HOW SLEEP CHANGES THROUGHOUT CHILDHOOD
We get so many questions about sleep in our office! How can I get my newborn to sleep in the daytime instead of the nighttime? How can I get my toddler to sleep without protest, even though I know she’s tired!? What is a normal bedtime? The first step to figuring it all out is understanding where your keiki is from a developmental standpoint. In this post, we lay the foundation and help set your expectations for what your kiddo will likely need at each stage of development. Once we crack this code, how sleep plays into their (and your) active, fun, crazy schedule gets a lot easier to manage!
We’re going to break it down by age with important sleep tidbits to help guide you through the coming years.
Unfortunately, the days of sleeping for 8 hours straight and sleeping in on the weekends are over (for a while). But hang in there!
Your newborn does NOT know the difference between day and night. As far as they’re concerned, every day is just one looooong day, and this understanding probably won’t kick in until 2 to 4 weeks of age. They also probably won’t develop a true circadian rhythm (that lines up with yours) until about 2 months of age!
During the first 2 months of life, and especially during the first month, your baby can’t go throughout the night without waking up to eat. They’ll instinctively be more nocturnal, and since we want them to grow, they should feed frequently throughout the entire day, ideally every 2 to 4 hours … yes, day and night. The maternal hormone prolactin, which helps with milk production, actually peaks in the middle of the night (how cruel is that?)! This overnight surge in your milk-producing hormone is why you’ll realize the largest milk production is early in the morning or in the middle of the night. The more your baby stimulates you at night, the more milk they get, which is why you’ll see they’re more active (and demanding) in the night and early morning hours. Even if you’re not breastfeeding, your baby is still wired to be more active at night … it’s just biology!
Don’t forget to read our post on Safe Sleep for Children!
2 months to 6 months
Your baby will start to develop more day and night sleep patterns around this age since their circadian rhythm kicks around now, helping them sleep longer stretches at night. They’re still unlikely to sleep the whole night, but that’s expected! Since they’re still young, they’ll still need to feed in the middle of the night to help them grow, probably a few times.
You’ll hear and read everywhere about sleep training, but every baby is different. While the goal is for your baby to sleep 8 to 12 hours a night, some babies take a little longer to learn the skill of independent sleeping than others. We don’t expect infants to sleep through the night until about 6 months of age, although some babies can start at 4 months. Stay tuned for more specific information on sleep training, which is recommended around 4 to 6 months of age.
As your baby sleeps longer at night, you’ll notice that their naps will shorten during the day and they’ll have more awake time to interact and learn. Babies have different phases of their sleep (active, light, deep). You may notice during active sleep, they might kick around, grunt. This is normal! In deep sleep, children are essentially motionless.
6 months to 1 year
Around now, your baby is capable of sleeping through the night and not needing to eat for 12 hours! If 12 hours at night isn’t your reality, consider sleep training. There are multiple sleep training methods out there that are safe and effective, but one of the more efficient methods is the “cry it out method.” You might worry that letting your baby cry in the middle of the night is actually worse than quickly helping them to go back to sleep, especially if it risks waking up neighbors or siblings. But sleep training teaches your baby to fall back asleep independently, meaning it really pays off in the long run.
What’s more important than the method of sleep training you choose (all methods work), is consistency. Whatever you decide to do, stick with it. Routine and consistency help your baby learn better than trialing multiple different methods at a time or bailing half-way through the process. Instead of confusing your baby, trust the process! Most babies can be taught to sleep independently within a week.
Also keep in mind that during this time period, many changes can also impact your child’s sleep, such as teething, regression (although typically around 4 months of age), growth spurts, separation anxiety, and dreaming. If a night isn’t perfect, don’t worry! Just do your best and stay consistent.
1 year to 3 years
Your child will continue to sleep throughout the night. But OMG. Can we talk about separation anxiety?! Some kiddos this age may not want to let you out of their sight, throwing a wrench in falling asleep initially or falling back asleep when they wake at night.
Naps may decrease to just 1-2 naps during the day. Some children will have only 1 nap later in the day. Each nap may last up to 3 hours! Nice! Ideally, their afternoon nap would not be too close to their bedtime to make sure they will still sleep at night (try not to let your child nap past 4 pm).
How many hours of sleep does your child need? Check out this article from Healthy Children.
3 years to 5 years
Goodbye naps. Lol. Well, not for everyone. But you may see that your child will no longer will need a nap during the day. Of course, unless they had an eventful day, full of lots of outdoor activities or other fun/stimulating activities.
Other sleep issues may start to arise such as refusing to go to bed, nightmares, and general sleep disturbances. During this stretch, sleep hygiene becomes important! Check out our IG for more details on sleep hygiene tips!
We commonly hear the concern that a child will not go to bed because they’d rather watch TV or stay up with their parents. This age group LOVES spending time with their family. If you notice these bedtime stall tactics, your child probably wants to stay up with someone who commonly also stays up. Have the whole family mimic bedtime at their bedtime. TVs off, lights down, place quiet.
6 years to 11 years
Older school aged children are very likely sleeping throughout the night without issue. But it’s important to pay attention to any sleep disturbances in relation to their 1) Routine or 2 Everyday activities. More ipad use, phone use, TV watching occurs at this age, as well as sports participation and more socializing with friendship groups.
If your child has trouble sleeping or staying asleep, think about any stressors that might be going on in their lives. Any changes to the environment? How’s school going? Anything nerve-wracking coming up (i.e. tests, sports games, shots, being bullied)? Continue to check in with them to make sure they don’t need more support on any of the above concerns.
12 years and older
Oh the teen years. When scrolling on IG before bedtime is a given! And staying up late while sleeping in late is a big thing. Welcome teenagers! Same as the 6-10 year old age group, pay attention to possible stressors. Teens definitely need their sleep! There are other important demands in their lives during these times as well! Sleep hygiene is REALLY important for this age group but at the same time, one of the HARDEST to accomplish at this age. Having clear house rules around screen time, devices in the bedroom (hint: there should be none), and setting reasonable bedtime expectations can save you from struggling too much with a nocturnal teen or a super grumpy teen in the morning!