Like adults, children need sleep to feel their best. But also like adults, it’s not always easy for kids to get the sleep they need. Family schedules, poor sleep habits, even sleep disorders can interfere with healthy sleep. For healthy development and happiness, parents should support healthy sleep habits in children of every age.
There’s no denying that healthy sleep for children can be tough at any stage. Perhaps the hardest thing about children’s sleep is that it’s almost always changing. What works for newborns may not work for a six month old, and preschoolers sleep much differently than teenagers. All of these changes can leave parents confused and frustrated, especially when children experience sleep difficulties.
But even though healthy child sleep is sometimes difficult, it’s important that parents and caregivers work with children to develop good sleep habits. Without enough sleep, children suffer. They experience moodiness, decreased cognitive ability, difficulty at school, even behavioral and health problems. There is no substitute for healthy sleep habits and adequate sleep.
In this guide, we explain everything parents and caregivers need to know about sleep for children at every stage. You’ll learn about appropriate sleep times for children by age, find tips for supporting healthy sleep, and learn how to develop a good bedtime routine. There are also resources for learning about sleep disorders and discovering the best books, music, and videos for helping children sleep soundly.
ULTIMATE CHILDREN’S SLEEP CHART
Use this children’s sleep chart to see sleep details for every age from newborn to school age. Find your child’s age to see how many hours of sleep they need overall, during the day, and at night, along with helpful tips for each age.
||18 months - 2 years
||-Most newborns sleep for two to four hours at a time.
-Swaddling and white noise may help soothe your baby to sleep.
-Always put your baby to sleep on his or her back to help prevent SIDS.
-Talk in low, soothing tones to avoid stimulating your baby in the middle of the night.
-Never fall asleep with your baby on a couch or chair, as there is a risk of falling as well as suffocation and SIDS.
-Don't change nighttime diapers except for poop. Changing your baby every time he or she wakes up isn't necessary and may keep them awake longer.
|-Set up a soothing nighttime routine with a bath, book, or lullabies to teach your baby how to relax before bed.
-As soon as your baby seems sleepy, put him or her down for a nap.
-Don't respond to cries immediately. Give your baby a few minutes to try and get settled without you.
-Avoid placing blankets or toys in your baby's crib, as they can be a suffocation hazard and a SIDS risk.
|-Babies are capable of sleeping 8-12 hours at a time each night at this age, though some may not be ready to do it just yet.
-Consider dream feeding before you go to bed to help your baby sleep for a longer stretch. Keep the lights down and gently feed your baby without waking him or her up fully.
-Transition your baby out of swaddling blankets at this age, especially if they begin to break out of it often. Start the transition by wrapping your baby without their arms in the swaddle, then remove it altogether.
|-Lay your baby down to sleep while drowsy, but still awake.
-Lower your baby's crib to the lowest position if your baby can stand. At this age, they may be able to climb out.
-Avoid overstimulation. Though babies at this age enjoy playing, encourage relaxation time before bed.
|-Don't add cereal to your baby's bottle. Although your baby may be eating solid foods now, cereal in your baby's bottle won't help them sleep through the night and may cause indigestion.
-Be prepared for separation anxiety, giving your baby attention and reassurance that you'll always come back when sleep time is over.
-A well lit room is good for naps, but your baby's nursery should be dark at night. Never carry your baby into a brightly lit room at night, as this tells your baby's brain it's morning and time to wake up.
HOW TECHNOLOGY IMPACTS YOUR SLEEP AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
At least 90% of us use technology in the hour before we go to bed, according to the National Sleep Foundation. In some ways, this is natural. We are surrounded by technology all day, using it at work, at home, and at play. It makes sense that we would take it to bed, too.
However, it turns out that technology and our bodies aren’t entirely compatible, at least when it comes to sleep. It makes sense, then, that we learn to develop healthy habits around technology and sleep, so we can reap the benefits that both have to offer.
DIFFERENT WAYS TECHNOLOGY AFFECTS SLEEP
PICTUREThere are several important ways that technology can impact our sleep. Most people don’t suffer from all of these problems, but nearly everyone will notice one or two problems on this list that are present in their life.
Blue light is a type of light emitted by most electronic devices. This includes mobile phones, tablets, laptop and desktop computer screens, televisions, and even eReaders. Unfortunately, this steady stream of blue light late at night can keep the human body from producing enough melatonin. Since melatonin helps us fall asleep, the blue light coming from our devices often means that bedtime gets pushed back further than it should.
The magnitude of blue light’s effect on you depends on the exact wavelength your screens emit, as well as how long and how often you look at them. Glancing at your phone once or twice to see if your mother called will have less effect than typing away while staring at a mostly-white screen or even reading a book on a backlit eReader.
Even if you mitigate the effects of blue light, your phone can disturb your sleep. If you keep your notifications on, you may wake or stir every time your phone goes off overnight. It’s a well-known fact that noise disrupts sleep, and that these disruptions can lead to a higher chance of health problems like stroke and cardiovascular disease. Noise from mobile devices or technology is no different.
In fact, we may be more likely to wake to sounds connected to our mobile devices than we are to other noises. We spend all day responding to the sounds our devices make. We habituate ourselves to jump and check the phone every time we hear certain noises. It makes sense, then, that we would also be more likely to be disturbed when we hear these noises at night, even if we can’t remember hearing them.
It may be one thing to respond to a text or two while sitting in bed or to scroll through a beautiful Instagram feed. It’s entirely another to use technology in a way that is stimulating, right before bed. All sorts of activities can stimulate the brain, and many of these include the release of adrenaline. When this happens, it can be almost impossible to get to sleep quickly. If this happens too often in bed, your brain can start to become stimulated when you head to bed, simply because of the association and not because anything actually happened that night.
Anything from video games to stressful conversations to energizing work can stimulate your brain and make it harder to sleep. Thus, sleep experts often suggest removing technology from the bedroom, to avoid this risk and to help your body associate your bed with sleeping and sex, and nothing else.
It may sound crazy, but the wifi signals emitted by your devices can interfere with your sleep. In a 2007 study, subjects were given either real or fake mobile phones to interact with before bed. The ones who played with the real phones had significantly more trouble sleeping. In addition, researchers demonstrated that different strengths and frequencies of signal all affected sleep differently.
There’s also proof that, over time, having all sorts of electromagnetic frequencies in the room while you’re trying to sleep can cause chronic sleep disorders. Most frequently, it becomes harder to fall asleep and harder to do so at a reasonable hour. For some people, it’s also hard to stay asleep long enough to get plenty of rest.
Technology addiction is real and it, too, can interfere with sleep. For a person who is addicted to their phone, tablet, computer, or another device, putting it down can feel almost impossible. The more addicted a person becomes to technology, though, the more severe their sleep disruption will be.
This sort of disruptive addiction is common with mobile smartphones, though it can happen on any device. Generally, researchers determine a person’s addiction level by monitoring how much time a person spends using a device, though it can also be measured by how often the device is picked up during the day, how urgently a person needs to check a device after hearing a notification sound, and how a person feels when they can’t be on their device or can’t be connected to the Internet for a period of time.
MINIMIZING THE EFFECTS OF TECHNOLOGY ON YOUR SLEEP
Technology is harming your sleep, but what can you do about it? After all, you’ve got to have a cell phone and you enjoy being able to watch TV in bed on Sunday morning. Even if you love your tech, though, there are ways to set some protective boundaries around your sleep. Doing these things will help you get a good night’s rest more often.
PUT IT DOWN
Sure, you’ve got to have a phone, but that doesn’t mean you need to be attached to it 24/7, especially when you’re trying to sleep. Put your phone down, turn off the TV, and give your body the relaxation it needs before you rest.
You’ll want to stop using technology at least an hour before bedtime. Decide what time you need to lay down, based on what time you’re getting up and how much sleep you need. Then, subtract an hour or two from that. That’s when you should put your phone down for the night.
If it helps, you can turn off all of your technology. Put your phone, your tablet, your computer, and your remotes out of reach, or leave them all in another room. It can help to have someone else hold you accountable. This person can remind you if you forget to shut your tech down at the right time. They can also ask you what you’re doing if you pick it up again.
LEAVE IT OUTSIDE YOUR ROOM
Since your technology can also disturb you after you fall asleep, make a place for it outside your room. Leave it in your office, your extra bedroom, or even on your kitchen counter. Put your chargers there, too, so you can wake up to everything charged and ready to go.
If you use your phone for an alarm clock, make sure you have another option. A cheap clock from the store can take its place. Many types of wearable technology can also serve as alarms without disturbing you the same way that other technological devices can. Many of these even have a vibrating alarm option, so you don’t have to wake anyone else when you get up.
PLAN YOUR BEDTIME ROUTINE
You may not know exactly what to do with yourself after you turn off your technology. Plan ahead for this. Come up with some relaxing activities that you can do in your hour or two before bedtime that don’t involve technological devices. Consider things like taking a warm bath, reading an actual book, talking to your loved ones, or tidying your home. You may need to try several things before you find what works for you. Remember to keep these activities relatively unstimulating, so you don’t wake your brain up.
TURN OFF YOUR NOTIFICATIONS
If you need to have your technology in your bedroom with you for some reason, turn off all of your notifications at night. Many devices have some sort of Do Not Disturb mode, where you can determine which notifications do and do not get through. iPhones, for instance, allow you to turn on your ringer when people call more than once in a minute. You can also set it up so you only receive alerts from certain people, in case you have a message coming in that can’t wait.
CHANGE YOUR LIGHT SETTINGS
Since the light that emanates from some devices is one of the biggest problems for your sleep, changing that light can go a long way towards helping you get better rest. Some devices come with a way to do that built into the technology. For others, you can download free apps that will let you eliminate blue light. This is the type of light that causes problems for sleep. Eliminating it can permit you to continue using your device right up until you go to bed.
There are a few devices, like some backlit eReaders, that don’t have a nighttime option. On these, though, you can usually swap the background and foreground colors. Instead of reading black print on a white screen, do white print on a black screen, instead. This won’t eliminate all of the blue light, but it can go far towards allowing you to enjoy your reading and get your rest, too!
Technology is a gift but it also brings with it new responsibilities. As we learn more and more about how technology affects our rest, we will have to learn how to develop habits that let us use technology and rest well, too.