Ask a parent the question ‘how much sleep do you need each day’ and the answer is likely to be ‘MORE!’  But whilst the average adult can get by on seven hours or so, babies and young children generally need quite a bit more. So how much sleep does your little one actually need? Don’t worry, I’ll assume that you’re a tired mum or dad who has managed to get a few minutes to themselves to read this, I’ll try and keep if brief and to the point in case you nod off!

Baby and toddler sleep is an emotive issue for many people, and it’s easy to understand why. Lack of sleep can be devastating, but then it might also be worrying if your child sleeps too much. There are so many questions parents have - Why does your baby wake three times every night but your friend’s sleeps through? Why does your mum say that your baby seems to need so much more sleep than you did when you were a baby? How come your toddler sleeps so much less now that he used to?

We all know that babies need lots of sleep, but what are the recommended figures? Well, for the first three months of life, the average baby needs between 15 and 16 hours per day. In the first month, this is usually pretty evenly divided between day sleeps and night sleeps, but by the end of the third month they usually sleep longer at night (10-11 hours) and less in the day (4-5 hours). Once they hit 11 hours for their night time sleep, until the age of about 5 or 6, when the average sleep time starts to slowly reduce until by 16, they need about 9 hours  (though anyone who knows any teenagers might take issue with that figure!) Meanwhile, the lengths of babies’ daytime sleeps continue to fall, so that by the age of 2, they need about 1.5 hours, by 3 this is down to 30 -45 minutes. Some children may have completely dropped daytime naps by this age, and the majority have by 4. For a more detailed breakdown of sleep patterns for different ages, see the NHS website at http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Childrenssleep/Pages/howmuchsleep.aspx

So what if your child’s sleep times don’t match these recommended times? Well firstly, don’t panic! Remember that these are just guidelines and that it’s very common and quite normal for children to sleep up to two hours more or less than these figures. As in so many other areas, all children are different.

So how do you know if your child isn’t getting enough sleep? The following things can indicate that a child is sleep deprived, if they occur regularly:

  • Falling asleep in the car almost every time
  • You have to wake your child most mornings
  • Your child is irritable during the day
  • Occasionally they’ll have ‘catch up’ nights where they go to sleep much earlier than usual

If you think your child is not getting enough sleep, then you might want to take steps to change this. Altering bedtime routines, using blackout curtains in the summer, making dinner times earlier, and not letting them sleep in late can all help. Also, making sure that they’re not too hot or cold at night is important as this can cause them to wake repeatedly. A sleeping bag is ideal for keeping babies’ and children’s body temperatures constant throughout the night. For babies and younger children, you might consider sleep training, although this might not be for everyone. You can take a look at the Sleep Centre on our website if you’d like to know more about sleep training.