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Healthy Sleep Habits

A child sleeping.

What is normal sleep?

The normal amount of sleep varies depending on your child's age.

Age

Average nighttime sleep

Average daytime sleep

Newborn to 3 months

8 to 9 hours(waking through the night to feed)

8 hours

6 to 12 months

10 to 12 hours (often sleeps through the night)

5 hours

2 years

10 to 12 hours

4 hours (fewer naps after 12 months of age)

3 years

10 hours

1 hour

4 to 6 years

10 hours

Often no nap

Helpful tips for healthy sleep habits

Here are some helpful tips for creating good sleep habits for your child:

  • Newborns don't have a set night or day schedule for the first few weeks of life. It's best for a newborn not to sleep longer than 5 hours at a time in the first 5 to 6 weeks, as their small bodies need frequent feedings.

  • Older babies and children should have a consistent nap time and bedtime schedule.

  • Start a quiet time, such as listening to soft music or reading a book, 20 to 30 minutes before bedtime. Put away any screens during quiet time. This means no TV, smartphones, tablets, or computers.

  • After quiet time, follow a bedtime routine, such as a diaper change, going to the bathroom, and brushing teeth.

  • Set a time limit for quiet time and the routine so it doesn't drag on and your child knows what to expect before bedtime.

  • Say goodnight, turn off the light, and leave the room.

  • Security objects, such as a special blanket or stuffed animal, can be part of the bedtime routine.

  • It's important for children to be put to bed awake so they learn to fall asleep themselves.

  • Don't put babies to bed with a bottle. It causes problems with tooth decay and ear infections.

Helpful tips for children with poor sleep habits

Children can easily fall into bedtime habits that are not always healthy habits. The following suggestions can help when a child doesn't want to go to bed or is having trouble staying in bed:

  • If your child cries, speak calmly and reassure them, "You are fine. It's time to go to sleep." Then leave the room.

  • Don't give a bottle or pick up your child.

  • Stretch out the time between trips to the room if your child continues. Don't do anything but talk calmly and leave.

  • Your child will calm down and go to sleep if you stick to this routine. It may take several nights for your child to get used to the new plan.

  • If your child is used to getting a large amount of milk right at bedtime, start to cut down the amount of milk in the bottle by 1/2 to 1 ounce each night until the bottle is empty. Then take it away completely.

  • Sometimes children get out of their routine of night sleeping because of an illness or travel. Quickly return to good sleep habits when things are back to normal.

Sometimes older children go through a stage when they revert back to bad sleep habits or develop new problems in going to sleep. Here are some tips to help parents with older children who have problems going to bed:

  • If your child gets out of bed, take them back to bed with a warning that the door will be shut (not locked) for 1 or 2 minutes if they get out of bed.

  • If your child stays in bed, the door stays open. If your child gets out of bed, the door is closed for 2 minutes. Your child can understand that they have control of keeping the door open by staying in bed.

  • If your child gets out again, shut the door for 3 to 5 minutes (no more than 5 minutes).

  • Be consistent. Put your child back in bed each time they get out of bed.

  • When your child stays in bed, open the door and give them praise (for example, "You are doing a great job of staying in bed. Goodnight."

  • Your child can be rewarded by earning a star on a calendar for staying in bed all night. You can give a special prize for a certain number of stars earned.

Reducing the risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and other sleep-related deaths

Here are recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on how to reduce the risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and sleep-related deaths from birth to age 1:

  • Make sure your baby is immunized. An infant who is fully immunized reduces their risk for SIDS. 

  • Breastfeed your baby. The AAP advises breastmilk only for at least the first 6 months. 

  • Place your baby on their back for all sleeping until they are 1 year old. This can decrease the risk for SIDS, getting food or milk into the lungs (aspiration), and choking. Never place your baby on their side or stomach for sleep or naps. If your baby is awake, allow your child time on their tummy as long as you are supervising, to decrease the chances that your child will develop a flat head.

  • Always talk with your baby's doctor before raising the head of the crib if they have been diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux.

  • Offer your baby a pacifier for sleeping or naps if they aren't breastfed. If breastfeeding, delay introducing a pacifier until breastfeeding has been firmly established.

  • Use a firm mattress (covered by a tightly fitted sheet) to prevent gaps between the mattress and the sides of a crib, a play yard, or a bassinet. This can decrease the risk for entrapment, suffocation, and SIDS.

  • Share your room instead of your bed with your baby. Putting your baby in bed with you raises the risk for strangulation, suffocation, entrapment, and SIDS. Bed sharing is not advised for twins or other higher multiples. The AAP advises that babies sleep in the same room as their parents, close to their parent's bed, but in a separate bed or crib appropriate for babies. This sleeping arrangement is advised ideally for the baby's first year. But it should at least be done for the first 6 months.

  • Don't use infant seats, car seats, strollers, infant carriers, and infant swings for routine sleep and daily naps. These may lead to blockage of an infant's airway or suffocation. If your baby falls asleep in the car, don't be tempted to leave them in the car seat when you get home. Put your baby in the crib as soon as you get home.

  • Don't place babies on a couch or armchair for sleep. Sleeping on a couch or armchair puts the baby at much higher risk of death, including SIDS.

  • Don't use illegal drugs and alcohol. Don't smoke during pregnancy or after birth.

  • Don't smoke. And keep your baby away from others who are smoking and places where others smoke. Don't let anyone smoke in your house.

  • Don't over-bundle, overdress, or cover your baby's face or head. This will prevent them from getting overheated, reducing the risks for SIDS.

  • Don't use loose bedding or soft objects. Bumper pads, pillows, comforters, and blankets shouldn't be used in an infant's crib or bassinet to help prevent suffocation, strangulation, entrapment, or SIDS.

  • Don't use cardiorespiratory monitors and commercial devices. Wedges, positioners, and special mattresses shouldn't be used to help decrease the risk for SIDS and sleep-related infant deaths.

  • Always place cribs, bassinets, and play yards in hazard-free areas. Keep them away from dangling cords, wires, or window coverings to reduce the risk for strangulation. 

  • Prevent all exposure to smoke, alcohol, and illegal drugs.

Online Medical Reviewer: Liora C Adler MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2020
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