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Sleep For Young Children: How Much Sleep Does My Child Need? Are Naps Necessary?

Young Girl SleepingAll parents will run across sleep dilemmas with their child at some point. If it doesn’t happen at 5 months old, it will happen at 5 years old, but it will happen! To say sleep is important would be a major understatement — sleep is necessary to function, to live. The good news is, for the vast majority of people, healthy sleep is just a habit or 2 away.

For the purpose of this blog, I am going to concentrate on babies 9 months old and up. Most babies can be sleep-trained much younger than this, but I encourage you to speak to your pediatrician if there are sleep difficulties in infancy. What is enough sleep? There is individual variation here, but on average:
  • 1 to 2-year-olds need 11-12.5 hours of sleep per night.
  • 3 to 5-year-olds need 10.5-11.5 hours.
  • 6 to 7-year-olds need about 10.5 hours.
  • 7 to 13-year-olds need about 10 hours.
  • Even 18-year-olds need about 9 hours of sleep each night.
Sound impossible? Sometimes it is. However, the reason it seems impossible usually isn't because your child wouldn't benefit from that much sleep, but because by the time you/your spouse arrives home from work, you eat dinner, you do homework, maybe you go to soccer — it is already too late for bedtime. Life happens, and I wouldn’t tell you to put your child to bed without feeding them (most of the time) or visiting with them, but try to structure your routine in a way that would get your children the amount of sleep they will thrive on most of the time. For instance, if your child will sleep an hour later on a weekend, see if you can get on a soccer team on Fridays. If 6 p.m. gymnastics is going to throw your whole family off, give that feedback to the coach. You would be amazed how quickly class times can change, even by 30 minutes, if enough parents give the same feedback. When should my child give up her nap? Most 4-year-olds are no longer napping, but some still are. The amount of time a child needs to sleep is spread over a 24-hour period. For this reason, your 4-year-old may go to sleep earlier than your 2-year-old. If your 4-year-old still naps, good for you, but understand that when they are in school this will no longer happen, and bedtime will need to be adjusted. In tomorrow's blog post, I will discuss how parents can get their children to fall asleep at night when they won't go to bed.
Dr. Marni Axelrad, Child Psychologist