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Sleep is crucial to a child’s development, health, and well-being, regardless of age, and most experts encourage parents to support their children’s sleep needs however they can. Kids, in general, need significantly more sleep than adults—and those who get enough tend to do better in school, be in better physical shape, and struggle less with depression, anxiety, or other mental health challenges.

But sleep, unfortunately, can also be a pressure point for families. When a child consistently resists going to bed, struggles to fall asleep, or gets up frequently during the night, it can lead to stress and conflict that ultimately exhaust both child and parent. Childhood sleep disorders can present with confusing symptoms that may be misdiagnosed or that exacerbate other diagnoses. During the teen years, children may push boundaries by staying up all night, using their phone in bed, or sleeping in well into the afternoon—any of which can interrupt a consistent sleep schedule and interfere with their social, emotional, and academic functioning.

Understanding how much sleep a child should ideally be getting at a particular age, and navigating common pressure points that can make going to bed challenging, can help children (and their parents) get all the rest they need.

Infants and Sleep
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“Sleep like a baby” is often used as shorthand for long periods of restful, uninterrupted sleep—but in reality, true infant sleep is often anything but. Newborn babies need large amounts of sleep to support their rapidly growing brains and bodies, but have not yet developed the same circadian rhythm that adults enjoy. As a result, they doze for most of the day, wake frequently, fall asleep suddenly, and pay little attention to whether it’s day or night.

Parenting a newborn is stressful and fatiguing in large part because of a baby’s fragmented sleep schedule. But rest assured that infant sleep patterns don’t last forever—and as a baby grows, he or she will begin to sleep more consistently and adhere to a more regular schedule.

How many hours should a baby sleep?

Babies will spend a good portion of their first months of life fast asleep. The National Sleep Foundation notes that full-term newborns typically sleep 14 to 17 hours a day; between the age of four and 11 months, that amount decreases slightly to approximately 12 to 15 hours. Most of this sleep will be non-consecutive, as babies wake frequently in the night and take naps throughout the day.

Why do babies sleep so much?

Babies’ brains and bodies develop rapidly from the moment they’re born—and sleep is crucial for every aspect of this process. In the first year of life, a baby’s brain more than doubles in size; during sleep, a baby’s brain forms connections between the left and right hemispheres that are important for later cognition. Many babies also grow to twice their birth weight in the first five months; evidence finds that greater amounts of time spent asleep are associated with particularly rapid periods of physical growth in infants.

Sleep in Kids and Tweens
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As children leave infancy, they still need large amounts of sleep in order to grow and to support their physical and emotional health. While they may still wake up at night or want to sleep in their parents’ bed from time to time, their sleep will ideally become more consistent and more independent as they grow. While some children who co-slept with their parents as infants continue the practice well into their elementary years, many children—particularly those in developed countries, where co-sleeping is less common—prefer to sleep either on their own or with siblings.

But despite improvements over a child's first few years of life, the elementary and tween years can still be impacted by sleep problems—such as frequent waking, bedtime resistance, bed-wetting, or insomnia. Children with mental health disorders such as anxiety or ADHD may be more susceptible to sleep problems or to arguments about bedtime. In most cases, sleep problems are a phase that children will grow out of with support and understanding; persistent issues, however, may be worth bringing up with a doctor.

How much sleep should my child get?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, toddlers usually need between 11 and 14 hours of sleep. Children between the ages of 3 and 5 should aim to get between 10 and 13 hours of sleep; those between the ages of 6 and 13 should be getting between 9 and 11 hours of sleep, and teenagers should be getting between 8 and 10 hours of sleep. These amounts are just guidelines, however, and may not be appropriate for every child; if a child sleeps slightly more or slightly less, it is likely not a cause for concern. 

Is it bad for kids to stay up all night?

One all-nighter may make a child grumpy and out-of-sorts the next day, but it isn’t likely to cause lasting damage. Children who consistently stay up well into the night or skip out on sleep entirely, however, will most likely not get all the sleep they need to grow and succeed.

Helping Your Teen Sleep
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The teen years can be tumultuous for a number of reasons. But one major cause of conflict between parents and teens can be sleep. Adolescents need less sleep than younger children, but still significantly more than adults; what’s more, their internal clock may be naturally inclined toward a later bedtime, which may result in them sleeping in far past the time their parents want them to be up. Teens may also behave rebelliously about sleep, purposely defying parents’ orders to go to bed as a means of testing their independence. Recognizing the unique sleep needs of teenagers, encouraging consistency, and supporting reasonable levels of independence can help parents guide their teens toward healthier sleep habits.

How much sleep does a teenager need?

Teenagers need more sleep than adults—typically about 8 to 10 hours a night. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that up to 11 hours may be warranted for some adolescents. Concerning research suggests, however, that as little as 15 percent of teens may be getting the recommended amount of sleep.

Should I let my teen sleep in?

It depends. Teens’ circadian rhythms naturally favor late bedtimes and late starts; waking them up too early can be detrimental to their overall sleep quality and may trigger conflict. But while in hunter-gatherer times, teens going to sleep and waking later would not be much cause for concern, in the modern world, it can significantly interfere with their academic and cognitive performance. Though many high schools are beginning to implement later start times to support teens' sleep needs, the practice is not yet universal, and teens whose schools start early may be consistently overtired if they go to bed late. Like any child, teens benefit from consistency. Parents may be wise, however, to allow a little flexibility; as a teen explores her needs and continues to grow into an adult, she will ideally learn to recognize how much sleep she needs and what sleep schedule works best for her life.

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