No matter what stage of parenting you’re in, questions and concerns surrounding sleep are always at the forefront. When your little ones are babies, you wonder if they’ll ever get on a consistent sleep schedule. By the time they’re teens, they’ll sleep in so much you might think they’ve become vampires! Throw in worries about nap times, the effects of blue light, COVID anxiety and a million other thoughts about our kids and it’s no wonder we’re up half the night. Jocelyn H. Thomas, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in the division of pulmonary and sleep medicine and neonatal follow-up program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says anxiety can lead to protests at bedtime for younger children and difficulty falling asleep and nighttime awakenings for all kids. No matter what age your kids are, it’s important to have a consistent bedtime routine and sleep schedule, she says.
“Consistency and routines can help to calm children as they know what to expect and know what comes next,” she says. Young children develop imagination around age three and this can lead to worries about monsters or other scary objects in the dark. “Parents and young children can spray ‘monster spray’ (water in a bottle) under the bed before sleep to keep monsters away at night. This gives the child some feelings of control and can make bedtime fun instead of scary.”
Thomas says older children may ask repetitive questions at bedtime. Discussing worries at this time delays bedtime and can also result in the child feeling even more anxious. “When this occurs, it may be helpful to have ‘worry time’ earlier in the day,” she says. This is 5-10 uninterrupted minutes that occur consistently every day during which the parent can listen to a child’s worries. Of course, any worries that are particularly severe or occur throughout the day should be evaluated by a mental health professional. With a little reliable sleep information, parents and kids can put their minds at ease and finally get some shuteye.
“Parents of children of all ages are all concerned with making sure their child gets all of their basic health needs met, with sleep being one of them,” says Jennifer Gilman, a senior sleep consultant with goodnightsleepsite.com. “I like to reassure parents that as your child grows from a baby to a teenager, there are different things you can do to ensure healthy sleep at every stage.” We’ve included the recommended hours of sleep per age group (hours include naps up to age 5) as determined by the National Sleep Foundation plus expert advice on getting your kids those much needed zzz’s.
Age range: 0 to 3 months
Hours of sleep needed: 14 to 17 hours
Age range: 4 to 11 months
Hours of sleep needed: 12 to 15 hours
At this stage, sleep is all about trying to find a method (from “cry it out” to “shushing techniques”) to teach your baby to sleep through the night. You’ll learn how to create an optimal sleep environment that’s calm, dark and peaceful. And if all else fails, there are sleep experts you can turn to for help.
During infancy, Gilman’s number one tip is to set a healthy sleep foundation for your baby. “Babies need a lot of sleep to grow physically and cognitively,” she says. “By establishing consistent sleep routines for your baby at naps and bedtime, your baby will know when it is time to sleep, and that helps make sleeping easier for them.” So even though life seems hectic, make those bedtimes (and wake times) the same and it will pay off with some much-needed rest for you, too.
Age range: 1 to 2 years
Hours of sleep needed: 11 to 14 hours
Gilman says the toddler years are all about pushing boundaries and limits. This can make it challenging to parent, but it’s important to remember that 2- and 3-year-olds are supposed to test the limits of what control they have over their world. “Bedtime and naps can easily get out of control with children this age as a result,” she says. “Setting clear boundaries at nap and bedtime—and most importantly, sticking to them—keeps sleep on track and helps make your toddler more reasonable.”
Age range: 3 to 5 years
Hours of sleep needed: 10 to 13 hours
Age range: 6 to 12 years
Hours of sleep needed: 9 to 11 hours
During the elementary and middle school years, children develop interests in addition to school. This can lead to busy schedules and sleep being put on the back burner. “In order for your school-aged child to thrive in and out of school, they need to be well-rested,” says Gilman. “Prioritize an early, age appropriate bedtime so they are getting adequate sleep each night.”
Age range: 13 to 18
Hours of sleep needed: 8 to 10 hours
With the teen years comes independence, a social life and, of course, technology. “Set time limits on phones and other devices so that your teen doesn’t text the night away,” says Gilman. She also suggests creating a family docking station where all electronics are stored during sleep times.
And if you’re wondering why your child is suddenly a night owl, it’s not just because they’re binge-watching Netflix. “Adolescents are naturally wired to fall asleep later and wake later in the morning,” says Thomas. “This occurs when the internal clock, or circadian rhythm, shifts later during puberty.”
Thomas says most teens are chronically sleep deprived. “Teens have many competing priorities, but it is important to prioritize sleep. Teens should keep a sleep schedule that is consistent across school days and weekends.” Thomas says it’s okay to sleep 1-2 hours later on weekends, but teens should avoid oversleeping as this will make it difficult to switch back to an earlier schedule on Monday morning. In addition, light from electronics, such as cell phones, televisions and computers can disrupt natural cues in our body that tell us to wind down and fall asleep. “Electronic use should be stopped around 60 minutes prior to bedtime and electronics should ideally be kept outside of the bedroom,” she says.
If you and your family are still struggling, check out Virtua. Through a special partnership with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), Virtua (virtua.org/services/pediatrics/sleeplab) offers a pediatric sleep center to diagnose and treat children with sleep disorders to help everyone in your family get a better night’s rest.
What Is Revenge Bedtime Procrastination?
You’ve finally gotten the kids to bed and you’re tired too, but for some reason, you feel the need to stay up. Whether you’re scrolling, watching TV or just catching up on life’s to-do list, there’s a name for this type of behavior that more and more parents are partaking in—revenge bedtime procrastination. For some, it’s a way to make up for the time they didn’t get for themselves during the day. For others it’s a way to gain a sense of control. But the downside to this late-night “me time” is that you end up sleep deprived. A better strategy is to build time into your day—even if it’s just a few minutes here and there—to do the things that make you feel good. Whether it’s taking a walk, calling a friend, listening to a podcast or reading, you deserve some time. Then you can fall asleep at a reasonable hour and wake up refreshed.