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Well Child Care > Sleep: Normal Patterns and Needs

Sleep: Normal Patterns and Needs

Tired children should fall to sleep easily, but if they are overtired, they may become hyper and unable to sleep. Signs of being tired include fussiness, tantrums, rubbing eyes, asking for the bedtime routine (book, toothbrush, snack, etc.), not having interest in playing, and becoming hyperactive.


Provide a regular nap and bedtime and routine, even on weekends. When children stay up late, they tend to wake up early and are grumpy the next day. At nap and bedtime, help your child settle down by doing calming activities: Bath, brushing teeth, reading books, turning on white noise or soft music, keeping the room dark. Make sure toddlers and children have access to a water bottle to avoid the begging for another drink. (Be sure it is only water - juices and milk contribute to cavities!) Part of the bedtime routine must include going to the bathroom for potty trained children, as needing to go potty is a common toddler excuse to leave the bedroom! The sleeping room should be quiet. White noise or soft music may help many sleep, but any extraneous noises, such as a fish tank or battery operated toys, may keep some children awake.

Toddlers and young children may require a nightlight, but darkness triggers the sleep center of the brain. They may also like a security object, such as a favorite stuffed animal or blanket. A cooler room is more comfortable for sleeping. Babies should have enough clothing on them to keep warm, as blankets may pose a hazard for infants under 1 year. As you tuck all of your children in each night, be sure to include plenty of hugs and kisses (even when they think they’re too old!).

Following regular routines with activities, eating and sleeping will help many unwanted behaviors.

  • Make sure children get plenty of exercise during the day to keep them healthy and help them sleep better. Avoid exercise 1-2 hours before bedtime to let them calm down.
  • Do not allow a television in the bedroom for any child. Television viewing within about an hour of bedtime may disrupt sleep. Turn off the television and play with your children in the evenings.
  • Before a long stretch of sleep, be sure your child has had an adequate meal or snack. For infants this is breast milk or formula. Older children should have complex carbohydrates with fats and protein. A snack high in sugar, even if it is a healthy piece of fruit, will not sustain a good night’s sleep. Add cheese to apple slices, yogurt, granola, whole wheat breads, peanut butter (if over 2 years), and even ice cream (in moderation) are good snacks.
  • If your child has a hard time sleeping, follow these tips.


Newborns sleep 16-18 hours per day, waking only for feedings initially and gradually working toward a regular pattern of naps and nighttime sleeping in longer stretches. Remember that newborns need to eat every 2-4 hours, so do not expect them to sleep longer stretches until at least 4 months. Be sure they sleep on their back without any loose bedding.

Three Month

A three month old generally takes about 3 naps daily totaling about 5-6 hours of sleep with these naps. Nighttime sleep is about 10-11 hours, but this may be interrupted for feedings. Their total sleep time should be about 16-17 hours per 24 hour period. Put babies to sleep when they are sleepy, but not quite asleep. This can eventually teach them to be able to put themselves to sleep when they awaken at night. Babies typically need to be about 12-14 pounds and 4-6 months before they can sleep over 6 hours without feeding.

Six Months

By 6 months, an infant generally takes about 2 naps daily, for a combined nap time of 3-4 hours. They sleep 10-11 hours at night and most should be able to do this without waking to feed. Six month olds sleep a total of 14-15 hours per 24 hour period. A 9 month old will spend about 14 hours asleep. Many infants in this age range begin waking again at night. Putting them to bed awake helps them learn to put themselves back to sleep. Unless they are teething or sick during the day, you can let the baby who is awakening out of habit fuss and cry for a while to try to self-calm and return to sleep.

One Year

At 1 year, babies may be ready to go from 2 to 1 nap a day. This nap is generally after lunch. Their nap times are 2-3 hours. They sleep 11-12 hours/night. Total sleep time should be about 13-15 hours.

Two Years

By 2 years, toddlers are down to 1 nap of about 1-2 hours. They sleep 11-12 hours at night, for a total sleep time of 13-14 hours. It is about this age (18-30 months) that many toddlers move from crib to bed. This can be a challenging experience, as the crib is a place of security. Many will start with naps and reading books in the bed, but sleep in the crib while transitioning and getting comfortable in the “big boy/girl bed.”

3-7 Years

Between 3 and 7 years, children wean off naps. They should sleep about 11 hours at night, and may need up to 13 hours sleep in a 24 hour period. When weaning off naps, use their cues. If they seem to want to stay up too late, cut out a nap. Many kids will nap every other day for a while and gradually take naps fewer days each week. Between 3 and 5 years, children should get 11-13 hours of sleep daily.

5-12 Years

Between 5 and 12 years, kids need 9-11 hours’ sleep each night. Busy schedules, television and video games, and caffeine may start to disrupt sleep more during these years. Getting regular exercise earlier in the day, avoiding television and video games for an hour before bedtime and avoiding any caffeine (especially after 3 pm) may help.

Teenagers and Young Adults

Teenagers and young adults between 12 and 25 years are especially prone to too little sleep. Busy schedules, caffeine, homework, anxiety, and the natural tendency of teens to be awake at night and sleepy during the day all contribute to this poor sleep. Getting regular exercise earlier in the day, avoiding television and video games for an hour before bedtime, and avoiding caffeine after 3 pm may help. This age group requires 8-10 hours of sleep a night, but many “make by” with much less. This contributes to decreasing grades, motor vehicle accidents, headaches, poor attention span, and other problems.


Adults typically need 7-9 hours of sleep, so if you are one of the many who struggle with headaches, tiredness, short-temperedness with your children, addiction to caffeine, or other problems, rearrange your schedule to get more sleep too!

Sleep Help: Click here for Sleep for Kids and here for Sleep Tips

Dr Stuppy has a Pinterest board dedicated to sleep topics

Recommended viewing from asapScience: How Much Sleep Do You Actually Need?

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