many parents worry about the sleep habits and behaviors of the ir baby. “Is he getting too little sleep? Or too much? How important are naps, and how many hours of napping are enough? Should I let him cry himself to sleep at night, or should I pick him up when he’s in tears? Why does he seem to go to sleep later – or earlier – than other children of the same age?

Even though many parents are anxious about their baby’s sleep patterns, the good news is that many of their concerns can easily be addressed. Many moms and dads may be unclear about the optimal baby sleep schedule for a infant at different ages. Even when they ask questions and get some clarification from their pediatrician, they still may be left frustrated with general advice that may be applicable to children at large, but not necessarily to their own child. After all, children aren’t alike, and there are normal variations from one child to another; some children may develop regular sleep rhythms in the first six to eight weeks of life, and they may sleep for many hours at a time; others, however, may have unpredictable sleep behaviors that stay that way for many months – or longer. It’s reasonable to discuss with your pediatrician the specific questions you have and to review your own family’s routines, problems, and challenges that may affect your child’s sleep patterns.

In fact, although some parents may ask their doctor questions like “How many hours should my baby sleep at night?”, there is no universal answer that applies to every baby. In the first two years of life in particular, your baby’s unique genetics have a powerful influence on sleep; whether he takes long naps or short ones, his genetic makeup may be the reason. Or his distinctive temperament could be influencing his sleep behavior. Also, family circumstances can vary, affecting when, how long, and how well a child sleeps. If the parent works at night and sleeps during the day, this can also affect the baby’s sleep schedule.




Getting Sleep in Sync

Moms and Dads sometimes unknowingly disrupt the sleep of their children. For example, even though parents want to do what’s healthy for their baby, they don’t always appreciate the effect that their own busy schedules and family decision-making may have on their child’s sleep

Most commonly, parents may not recognize the importance of adopting a lifestyle that keeps their child in sync with his emerging biological system. Timing is everything (or at least it’s pretty close). Because timing of sleep is critical, it is important to understand that when your baby sleeps is probably more important than how long they sleep. The quality of a baby’s sleep, which can restore alertness and maintain an even temperament, depends largely on when the sleep occurs. That means encouraging him to sleep in rhythm with his own biological clock.

Pay attention to your child, and you’ll find that, just like adults, he has “drowsy times”, during the day. If he sleeps during his drowsy periods, the quality of sleep will be greater than sleep that occurs out of phase with his biological cycles. But if you wait to put him down for sleep until well after he’s shown signs of drowsiness, he’s likely to be overtired by then, which will make it more difficult for him to fall asleep.

As a parent, you need to nurture and support your child’s need to sleep. As much as possible, encourage him to sleep during those times of the day when he’s likely to benefit the most from it. However, adopting an optimal sleep schedule won’t happen overnight. It takes a while for a baby’s biological rhythms to develop, with your ultimate goal of getting his sleep patterns to match his internal mechanisms. Give it time, and it will develop naturally. Your challenge as a parent is to be sensitive to those moments when his body is telling him (and you) that he’s ready for sleep. Otherwise, you may be putting him down in his crib or bed way too early or way too late, and the ease with which he falls asleep – and the restorative capacity of that sleep – will be affected.

To see whether your child is getting enough sleep – particularly – quality sleep – observe him at the end of the day. Is he sweet, adaptable, friendly, cooperative, independent, and engaging? Or is he whiny, crabby, excitable, wired, and irritable? He may be running out of steam as the day draws to a close, all because of mild but chronic sleep deprivation. So if he’s consistently melting down, you may need to make some adjustments in the times in which you put him to sleep.




Establishing a Sleep Schedule and Dealing with Crying

Some babies cry every night when they’re placed in their crib for sleep; others almost never do. For many parents, it can be gut-wrenching when a child cries in his crib for long periods of time. As your baby wails and pleads for your attention, your heart may be breaking, and it can be anguishing to keep your distance while you wait for him to fall asleep. Or you might feel frustration or anger at his apparent unwillingness or inability to quiet down and sleep. Even just a few minutes of tears can seem like an eternity.

Often concerned about why their baby is crying, parents may wonder whether the infant is simply letting off steam, is feeling lonely, or whether he’s really in distress. Many parents just give in, rushing to their infant’s crib side, unable to bear the sound of sobs.

Not surprisingly, some of the most common questions asked of a pediatrician are “Should I let my baby cry himself to sleep, or should I pick him up and comfort him?”, as well as the more fundamental question “How much sleep should he really be getting?” To a large degree, the answers to these questions depend on the age of the child. Here are your baby’s sleep patterns by age.

Newborn Baby Bundle

The First Weeks of Life

During this period, your baby will spend most of his time asleep. When you put him down to sleep, or when he awakens, try to avoid letting him cry. Instead, respond to those tears, and do whatever you can to soothe your baby, such as singing quietly, talking to him quietly, playing soft music, keeping the lights dim, and/or rocking him gently. Pick him up if necessary, putting him down again five to ten minutes later. By minimizing his discomfort in whatever way works, you’ll maximize his sleep time and its quality.

When is an infant of this age ready for sleep, whether he’s in tears? In general, after he has been awake for one to two hours he needs sleep. Sometimes he may need to fall asleep even before an hour goes by and rarely he may stay awake for three hours. No matter what the circumstances, he will begin to show signs of being overtired and irritable if he doesn’t get his nap when he needs it. So start soothing him to sleep. After he’s been awake for an hour or two, he may need to be soothed. Put him down in his crib when he’s drowsy but still awake ( this approach will be helpful for daytime napping.) If you wait too long, he’s likely to become cranky, and have even more difficulty falling asleep.




After About Six Weeks of Age

Your baby’s sleep-wake schedule will begin to settle into more of a routine at this time. He will begin to sleep longer at night, and exhibit signs off drowsiness (and perhaps some crying) earlier. For example, while he may have once been ready for sleep between 9 and 11 p.m., some children start to need sleep somewhat earlier, perhaps between 6 and 8 p.m. His longest sleep period will be in the evening, lasting for three to five hours.

Variations exist, of course, so be sensitive to your own baby’s needs and anticipate that he may require an earlier bedtime-no longer at 11p.m but rather at 8p.m. So to minimize crying, put your child to sleep earlier, spend some time soothing him if needed (although if he fusses a little, it won’t cause any harm), and let his own biological rhythm dictate whether it will turn into a thirty-minute nap or a four-hour snooze.

As you and your baby get in tune with his rhythms, he’ll gradually learn to soothe himself to sleep when you put him down. As that happens, there will be little or no crying. By about three months of age, most babies sleep six to eight hours through the night without disruption. If he awakens too early, you might be able to encourage him to go back to sleep by soothing him, and keeping the lights off and the shades drawn.




Four To Twelve Months Of Age

With a four-month-old, and continuing into the weeks and months ahead, keep working at being sensitive to your baby’s bodily rhythms, which will minimize episodes of crying. From four months through the rest of the first year of life, most infants need at least two naps-one at mid-morning and the other at midday; some children may nap a third time later in the afternoon. Try to get him on a schedule of napping at about 9 a.m. then at 1 p.m, and finally a late afternoon. Let him nap for as long as he wishes unless he has difficulty falling asleep at night; in that case, talk to your pediatrician about awakening him from his afternoon nap a littler earlier than he might wake up on his own. By about nine months of age, try to dispense with late afternoon naps so he’ll be ready for bedtime for the night at an earlier time than if those late afternoon naps continued.

At this age, a child’s nighttime sleep will be his longest sleep period of the day, and by about eight months old, it should last from ten to twelve hours without him awakening for a nighttime feeding. But if a child of this age seems overtired and he cries at the mere sight of his bed, his naps may be too short ( less than thirty minutes long,) or perhaps you’re putting him to bed too late at night. In the latter case, place him in bed much earlier, at least temporarily-perhaps at 5:30 or 6 p.m.-to respond to his excessive tiredness. If he cries, check on him and console him with a few comforting words. Change his diaper if needed, make sure he is comfortable, but keep the lights dim and don’t arouse him more fully by picking him up and walking with him. Then leave the room quietly. As the days and weeks pass, gradually give him less attention at night, which will help him stop anticipating that you’ll show up whenever he cries or calls out for you, and he’ll be more likely to learn self-soothing.

Its important to keep in mind that there are times when you may need to let your baby cry himself to sleep; it won’t cause any harm and there’s no need to worry about the possible messages behind those tears. Remember, you have all day to show your infant how much you love him and care for him. At night, he’ll get the message that nighttime is for sleeping, and on those nights when you let him cry, you’re helping him learn to soothe himself. He won’t be thinking that you’re abandoning him or that you don’t love him anymore, he knows by your daytime behaviors that this isn’t the case at all. In other words, there’s no need to worry.




Ages Ten to Twelve Months

At around ages ten to twelve months the baby’s morning nap will begin to taper off in the minority of children. At around twelve months of age, some babies may drop their morning nap. As that happens, you can start moving his nighttime bedtime somewhat earlier (perhaps by about twenty to thirty minutes only); the afternoon nap can be started a little sooner, too. The time when you put your baby down for nighttime sleep may vary for a while, depending on factors such as how tired your child seems, and the quality of his daytime napping.

Thirteen To Thirty-Six Months of Age

The amount of time that your child spends napping will begin to change during this time of life. By age fifteen months about half (but certainly not yet all) children will be taking only one nap a day, typically in the afternoon. The morning nap may simply fade away on its own, although there could be some rough periods as this transition to a single daily nap takes place. Even so, for most children, the morning nap will gradually disappear. As that happens, if you put your child to bed earlier for the night, he’ll actually be less likely to miss those morning naps, and he’s more likely to wake up rested.

By Twenty-Four Months of Age

Nearly all children have transitioned to just a single afternoon nap, although this napping remains biologically important for them to function well during the rest of the day.

Between Two and Three Years Old

Most children continue needing a daytime nap so they’re not irritable and fussy by late afternoon. By about three years, the average child will sleep ab out two hours during the daytime. However, some will sleep more and others less (as little as an hour in some cases.) Try to make the timing of naps and night-time sleep regular, although the need for some flexibility is inevitable. Some children will go through periods where they resist napping, even though their body is telling them (and you) that they need a nap; in those instances, try out an earlier or later bedtime at night, and see if that helps your child rest better during the day.

The best rule of thumb is that your child’s naps should be long enough to be restorative. There is some evidence that longer naps tend to improve a child’s attention span and his ability to learn. Conversely, if he’s having very brief mini-naps that are just a few minutes in length, they simply won’t sustain him through the day. A child’s need for an afternoon nap about one to two hours in length will shorten after that. And research shows that 90% of three year olds are still napping.

Three to Five Years of Age

Most children in this age range are ready for nighttime sleep between 7 and 9 p.m, or earlier if naps are brief or absent, and they’ll sleep through the night until about 6:30 to 8 a.m. Naps tend to become less common in some children by age three or four.

During this age, get in tune with your child’s need for sleep, and set a regular bedtime. With less napping time and greater physical activity, the sleep needs at night actually increase in some children. As a result, you may decide to extend your child’s sleep time by making his bedtime a little earlier.

Getting the Most Out of Sleep

So how do you prepare and soothe your child to sleep? Soothing techniques may vary based on the age of your child. Some gentle rubbing of his back can help at almost any age. For young infants, so can touching your own cheek to his in a rhythmic pattern that coincides with his own breathing. Patting him, kissing his forehead, or offering a pacifier, may be useful for young infants. White noise works well with newborns, such as a hairdryer, vacuum cleaner, air cleaner or a white noise machine.




Bedtime routines can start as early as four to six months of age, and they’ll help get your child ready for rest, uncommonly as he starts to associate them with sleep. Try reading him a story. Or give him a warm bath or massage, sing him a lullaby, or play soothing music. Cut down on your playtime with him right before bedtime, close the curtains, dim the lights, and unplug the phones.

More important than your choice of a specific routine or ritual, you need to continue to stay in rhythm with your child’s circadian clock. Remember, timing is the key to healthy sleep. So while its fine to sit quietly with your child for ten to twenty minutes and read him a story, what you choose to do is usually of less importance than the time you choose to do it.

With this is mind, many mothers and fathers try to change their own behaviors to encourage better sleep in their children. Yes, modern parents lead very busy lives. But whenever possible, they’ll arrange to be home when their baby needs to nap, rather than shopping or running errands. They’ll make sure that their infant naps in his own crib, rather than hoping that he’ll doze off in a baby carrier at a noisy restaurant while Mom or Dad is having lunch with friends. On vacations or holiday’s, they’ll try to minimize the disruptions that may keep a child awake long past the time he would have been napping or in bed for the night. In short, they become as protective as possible of their child’s sleep time, even if it limits and requires adjustment of their own activities. When it’s time to sleep, they’ll keep their child away from situations where there is a lot of stimulation, which can lead to crankiness and make sleep difficult. Family activities with the baby before bedtime should be low-key, so as not to overstimulate him.

If your baby is in child care during the first year of life, ask his caregivers to keep him on a regular napping schedule as much as possible. It should be the same schedule that you follow at home to minimize disruptions. Their willingness to adapt to your own preferences for napping may be an important factor when you’re choosing a facility.

Even with a cooperative child care staff, however the situation can become mixed up on the weekends. If your child has been in child care all week while you’ve been at your job, you’ll probably be eager to spend as much time as possible with him on Saturday and Sunday. You may give in to his crying or demands to play because of your own guilt about being away so much, and good quality naps may fall by the wayside. Then, after the weekend, the child care workers won’t need a calendar to tell that it’s Monday – they’ll know just by how irritable your child is from a change in his weekday sleep routines.

Nevertheless, some disruptions in sleep schedules are inevitable. Holidays, vacations, or a family gathering for Grandma’s birthday can keep your child from napping or getting to bed on time. Because the temperament of children varies, some are much more adaptable to changes like these than others; while one child will adjust to changing circumstances very easily, others may not.

As much as possible, respect your child’s nature, and try to maintain normal sleep routines. At the same time, if you know that a disruption of his sleep schedule is on the horizon he will fare better and adapt more successfully and have a cheerier disposition, if he is more rested ahead of time. So when you look ahead to a family party, for example, try to keep your child well rested in the preceding day or two so that this intrusion into his sleep schedule will unfold as smoothly as possible. The more rested your child is, the better his temperament and the more adaptable he will be to changes in his environment – and the better he will sleep.

 

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Great article and very insightful! I think that sometimes some parents just don’t understand that there is an adjustment to be made, once the baby arrives. Some parents want to continue with the same lifestyle as opposed to understanding that it’s important to tune in to their baby’s needs. 

But the thing about it is that if their baby is happy, as parents they will also be happy, so they need to keep in mind that their baby’s happiness can also depend on the amount of quality sleep they get. If as adults we get cranky when we don’t get enough sleep, so much so a baby or a child. Again, great article!

Agreed. If your baby is not able to take their naps at the time they are supposed to – say, because a parent doesn’t want to make the necessary lifestyle adjustments around their baby’s schedule, then that will have a huge negative impact on the infant. Newborns and young infants need their daily sleep / naps like they need their milk, if they are forced to stay up it will just affect their health detrimentally. I think most moms know this already though, so that is why most moms are always in their robe, at home, living off of coffee lol, its a cliche but its true! I know I went through that to make sure that I was home all the time so my son would get his naps at the right time. #momlife

Wow, this is an incredibly helpful breakdown. Sleep can be such a difficult area when it comes to infants and toddlers. I know I kept my parents awake all night for the better part of a year. 

It’s important to know what is normal and what isn’t, and know how to fix the issues. You’ve given such a detailed description of where children should be and when that it’s hard to find anything that’s left to question. 

It’s also really great that you didn’t stop at the end of the child’s first year, because so many sleep problems continue into toddler-hood.

Thank you so much for this incredibly detailed and helpful article!

Great article for new parents who are concerned about baby’s sleeping patterns! For those who are worried – be advised that babies have a morning and an afternoon nap that you can (and should ) schedule around your life.  Cleaning and errand running is also something that is in need of a schedule and this schedule will make you miss that morning nap when it fades away.  We replaced the morning nap with “quiet time” so we could maintain the schedule we built.  With online shopping for groceries becoming so simple these days thanks to sites like Amazon and Boxed – the shopping schedule can be super simplified and running to store for milk and eggs can be great fun for baby and nearly stress free when a nap is the reward at the end of the activity. Trips in the car are ideal for getting baby to sleep!  You can even schedule road trips around baby’s sleep schedule. We always like to leave at bedtime for long distance road trips to take advantage of the long sleeping blocks. 

What a wonderful idea to leave for long distance trips at bedtime! That way your little one will be snoring away for most of the ride. You are right about scheduling your life around your baby’s naps. A new baby means a big adjustment to how you normally go about your day. When I was pregnant, I had *no idea whatsoever* how less sleep and less freedom I would have. I really assumed it wouldn’t be as hard as it was! But when my son was born it was just me, as a single mom, I didn’t have anyone else to take over, so  I would just have to sleep whenever he slept to make sure I caught up on rest. I also like your idea about quiet time. That gives everyone a change to take “break” in the day because parenting is a really hard job! Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

My son is 8 months old and I have found my self in many paragraphs of this article. Looks like you were in my home and see all my sufferings on creating and respecting the sleeping hours of my baby. Currently I’m on maternity leave and during the week, I’m at home alone with my baby, because my husband is at work and my elder daughter is in school. During these days it’s easier for me to respect the sleeping schedule (my baby takes three naps actually, morning, mid-day and late afternoon). On weekends, there is regress always: all the work that I do during the week is destroyed from the noise caused by the other family members:( This is my biggest problem till now, how to organize the weekends the same as I do during the week.

Aww I can understand your pain.  A lot of people assume that maternity leave is a vacation but it truly is not!  It can be overwhelming getting used to a new baby! That is why I wrote this article as a resource for parents to get a general idea of the sleeping habits of their babies. I suggest that you sleep when they sleep so you can catch up because babies are so unpredictable, especially ones that don’t sleep for a solid chunk of time. So milk it when you can!

Hi Sophia,

You’ve shared so many tips here. As a working mom, I’ve never been able to create a proper sleep schedule for any of my kids. They never slept at night until the early hours of the morning when it was already too late for me to get some quality sleep before work. Well now that I am pregnant again, I wanted to do a search online to see if I could find a basic rundown of child’s sleep so that way I implement good sleeping habits from the beginning. My other kids just have poor, poor sleeping habits and I just don’t want my baby to be out of wack because I am unaware of how he or she should be sleeping. Well I bookmarked your site for future reference and really appreciate this run down of sleep from a newborn to five years old!

This is quite well written. Nutrition is definitely key because if my older kids end up with too much sugar on any given day, they don’t fall asleep until close to midnight and are not at all well rested for the next day. I make sure they don’t consume much sugar. It is not good for them anyway but it messed up their sleep schedule big time.

Wow. I am impressed with how much work you put into this. There are some excellent tips in this article. I know how important it is to create a sleeping schedule, and this confirms that. I am not having any more kids but I have friends who are. I will pass this onto them.

What a great read! Thank you so much for sharing this information on how truly important sleep and establishing good sleeping habits are to the development of our babies. I have two sons, age 7 and 2, and I remember I often have internal struggles on whether I should pick them up or let them cry. Creating and reinforcing sleeping habits during their first year were completely different for each, but it does pay off to start early. Although the road to get us to where we are now, were full of struggles, they both have their nighttime sleep routines down pat.

Babies can be so fussy when it comes to sleep. Some need more, some need less. I think if most parents would realize that, the process would be so much easier for them. Babies sleep time should not be at the parents convenience, but rather suited to the babies needs for sleep and how much sleep they need. Too many parents use this as a crutch to get their time away but »I think in the end just messes the baby up and leads to develop bad sleeping habits later on.

Oh I highly agree. When parents disregard their child’s need for sleep, assuming their child is well rested already and doesn’t need a nap, they don’t realize they are risking their child’s HEALTH. Its imperative that babies and young children sleep so that they can rest their bodies where new cells can grow and the body can heal & repair itself. And children who don’t nap are usually restless, irritable and sick all the time.

Oh, how I appreciate this article! If there was one secret about having children, this is number one. Sleep is so vital for a child. I can not tell you how many friends and family members I have said this too. Many parents wonder why their child is acting out, but yet never have them take naps. I have had three, and all slept good, but that was because we would not go places during nap time, or if we did, it would be on a long walk so they could sleep. I like how you broke it down with ages, which is essential. The first year of life you have to make a schedule! We found that a 7:30 pm bedtime worked best, and anything later than that they would get overtired. The beautiful thing about it is that all my kids loved to take naps all the way up to 5 years old!

You are indeed very lucky to been blessed with such good sleepers. It also seems like their good sleeping habits came from some good “training” on your part ( and maybe, partly genes 😉 But newborns are suchs LONG nappers, and essentially, the long cycles of sleep taper off into more wakefulness.. its not like your baby suddenly wakes up on the day of their 6th month and decide they are going to drop one nap for the day and from now on it will be consistently that. No! Sleep is inconsistent but this is a basic overview of what to EXPECT at various ages. Always check with your pediatrician. Sleep is very important for healing and growing, if our children do not get the rest they need, their body won’t be able to heal or grow new tissue, most importantly your child will lack energy to focus during the day. Never try to get a bunch of errands done in the day if it disturbs your childs nap cycle… its very important to be courteous and thoughtful to your child’s sleep because its a big part of their health and mental health development.

Great article, I think I’ll be passing this across to my friends who are having children now. Lots of helpful tips here and hopefully this will really assist them.

I am at Grandma age and will be sharing this with the young Mama age ladies in our family. There have been so many different thoughts on this over the years but this is laid out perfectly. Thank you so much for sharing all of this information.

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