Sleep in children

As every parent knows, good sleep is essential for a child to be healthy and happy. Without this, children become irritable and misbehaved, and their memory, learning and education can suffer.

New-born children spend most of their time asleep (typically about 16 hours per day) and their sleep is influenced little by light and dark. This high need for sleep falls gradually, so that by the age of twelve months, infants normally spend about one-half of their life asleep and accept for a typical nap a couple of hours per day, this sleep mostly occurs at night. The need for day-naps persists until children are aged about four or five years and by the age of six years, the average child is sleeping only at night, usually for about ten or eleven hours. This sleep-duration then settles gradually as age increases.

Although children sleep considerably more than adults, it is quite normal for them to wake from time to time during the night and when they do so, they do not require help from parents. What does typically help, however, is for children to have a regular relaxed sleep routine. There is no one bed time ritual which is superior to all others but it is usually very helpful for the routine to be consistent and pleasant, so that the child knows what bed time activities can be expected, and looks forward to them, remembering that bed time routines need to evolve from year to year as children grow older. Excitement or frightening experiences, such as horror movies, should be avoided as bed time approaches. Also, it is best for children to learn to sleep alone – both when falling asleep and throughout the remainder of the night.