How much sleep do babies, kids and teens need?

Sleep, along with food, air and water, falls within the highest human priorities, according to psychologist Abraham Maslow’s famed hierarchy of needs. But as parents and caregivers know all too well, an adequate amount of sleep is often hard to come by, which can make a child’s life — and yours — downright miserable at times. 

“Quality sleep is essential for kids of all ages to support optimal growth and development,” says Dr. Whitney Casares, a Stanford-trained pediatrician in Portland, Oregon. She’s also the mom of two young children and author of “The New Baby Blueprint: Caring for You and Your Little One.”

But sufficient sleep provides several other key benefits. “Getting enough sleep on a regular basis contributes to improved emotional regulation and behavior,” says Casares, “but also to better attention, learning, memory, quality of life, and mental and physical health.” 

In other words, sleep is amazing, especially for kids (and warding off crankiness). But how much sleep is the right amount for each stage of a child’s development? Here, experts and parents weigh with recommendations and tips for every age. 

How much sleep do kids need?

If you’re wondering how much sleep kids should get, it comes down to their age and development. “As a child grows, their sleep needs change drastically,” Casares says. 

In general, newborns clock around 16 hours of sleep off and on per every 24 hours with frequent awakenings, but babies need less sleep and snooze for longer stretches with naps as they grow. By kindergarten, most kids are weaned from naps, Casares says, adding, “Older children and teens don’t need to rest at such regular intervals throughout the day, but they continue to need plenty of nighttime sleep.”

Keep in mind that sleep patterns and needs can be unique to each child, says Kim Jones, a therapist and associate clinical director at The Center for Postpartum Family Health in Houston. A mother of two herself, Jones helps parents during pregnancy and the postpartum period. “In the first few weeks and months, most babies will be waking up every two to three hours to feed,” she explains. “But there are always the outliers who sleep through the night from the very beginning or who don’t sleep through the night until they’re past a year old. There’s a lot of variation, so parents need to find out what works best for them and their family.”

How many hours of sleep do kids need?

Here are the ranges, in terms of hours of sleep, recommended for optimal health by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).

Sleep chart by age

Development stage

Age

Hours of sleep per 24 hours

Newborns

0-3 months

Varies

Infants / Babies

4-12 months

12-16 including naps

Toddlers

1-2 years

11-14 hours including naps

Preschoolers

3-5 years

10-13 hours

School-age kids

6-12 years

9-12 hours

Teenagers

13-18 years

8-10 hours

 

Of course, since sleep needs can vary by child, Jones says, parents shouldn’t stress if theirs don’t fall exactly within these published recommendations. 

Here are some other factors to keep in mind when it comes to sleep, based on the age of the child.

Newborns (0-3 months):

In the first three months, newborns sleep much of the day and night. There is so much variation in duration and patterns of sleep during this time, the AASM doesn’t even set a standard for this phase. Just make sure you’re feeding your new baby at least every three hours, Casares says.  

As a baseline, Stanford Children’s Health says newborns usually sleep around 16 hours within a 24-hour period, typically in short spurts of eight to nine hours during the daytime and around eight hours at night. It’s rare for babies to sleep through the night before three months old. 

Infants / Babies (4-12 months):

Infant sleep cycles are often shorter due to their need for constant feedings, Casares explains. Babies from 4 to 12 months should sleep between 12 to 16 hours per 24-hour period, according to the AASM, including naps.  

As they get older, sleep requirements slowly decrease, she says, and regular sleep cycles typically begin to develop around 6 months old. In the 6-12 month range, infant sleep schedules usually include two naps a day, which may last anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours, according to Kids Health.  

Many parents stress about getting their baby on the ‘right’ sleep and feeding schedule, but there are vast, differing opinions out there, says Jones.

“I often tell my clients to monitor how much they’re Googling, listen to their intuition and trust themselves as parents,” Jones says. She’s found that having somewhat of a schedule can be helpful, but parents shouldn’t feel guilty if they aren’t doing it “perfectly” (because let’s be real, there is no such thing). Jones recommends parents find a trusted pediatrician to be their go-to source for sleep help and information.

Rather than focusing on a strict sleep schedule for babies, Casares recommends parents and caregivers instead pay attention to their child’s cues. “Watch for early signs of tiredness — like rubbing eyes, looking away or yawning — and move your infant toward a nap when you notice them,” she says. She adds that having a regular feeding schedule can help establish a routine early on.

Toddlers (1-2 years)

As babies turn into toddlers, their sleep needs decrease to about 11 to 14 hours per every 24 hours, including naps. Some toddlers still don’t sleep through the night, Jones says, and if this becomes too disruptive, ask your pediatrician what might work best for your child. 

Making sure little ones have a nighttime routine and enough activity and variety of stimulation during the day can help ensure they sleep soundly at night, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Preschoolers (3-5 years)

At this age, sleep needs only decrease slightly to between 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours, though not all kids continue napping during this age. “Most children wean from their naps completely at about age 3 to 5,” Casares says, “but some children need a nap even until they start kindergarten.”  

This transition away from napping can be a major challenge, so a gradual approach can help. “Start by reducing the overall naptime as opposed to cutting it out completely, or by moving the nap to earlier in the morning if your child had trouble falling asleep at bedtime due to daytime napping,” Casares recommends. “You can also replace the nap with a shorter quiet time spent reading or listening to soft music until your child is used to not sleeping midday.” 

School-age kids (6-12 years)

By age 6, naps are typically a thing of the past, though grade schoolers still need between nine and 12 hours of sleep per night. As kids get older, “Sleep hygiene, including a consistent bedtime, wake time and pre-bed routine also becomes extremely important for quality, healthy sleep,” Casares says. According to the AAP, it’s also important to reduce screen time before bed and ensure they get physical activity and fresh air during the day.

Grade schoolers begin to face more pressure and responsibility. Getting enough rest is critical since it helps them feel more focused and energized during the day, says Robyn Parets, a Boston-based mom of two who’s also the founder and CEO of Pretzel Kids, a national company that teaches yoga for kids and trains yoga instructors to teach children.  

“Kids are often anxious about school, social groups and now, COVID-19,” Parets says. “Just like adults, they can carry these worries with them in the evening and it can impede their ability to fall asleep.” Parets has found that yoga, meditation and visualization techniques, especially when used at bedtime, can help kids relax their bodies and minds. “This, in turn, helps calm their anxiety, allowing them to relax enough to go to sleep.”

Teens (13-18 years)

So how much sleep do teenagers need? While they’re notorious for always wanting more sleep, teenagers really just need eight to 10 hours per night. But with the popularity of smartphones and other technology, it’s easier for teens to stay up too late, so parents may need to monitor screen time and create a family media use plan to ensure they catch enough ZZZs. 

Parets says sticking to a nighttime routine, turning the lights off at a reasonable, consistent hour and and requiring her kids to turn off a devices or remove them from the bedroom made a big impact, Parets says. 

New parents: How to get the sleep you need

Parets says her toughest phase of child rearing was when her boys were babies. “They would wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep,” she explains, “and I remember being a young mom carrying babies around my apartment and trying to calm them down so they’d go back to sleep.”  

Jones, too, remembers feeling a level of exhaustion she’d never experienced before when her first was a newborn and admits, “There’s no tired like new-parent tired. It was hard for me to function with that disrupted level of sleep, but I really struggled with asking for help.” 

Our culture leads parents to think ‘I need to do it myself’ or ‘I shouldn’t ask for help,’ Jones says, but this often results in unnecessary sleep deprivation that can take a huge personal toll. 

Now, when Jones sees clients experiencing perinatal anxiety or depression, the first line of treatment she recommends is ensuring those parents get a solid stretch of five to six hours of sleep at least twice a week. “A good solution is to have a friend or family member stop by for the afternoon to take care of the baby so the parent can take a nap,” she says. If you don’t have anyone nearby or if you have the resources, she suggests hiring an occasional night nanny or doula. 

“There is privilege involved in hiring someone to help, but if people have the resources, I nudge them toward that,” Jones says. “It takes pressure and stress off the family system, especially if you’re parenting with a partner, to have someone else to help with the baby.”  

She concludes, “Getting those uninterrupted stretches of sleep can impact your mental health and your ability to enjoy your time as a parent.”

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

Please enter a valid email address

Thanks for signing up!

We’ll see you back in your inbox.

Leave a comment

Create a free account with Care.com and join our community today.

You may also like

How much should you pay for a babysitter?