Bedtime routine: How much sleep do children need?

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  • As any parent who's had to deal with a grumpy child during the day will know, it's incredible important for kids to get a decent amount of sleep. But how much is enough?

    The question of how much sleep children need is one that’s been long debated over the years, with medical experts and parents weighing in…and kids just wanting to stay up for five more minutes.

    If they’re used to going to bed when they want, they aren’t going to like you changing their bedtime. So stay firm and be prepared for a few tough nights.

    READ MORE: What is baby sleep training? The most popular bedtime routines explained

    And just think, you could soon have the TV (and the sofa) all to yourself!

    Have you lot really little ones who are struggling to sleep? Our baby sleep guides cover everything from the moses baskets to buy and how to start dream feeding right to the ultimate baby sleep guide, ideal if you’re at a loose end with a newborn.

    Here’s our guide to what time to get little (and big!) ones in bed, along with our recommendations for how to make a bedtime routine a little easier.

    How much sleep do children need?

    how much sleep do kids need

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    You might be wondering how much sleep your little ones need and therefore what time you should be sending them off to bed. It’s important to agree a reasonable time with your child, and communicate to them properly when their bedtime is.

    You can’t expect a 10 year old to go to bed at 7pm, but they shouldn’t be staying up until 11pm either. No matter what anyone tells you, especially your child, children need more sleep than you do.

    Bedtimes according to age

    how much sleep do kids need

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    This guide from the NHS shows how much sleep kids need in hours and minutes, looking at both day and night from birth to being a teenager.

    One week
    Daytime hours: Eight hours Night time hours: Eight hours and 30 minutes

    Four weeks
    Daytime hours: Six to seven hours Night time hours: Eight to nine hours

    Three months
    Daytime hours: Six to seven hours Night time hours: Eight to nine hours

    Six months
    Daytime hours: Three hours Night time hours: 11 hours

    Nine months
    Daytime hours: Two hours and 30 minutes Night time hours: 11 hours

    12 months
    Daytime hours: Two hours and 30 minutes Night time hours: 11 hours

    Two years
    Daytime hours: One hour and 30 minute Night time hours: 11 hours and 30 minutes

    Three years
    Daytime hours: 45 minutes Night time hours: 11 hours and 30 minutes

    Four years
    Night time: 11 hours and 30 minutes

    Five years
    Night time: 11 hours

    Six years
    Night time: 10 hours and 45 minutes

    Seven years
    Night time: 10 hours and 30 minutes

    Eight years
    Night time: 10 hours and 15 minutes

    Nine years
    Night time: 10 hours

    10 years
    Night time: Nine hours and 45 minutes

    11 years
    Night time: Nine hours and 30 minutes

    12 years
    Night time: Nine hours and 45 minutes

    13 years
    Night time: Nine hours and 15 minutes

    14 – 16 years
    Night time: Nine hours

    Why should you never wake a sleeping baby?

    baby sleeping on father's chest

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    “New parents are often told to never wake a sleeping baby and, whilst this rings true in most cases, the repercussions are not as detrimental as some myths make out.” Jumaimah Hussain, parenting expert at Kiddies Kingdom tells GoodtoKnow.

    But during a baby’s first months, it’s important to prioritise their sleep and take advantage of the downtime it gives parents.

    Jumaimah says, “As you would expect, stirring a sleeping baby will make them agitated and unsettled, so parents should only do so if it is really necessary.

    “However, some exceptions do apply. If a baby is sleeping regularly throughout the day but struggles to settle at night, parents will need to wake them to protect their evening routine. Likewise, if they are due or have slept through a feed, they will need to be woken as to not disrupt their feeding pattern.

    “This is more prevalent with new borns as they need to be fed around once every three hours in order for them to gain sufficient weight.”

    Should babies nap after 5pm?

    As to whether babies should nap after 5pm, it’s all about making sure that their natural biological response that makes them want to go to sleep is triggered.

    Heather Darwall-Smith, London Sleep Centre sleep & insomnia therapist says, “Alongside light exposure, our sleep drive is a natural biological response that makes us want to go to sleep. Without enough of this drive, adults and babies alike aren’t able to settle easily or sleep for long.

    “So, think about the timing and length of naps. Naps are important, but naps late in the day can reduce the sleep drive to send baby to sleep at bedtime.”

    To protect a baby’s sleep drive, a baby sleep aid could be beneficial. This could be something as simple as baby black out blinds, which will block out any unwanted light exposure and help your baby (and perhaps, you too) sleep for longer.

    Child sleep age chart

    If you’re looking to work out how much sleep your child needs, a sleep age chart or calculator is a good way to work it out.

    This one from home specialists Hillary’s is perfect, as it works out what time your child should go to bed based on their age and the time they need to wake up at. Ideal to get them wide awake and alert for school on time, it works for all children aged four and above.

    How can lack of sleep affect children?

    Getting the right amount of sleep for a child can be as important as healthy eating and regular exercise to ensure that they’re developing properly.

    When children don’t sleep enough it can affect other parts of their lives like concentration at school or craving sugary foods in the day. It’s important to get your little one off to bed at a decent time and in a good routine to ensure that they can make it through the day, cutting down on over-tired tantrums and difficult behaviour.

    A new study has revealed that the earlier your child goes to bed, they are less likely to become obese later in life.

    Sarah Anderson, an associate professor of epidemiology at Ohio State University said, ‘Preschool-age children whose bedtimes are at 8 or before were half as likely to be obese 10 years later.’

    Researchers tracked the sleep of children at the age of four-and-a-half-years-old, and compared this to the child’s BMI at the age of 15.

    There was a clear between healthier weights of teens, if they had grown up with earlier bedtimes.

    Getting children into a bedtime routine

    how much sleep do kids need

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    So now we know how much sleep kids need, how exactly do we get them off to sleep? It’s important for babies to have a routine and there are many ways you can settle them down to sleep safely in a good quality cot. But older children also need to be lulled into sleep and given the opportunity to wind down and relax.

    However, it has to be appropriate for their age and your lives. It should also involve things they like doing too. Reading stories together, or listening to audio books can calm them down very quickly. So can a hot drink and a cuddle, or chatting about their day.

    You can negotiate a slightly later bedtime during school holidays or for special occasions, but make sure they understand these are occasional events, not a sign you’re getting soft!

    Warn them in advance

    It’s only fair to let little ones know what you’re planning and why. Explain that you don’t think they’re getting enough sleep and from now on, bedtime will be at a fixed time, every single night. They can complain all they want, but you’re in charge and you won’t be changing your mind.

    Make bedtime a pleasure not a punishment

    Children love hearing about what you’ve been doing, especially if they’ve been at school or you’ve been at work and they haven’t seen much of you. Putting aside a few minutes to chat about both your days could help make bedtimes something to look forward to.

    Ignore the phone during this time if you can. It will distract you both too much.

    Build in 30 minutes reading time if they complain they aren’t tired. This can be a great way to encourage them to read the best books for kids, favourites old and new, and strengthen their love of reading. But make sure their light gets switched off at an agreed time.

    Listen to their complaints

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    When they complain about going to bed , which they will – don’t ignore them.

    Be kind but firm in what you say to them. Children often think staying up ‘late’ is a sign they’re growing up so be sensitive to this. Point out that they still go to bed much later than younger brothers and sister and give them a bedroom clock so they can see for themselves what time it is.

    If they can’t tell the time this should encourage them to learn!

    Common bedtime problems solved

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    If they keep getting out of bed or coming into your bed
    Just take them back to bed, however many times it takes. We know this could be exhausting so start at the weekend when you don’t have to get up for work or school. And remember, consistency is key here.

    They’re wide awake for hours
    If they’re used to staying up late, it will take time for their body clocks to adjust to an earlier bedtime so let them read until they’re sleepy and stay firm. Don’t be fooled into thinking they don’t need ‘much sleep.’ It’s far more likely they’re just hyped-up and over tired.

    And while these might not be quick fixes, they are great to help settle children in for a peaceful night’s sleep.