How Much Should My Baby Sleep?

If you’re a new parent or an experienced one whose brain is fogged by lack of rest, it can be hard to know what’s normal and what’s not normal in terms of your baby’s sleep. In this hub we’re going to look at what the Sleep Foundation gives as an average for babies and children from newborn to 5 years and tips on how to help your little one get the rest you both need.

Remember that with all averages, an individual’s normal may be more or less than any given figure.

For more on getting better sleep so that you (both) wake feeling refreshed, look at http://sleepbetterlivebetter.net/

Sleep and newborns. Age 1-2 months.

The day/night-wake/sleep rhythms we take for granted as adults take time to develop in a baby. They’re regulated by light and dark but in babies and children also by a little ‘training’ from parents or carers.

Newborns sleep for about 10-18 hours in every 24 hours but on an irregular cycle which is broken by the need for feeding, changing and cuddling. Sleep periods may last for a few minutes to several hours and babies often appear restless because they kick, twitch, suckle and smile etc. This is all quite normal for your little one.

  • As you get to know your baby you’ll know when s/he is getting sleepy. Some babies fuss or cry or become cranky when they’re tired and the Sleep Association advises parents to put the baby to bed at this stage rather than waiting until s/he is asleep. By doing this on a regular basis babies and children are more likely to fall asleep quickly and also to learn how to fall asleep on their own.
  • Playing with newborns during the day and gradually dimming lights and making a quieter, calmer environment in the evening starts to encourage night time sleep.
  • Start to introduce a night time routine.
  • When changing or feeding during the night, keep the lights low, talk as little as possible to your little one and put him/her back in the cot and go back to bed yourself when you’ve finished. This will also encourage baby to learn that night time is for sleep and not play etc.

Sleep and babies. Age 3-11 months.

As baby’s tummy grows and it can go for longer between feeds, by about 6 months you will probably find that night time feeds aren’t necessary. Many sleep through the night at this age and the Sleep Association says that by 9 months 70-80% of babies will sleep all night – about 9-12 hours.

  • Nap times are now probably more regulated and get fewer as baby grows older. 1-4 naps of 30 minutes to 2 hours each day is normal. This amount of napping also shouldn’t interfere with sleeping at night.

The tips for promoting good sleep patterns in babies are similar to those for newborns:

  • Continue with your daytime and night time routines and if your baby is in his/her own room make it an environment suitable for sleep with black out blinds or curtains and soft lighting for example.
  • Put baby to bed when s/he is sleepy but not asleep so that s/he learns to become a self-soother and can fall asleep quite confidently alone. Babies who learn to be self-soothers are also more likely to go back to sleep when they wake in the night.
  • If baby wakes during the night, make your visit functional and resist the urge to cuddle or play with baby. Check if baby is wet or soiled or ill, but if not, spend a few reassuring moments and leave.
  • Also – and this can be hard – if you hear crying or fussing, wait for a while before going to baby and see if the noise stops. S/he may actually be asleep and your intervention may wake him/her.
  • Once s/he learns that you will come as soon you hear crying, your baby will become a ‘signaller’ and you may never get any sleep.

Sleep and toddlers. Age 1-3 years.


Physical and mental development and wellbeing are dependent on good sleep at any age (especially yours!). Most toddlers need about 12-14 hours' sleep in every 24 and probably only have 1 nap lasting up to a couple of hours. Keep the nap to early afternoon so that it doesn’t interfere with night sleep. If your little one doesn’t want to nap, get him/her into the habit of playing quietly or relaxing for a short time to change the pace of activities.

  • Separation anxiety starts to become an issue for some little people towards their first birthday. This can be a difficult balancing act for parents: you want to your child know you’re there but also encouraging self-soothing so that the child settles him/herself.
  • In addition, growing awareness of the world, a bigger social network, activities and a desire for independence can interfere with sleep. And as they become able to get out of bed, this can mean that you get less sleep.
  • Consistency is key so keep to your day time and evening/night time routines, slowing the pace of activity towards bedtime.
  • Make sure the bedroom environment stays the same and use black-out blinds or curtains to keep the room dark and use soft, dim lighting. Don’t have a TV in the child’s bedroom.
  • A comfort object may be very helpful in soothing and settling the child at bedtime and during the night.
  • Be firm about night time soothing or changing with the lights low and with minimum interaction with your child as night time is not the time for play.
  • If your toddler comes to your bedside, gently take him/her back to bed, sooth, and leave the room. Repeat this consistently if necessary. By this age you probably know the difference between real tears and pretend tears!
  • This can all be quite difficult but training a toddler to be a night time sleeper will give you better sleep and help with his/her development and daytime behaviour.

Sleep and the preschooler. Age 3-5 years.

The imagination is developing and this can mean that the child suffers nightmares, night terrors or sleep walking.

This age group typically sleeps for 11-13 hours each night and children over the age of 5 years don’t often nap, but may rest or just play quietly for a time.

  • Be firm and keep to your consistent bedtime routine that takes the child from bath/supper to bedroom and sleep.
  • Wait before responding to crying or calling out. S/he may settle independently if you don’t rush in to the bedroom.
  • Make sure the bedroom is quiet, dark and doesn’t have a TV.
  • The comfort object may still be important so make sure it is with the child at bedtime.

Conclusion

Nurturing good sleep habits can take a few weeks, patience and what will feel like an iron will, but it’s never too late to set and keep boundaries which help you and your child to sleep better.

You know your child or baby best so if you feel their fussing and restlessness is because of illness, see your doctor.

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