Sleep is one of the most vital needs for babies and children. It is the primary activity of the brain during early development and plays an extremely important role in the mental and physical growth of little ones.
Every child is different and sleep needs change as babies grow older, so there’s a lot to know about children and sleep. The variety of information available and common myths can make it a challenge for parents to navigate this topic.
This guide aims to help parents with children ages newborn to 12 years old learn more about how children and babies sleep and best practices. Plus, we’ll help answer these questions:
- What sleep patterns should I expect for my child or children?
- How much sleep does a baby need? Or my child?
- How can I know my child is getting the right amount of sleep?
This guide also includes:
- The Ultimate Children’s Sleep Chart, which outlines recommended sleep for children
- Tips on creating a sleep routine
- Information on how to make your child’s room a sleep-healthy place
- Facts and resources on common sleep problems for children
- Ideas on how to teach your child the importance of sleep
- Many more resources for parents to explore
The ultimate children’s sleep chart
The first step in understanding your baby or child’s sleep needs is to learn the recommended sleep requirements for children at different ages.
The Ultimate Children’s Sleep Chart below outlines the ideal sleep time by time of day in various age ranges for children from newborn to 12 years old. The chart also includes helpful tips for each age group to help parents ensure they are promoting healthy sleep habits.
|→||Newborn-2 months||2-4 months||4-6 months||6-9 months||9-12 months||12-18 months||18 months – 2 years||2-3 years||3-5 years||5-12 years|
|Total sleep||16-18 hours||14-16 hours||14-15 hours||14 hours||14 hours||13-14 hours||13-14 hours||12-14 hours||11-13 hours||10-11 hours|
|Nighttime sleep||8-9 hours||9-10 hours||10 hours||10-11 hours||10-12 hours||11-12 hours||11 hours||10-11 hours||10-13 hours||10-11 hours|
|Naptime sleep||7-9 hours||4-5 hours||4-5 hours||3-4 hours||2-3 hours||2-3 hours||2 hours||1-2 hours||0-1 hours||None|
Sources for sleep chart
Tips for children’s sleep
Newborn to 2 months
- Soothe baby with cuddling, pacifier, swaddle or rocking
- Feeding before bed
- Put baby in crib when drowsy
- Safe crib environment
- Create regular schedule with feeding, bath, story time
- Encourage self-soothing
- Create real lighting for day and night
- Stop nighttime feeding to encourage longer sleep through night
- Encourage night time sleep with relaxing environment (dark, cool, relaxing sounds/white noise)
- Sleep regression may occur and patterns will shift
- Stay consistent with bedtime routine even when baby sleep regression occurs and baby wakes up for no reason
- Keep night visits short to encourage falling back asleep
- Know separation anxiety may occur
- Calm and soothe by rubbing baby’s back
- Try a white noise or relaxing sounds to cancel outside noises
- Keep sleep environment safe each day for night time sleeping and naps
- Remain calm and encourage soothing activities before bed
18 months-2 years
- Watch for the climbing-out-of-crib phase and have a plan for putting child back to sleep
- Encourage child to sleep in own room
- Consider a comfort item, like a stuffed animal
- Look for any issues your child might have with sleeping
- Consider a night light if your child is afraid of the dark
- Keep room cool, dark and quiet
- Don’t have a TV on in the room
- Continue consistent bedtime routine
- Establish rules about sleep routine and enforce them
- Set limits for bedtime
- Keep electronic devices off and outside of the room
- Consider a time when all screens should be turned off (computer, TV, tablet, phone, etc)
- Avoid caffeine in afternoon and before bed
Building healthy sleep routines for little ones
Many factors can contribute to frustrating and challenging bedtime experiences with children. Whether a parent is trying to soothe a fussy baby with colic or reason with a toddler who keeps jumping out of the crib, a sleep routine is key in making bed and nap time easier for everyone.
According to a radio story on NPR.org, children with irregular bedtimes are more likely to have behavioral issues than kids who have regular bedtime routines. Establishing bedtime routines as early as possible can help children learn healthy sleep habits at an early age, and it’s up to parents to create a structure, consistency, and rules.
Follow this step-by-step guide to setting up you and your child or children for sleep success.
Step 1: Establish a bedtime and stay consistent
Pick an appropriate bedtime and stay consistent so your child can get the right amount of sleep based on his or her age and learn what to expect.
- Set nap and bedtime reminders or notifications on your phone
- Keep a journal of your baby’s habits so you can learn their cues to help you learn patterns to set times
- Commit your schedule to your children as much as possible
- Begin the bedtime routine about a half an hour before actual bedtime
- Encourage children old enough to talk to tell you what the routine is at bedtime
Step 2: Bedtime activities
You can design your bedtime routine to be what works best for you, your child, and your family. Newborns and babies will have a more flexible routine while you’re still learning their patterns of feeding, playing, and sleeping. Toddlers and children can have the ability for a very structured bedtime routine. Whatever you choose, consider making it enjoyable and calming.
- Keep pre-bedtime activities consistent; you can start the process before bedtime even starts (example: play relaxing music an hour or 30 minutes before bedtime).
- Bathtime and reading are great ways to encourage relaxation and calm before bed
- Avoid TV or activities that make children alert before bedtime
- Keep activities in a certain order if possible, so your baby or child learns what to expect
- Consider using a countdown or warning time and an alarm on the microwave or a phone for toddlers and school-aged children so they know when they need to start winding down
Step 3: Say goodnight
Before you tuck your little one in bed, ensure the room environment is safe and is the correct temperature, has appropriate lighting, and your child’s sleeping attire is right for his or her age.
- Keep sleep environment accurate for daytime naps or nighttime sleeping to encourage the differentiation between day and night
- Make sure a newborn or baby’s crib is safe for sleeping (go with a bare-bones approach)
- Use the same process each night (for example: sing a lullaby, turn off the lights, say “goodnight” and shut the door)
- Make the “goodnight” process positive and brief
- Have a plan for wake-ups for babies, toddlers, and school-aged children (example: determine a baby’s need at the time and help toddlers and children go back to their bed to encourage independent sleeping)
More resources to learn about sleep routines for kids:
- Mayo Clinic on Baby and Toddler Sleep
- National Sleep Foundation on Perfecting a Bedtime Routine
- WebMD on Making Bedtime Easier
- Bedtime Routines for School-Aged Children by HealthyChildren.org
- All About Sleep and Kids from Seattle Children’s Hospital & Foundation
Creating a safe sleep environment for your baby or child
Setting up an appropriate and healthy sleeping environment is key in helping parents provide the opportunity for their children to get the right amount of sleep.
From a baby’s crib or a child’s mattress to pillows, bedding, and lighting, all of these components help make up a sleep habitat for children. There are so many elements to consider, so we’re breaking it down for you right here. Read each section to learn a little bit about the key elements and tips to create the right environment for your baby or child.
All about mattresses
First thing’s first when it comes to a sleep environment: you must have a good-quality and safe mattress for your baby and child.
Crib mattresses for newborns
New parents are usually really excited about getting a cute crib — we all know how fun it is to decorate a nursery. However, the most important part of nursery and the crib is actually the mattress.
This infographic and video by The Center for Injury Research and Policy demonstrate the importance of a safe crib in creating a safe baby sleep environment.
Two key things to look for when selecting a crib mattress are firmness and fit. Some parents use the “two finger test” to ensure the crib mattress has the correct fit.
What’s a crib mattress made of?
The mattress type you pick is really based on your personal preference. Here are the most common mattresses and some characteristics for each kind:
- Innerspring: firm, durable, heavy (around 15-30 pounds) because of the many layers of material (coils, foam, padding, fabric) used.
- Foam: durable and lightweight (around 5-13 pounds), easy to move for cleaning/changing sheet, less springy and can come in several thicknesses.
- Organic: environmentally friendly or sustainable innerspring or foam made with all natural materials, which can include wool, cotton, plant-based foam, coconut fibers, etc.
- Dual firmness convertible: for cribs that will convert to toddler beds with a very firm mattress on infant side and a foam more cushiony side for the toddler.
What’s best for my baby?
Choosing a mattress can be difficult. Above all, selecting a firm mattress with the right fit for your crib is the best scenario for newborns and infants.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Will your crib be convertible?
- How heavy of a mattress do you want?
- Do you prefer one kind of mattress material over another?
- What is your budget?
- What will your baby’s transition from a crib to a toddler bed look like?
According to Parents.com, it’s appropriate to move a baby to a toddler bed between 18 to 24 months and when your child is ready for the transition.
How long will my mattress last?
According to Consumer Reports, a manufacturer warranty for a mattress isn’t the most important part of making a mattress last. Modern mattresses on the market today should keep their shape and support. Keeping a crib mattress clean and stored well when not in use will help extend the life of a mattress.
How do I keep a crib mattress clean?
Use a washable or waterproof cover over your crib mattress to protect the mattress and wipe down the crib mattress or spot clean with soap and water after leaks occur. The waterproof cover goes under the sheet layer and can be easily removed for washing.
Time for graduation to a big kid bed?
Once your little one is ready for a big kid bed, it’s time to make another decision about your child’s sleeping environment! Size, material/type, cost, style for sleeping position, and bed frame details are some areas to consider.
Picking your big kid’s mattress
Based on the size of your child’s room, you will likely be considering a twin or twin XL. But, if the room is big enough, you may want to consider a larger size like a full size mattress. Now that your child is old enough to be involved, make picking a new mattress and bed an exciting adventure.
Watch this video from Consumer Reports on testing mattresses.
What kind of mattress should I buy and why?
There are several varieties of Twin, Twin XL, or Queen size mattresses. Consider the following for your little one:
- Memory foam: softens and molds to the body and returns to original shape.
- Shapes to the body for real comfort and may be good for keeping sleepers in a consistent position, as it takes effort to change positions throughout the night. This could be a good option for side or back-sleeping needs.
- Innerspring: traditional mattresses with layers of cushioning and springs.
- Least expensive, the most widely used, a range of firmness levels and some have pillow tops for added comfort. These mattresses could be good for easing the shifting of positions while sleeping.
- Adjustable air: air-filled chambers are covered with a foam layer and can be inflated to a desired firmness with an electric pump.
- Made more for people who sleep with a partner and can be flexible by firmness level adjustment for each person.
- Latex: made from natural or synthetic rubber.
- Firm and comforting and a good choice for those who like firm mattress. Similar to a memory foam mattress feel but with more support because there’s not a body molding element involved.
Before picking a mattress, you’ll also want to consider a bed frame to go with the mattress. Here are a few different available styles:
What sleeping position is best for my child?
Popular sleep positions include:
- On back
- On side
- Fetal position
- On stomach
How much will a mattress cost?
We checked out pricing for a variety of different mattresses and there’s a large range of prices in each category. Here’s what we found:
- Crib mattresses: $30 to $450
- Twin or Twin XL mattresses: $50 to $500
- Full Mattresses: $90 to $700
There are lots of choices! Consider your budget and have fun shopping.
Pillows are meant for making sleep more comfortable. Until your child is old enough, it’s recommended that you wait until your child is ready to introduce pillows.
There are so many different kinds of pillows to choose from, including:
- Memory Foam
- Wool or Cotton
- Down or feather
Pillows that are soft but still firm are the best kind of pillows for kids, because they provide enough support but still provide comfort.
What pillow is best for different sleeping positions?
Different sleeping positions call for different pillows, because each position calls for support in a different way. Here’s a quick look at needs for each kind of sleeper:
- Back sleepers need thinner pillows to keep their head level and not forward
- Side sleepers needs a firmer pillow that fills the space in between the ear and the outside shoulder
- Stomach sleepers need very thin, flat pillows or no pillow at all
Bedding, sheets, and blankets
Kids bedding can be really cute and stylish in a nursery or kid’s room, and it’s really important to choose the appropriate bedding for your child’s age and safety regardless of style.
Keep it simple for infant and toddler bedding
The recommended bedding for baby sleep consists of a mattress pad cover and a fitted crib sheet. It’s important to have plenty of covers and sheets available, because you’ll need to change baby bedding quite often.
Go big with big kid bedding
Once your toddler graduates to a big kid bed, it’s ok to introduce light bedding and a soft and firm pillow. It’s a great opportunity to go shopping with your child and have fun in picking out a new set together.
Lighting and night lights
Lighting has an impact on sleep for both babies and children. For the first few months, infants are still developing and learning about the difference between day and night. So, allowing them to experience light during the day even if they are napping, and nighttime dark at night, is the best way to promote nighttime sleep.
It’s a good practice to keep the baby’s room dark and quiet at night to help inspire healthy baby sleep. Use very little light when entering the baby’s room so you keep the nighttime environment consistent.
The National Sleep Foundation says exposure to light keeps us awake and can prevent a good night’s sleep. The same goes for babies and children, so a dark room is best for everyone to have healthy sleep.
Should I use a night light?
There are lots of differing opinions about whether or not night lights are good or bad or neither. Here’s a few pros and cons to consider when you’re thinking about night lights for your little one’s room:
- It can provide light for when you need to check on your child
- They can help comfort your child who is afraid of the dark or has nightmares
- They are cute and decorative
- The light can interfere with the dark, calm environment
- It exposes babies and children to light when it’s nighttime
- The light can keep your child awake
Check out these sources for more info on setting up your baby or child’s room:
- The National Sleep Foundation on setting up an ideal sleep environment
- Parents.com on creating a sanctuary for your baby
- WebMD on setting up a safe nursery
- What a safe sleep environment looks like by National Institute of Child Health
- Things to know about a child’s sleep environment from the National Sleep Foundation
Common sleep issues for children
Sleep can sometimes come with some challenges for babies and children. We’ve looked into the most common sleep issues for children. Here’s a guide that describes what each condition is and how it can be helped, plus some resources for more information.
To learn more about these sleep issues, see our Guide to Sleep Disorders.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
Restless leg syndrome, although more common for adults that children, is a medical condition in which children feel an uncomfortable and irresistible urge to move their legs. This condition usually happens at bedtime, and subsides when children fidget, stretch, walk, rock, run, and change sleep positions.
There are no specific tests to for RLS, but a diagnosis can be based on symptoms. The syndrome can cause sleep deprivation which can cause children to be moody, irritable, drowsy, or hyperactive and have behavior issues.
According to the Cleveland Children’s Clinic, these tips will help children who experience RLS:
- Keep bedtime routine healthy and relaxing
- Avoid caffeine
- Consider heating pad, compress, massage, acupuncture, and stretching
- Iron and folic acid level check
- Talk with your doctor for other options
Nightmares and night time fears are dreams that wake children up during sleep that causes terror, fear, anxiety, or distress. Nightmares are part of normal development for children and are very common. Nightmares are most common in the preschool years, but can also affect children and older kids, too.
Tips for parents:
- Continue a consistent and positive bedtime routine
- Encourage your child to have a favorite safe object, like a blanket or stuffed animal
- Teach your child to use relaxing imagery after a scary dream
- Use a dreamcatcher and educate your child about what it can do
- Make sure your child gets enough sleep
- Comfort your child and stay positive
Insomnia is when children have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. The condition is fairly common and affects about 25% of kids, and can be caused by stress, anxiety, pain or a mental health issue. There are two kinds of insomnia: sleep-onset-association for kids younger than 5 years old and limit-setting insomnia for kids older than 5 years old.
Tips for parents:
- Continue with a regular and consistent bedtime and sleep routine
- Identify the issues that cause stress or anxiety like homework, friends, etc.
- Consider a hall pass strategy
- Limit active activities before bedtime, like TVs and computers
Sleep apnea, common in children today, is when a child snores, has pauses, gasps, snorts and may stop breathing. These pauses may wake up children and disturb their sleep. They may also appear restless and sleep in abnormal positions and sweat heavily. This can cause behavioral and social issues and cause children to be irritable and difficult during the day time.
Tips for parents:
- Have your child evaluated by a doctor
- Work on weight loss
- Treat nasal allergies
- Ensure you have a healthy sleep routine for your child
Sleep or night terrors are similar to nightmares, but they are much more dramatic and include screaming, flailing and intense fear. Children experience a dream during the transition from one part of sleep to another. Sleep terrors are fairly rare and occur for a few seconds to a few minutes, and affect children between 3 and 12 years old.
Sleep terrors can be caused by fatigue or a lack of sleep, stress, illness or fever, a new sleep environment, noises or lights, or a full bladder.
Tips for parents:
- Make sure your child gets enough sleep
- Stick to a consistent and relaxing bedtime routine
- Identify the causes of stress or anxiety and address them with your child
- Make sure the sleep environment is safe
Snoring, which is very common in most children on occasion, occurs because there is a blockage of air passage to the throat. The loud noise is caused by the vibration of throat tissues. Although snoring on occasion is normal, regular loud snoring is not and could mean the child has some kind of infection. When snoring causes gasping and breathing pauses, the child could have sleep apnea.
Tips for parents:
- Make sure your child gets enough sleep
- Watch for patterns and other issues besides occasional snoring
- Encourage a healthy sleep routine
- Ensure your child is using a sleep position that allows for good breathing
Sleepwalking is a disorder during sleep that causes a child to walk or perform other behaviors during sleep, like walking around the house or leaving the house. It is much more common for children ages 4 to 8 than adults, and sleepwalking can run in the family. Sleepwalking can also be in conjunction with sleep terrors and sleep talking.
Tips for parents:
- Wake your child from the sleep walking
- Make sure the environment is safe if your child walks around the room or home
- Ensure your child gets enough sleep
- Avoid a lot of stimulation before bedtime
Sleep talking is common behavior among kids ages 3 to 10 years old. It is a behavior that occurs during sleep when a person talks or mumbles and isn’t aware of the experience. It is not a dangerous condition, and each episode only last about 30 seconds. It can also happen during sleep terrors and sleepwalking, but on its own is not a threatening condition.
Tips for parents:
- Treatment is not necessary for sleep talking
- If it’s an ongoing issue, consider other sleep disorders, stress, or anxiety
- Ensure your child gets adequate sleep
- Continue with a healthy sleep routine
How can I teach my child about healthy sleeping?
Healthy sleep habits are paramount when it comes to your child’s development and growth. Teaching your child why healthy sleep habits are so important can be fun and rewarding.
Kids love to learn, so take advantage of your eager child and think about the best ways to approach him or her with lessons about healthy sleep and bedtime routines.
There are many topics we’ve reviewed in this guide, but here are a few key topics that you can review with your child to ensure he or she has an understanding of what healthy sleep means.
Why we need sleep
First thing’s first: kids should learn that sleep is essential for the brain and body to work properly. Teach your child why the human brain and body need sleep at night with the following sources:
- Why We Sleep Facts via SleepforKids.org
- Parents.com on the Top Reasons Your Child Needs Sleep
- Why Do We Need Sleep by National Sleep Foundation
Functions of sleep and sleep cycles
The next step to teaching kids why sleep is so important, is advising them about how it works. Check out these sources for information on how sleep and the sleep cycles work:
- How Sleep Works from SleepforKids.org
- Kids Discover on The Science of Sleep for Kids
- The Basics of Sleep by American Sleep Association
- What is Sleep by Harvard Medical
- National Sleep Foundation on How Sleep Works
What happens to the brain while we sleep?
Sleep is so important for brain function, and it’s important to teach children how the brain works.
Here are a few sources that will help you learn how to explain the brain during sleep:
- The Sleep Foundation on What happens during sleep
- Brain Basics and Sleep by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
- Brainfacts.org on Brain Activity During Sleep
What is dreaming?
Dreaming is a natural part of sleep and kids will want to learn more about it, as they will experience dreams throughout their growing up and adult lives, too.
Here are a few places to consider as you start to teach your children about dreams:
- Everyone Dreams by sleepforkids.org
- Why do we dream and Fast Facts on Dreams via Medical News Today
- Facts About Dreaming via WebMD
How do I get enough sleep?
Getting the right amount of sleep is key in living a healthy life. Kids need a certain amount of sleep and that changes as they get older. Start by showing your child a chart that shows the amount of baby sleep needed and sleep needed as the baby grows older.
Teach your child about how to get enough sleep:
- National Sleep Foundation Sleep Chart by Age
- How to Get a good night’s sleep from sleepforkids.org
- National Sleep Foundation’s Healthy Sleep Habit tips
- WebMD’s 20 Tips for Better Sleep
- Sleepforkids.org on Why you need good sleep
- WebMD Sleep Tips for Kids of All Ages
Resources for parents
Check out these sources for more information on specific topics, plus our favorite children’s books and lullabies.
- Parents.com is a reliable resource with many easy-to-read articles and slideshows with tips on Baby Sleep Training basics, Teaching a Baby to sleep in 7 days, 5 Sleep Through the Night Strategies and more.
- WebMD is a great source for learning about all-things-baby. Each article does a great job explaining the basics of each topic and then offers quick and scannable bulleted lists with explanations and tips.
- Mayo Clinic is a great resource for parents on any health (mental or physical) related topic for babies and children. Each article is easy to read and gives excellent details regarding each topic, like exact hours or ages.and suggestions for creating healthy habits.
Sleep aids for children
- The American Academy of Sleep Medicine is a good resource for learning more about sleep aids. The organization provides a resource library.
- American Family Physician offers information on a range of topics from A to Z and provides detail about the disorder or condition, along with information on treatment, plus additional information.
- National Sleep Foundation is a prime source for information on everything regarding sleep, and has a wealth of information on sleep disorders, too.
- Sleepeducation.org is a great place to find information on topics by category and name. It is easy to navigate and has articles that are quick and easy to read.
- Stanford Medicine has a Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, and the website has a whole section on sleep disorders. Each article talks about the disorder and offers treatments and solutions for solving the problem.
- And see our guide to Sleep Disorders.
- The National Institute of Health has a lot of information on sleep studies and the different kinds of studies that are performed to learn about, diagnose and treat sleep-related problems.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine is a source for information on sleep studies and what they entail, and also has a library of information on topics by keyword that’s really easy to use.
- Cleveland Clinic for Children’s Health has a great site with tips for helping kids choose and create healthy sleep habits.
- PBS Parents is a good resource to learn more about specific issues related to babies and toddlers and how to improve habits and lifestyle.
- The University of Missouri’s website offers great material on sleep habits, routine and problems. Plus, they have a link for more reputable sources.
Favorite bedtime books and lullabies
We couldn’t help but include some of our favorite books and lullabies for helping put your child to sleep. Enjoy!
Classic books for kids
- Splat the Cat by Rob Scotton
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
- Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle
- Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd
- Pajama Time! by Sandra Boynton
- One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss
- Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
- The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
- Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman
- Raggedy Ann & Andy by Johnny Gruelle
- Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
More sources for best children’s books:
- Best Lullaby for Babies by Baby Relax Channel
- Baby Mozart by Baby Relax Channel
- Lullaby: Soothing and Calm Sleep Music by Meditation Relax Club
- Baby Sleep Music 2 – Lullaby Music for Babies to Sleep by Smooth MusicXX
- Music by Susan McRae (buy on iTunes)
- Songs to Put To Sleep by Best Baby Lullabies
- Brahms Lullaby by Baby Relax Channel
- Nursery Rhymes by Lullaby World