Children's Hospital Colorado

Parents' Top 7 Sleep Questions Answered

A teenage boy in a blue shirt sleeps in bed.

You’ve heard it before – sleep plays an integral role in our overall health. This is especially true for kids, but unfortunately, counting sheep doesn’t work for all children. To help bring on the ZZZs for your children, our sleep experts have answered the top seven questions they receive about children’s sleep.

1. What is the recommended amount of sleep for children of different ages?

Because sleep plays a vital role in development, it’s especially important for kids to get enough. They’ll need less and less of it as they grow, but even into their teens, they need more than nine hours every night.

  • 4 to 12 months: 12 to 16 hours (including naps)
    At around 6 months, babies are typically capable of sleeping through the night.
  • 1 to 2 years: 11 to 14 hours (including naps)
    Most toddlers give up their morning nap by about 18 months and take one long afternoon nap of an hour and a half to three hours.
  • 3 to 5 years: 10 to 13 hours (including naps)
    Most preschoolers stop taking naps between 3 and 5 years of age.
  • 6 to 12 years: 9 to 12 hours
    School-age children should not need a nap.
  • 13 to 18 years: 8 to 10 hours
    Adolescents are notorious for not getting enough sleep. Teenagers average a little more than seven hours of sleep a night and should get more.

2. What can parents do to help their children sleep better?

  • Keep the same bedtimes and wake times every day, even on weekends and during the summer, to the best of your ability.
  • Turn off electronics (TV, iPad, video games, cell phones) at least one hour before bed.
  • Follow a bedtime routine. Some ideas to include in a bedtime routine for younger children: bath, looking at picture books, reading aloud or singing songs. For older kids, try reading, listening to music, journaling or relaxation exercises. Whatever you choose, it is helpful to do the same things in the same order every night.
  • Avoid giving your child caffeine (including from energy drinks) at all times, especially at least eight hours before bed.
  • Ensure your child gets at least 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity each day.

3. Should I lie down with my child to help them fall asleep?

Generally, no. If children are not able to fall asleep on their own at bedtime, they will have difficulties returning to sleep during natural waking in the middle of the night. That is when they cry or show up at your bed in the middle of the night. Children who learn the skills to fall asleep by themselves at the start of the night can then use these same skills to fall back to sleep on their own in the middle of the night. Infants older than 6 months should be able to sleep through the night.

If falling asleep independently is a challenge for your child, working with a sleep psychologist to make a plan to gradually teach this skill can be very helpful. Read more about how to help your baby sleep through the night.

4. Does it help to use white noise or relaxing sounds during sleep?

Using relaxing sounds during the night can often improve sleep because sounds in the bedroom can keep out other noises that might accidentally wake children up. It can also be relaxing to have some comforting sounds to associate with sleep.

Some examples of helpful sounds include:

  • “White noise” (from a sound machine or app)
  • A fan
  • Quiet music
  • Nature sounds

The sounds should not change too much in volume, so be cautious if you use the radio, as it can get louder during commercials. Even classical music can have dramatic changes in volume. The sounds should run all night, so they can help children fall back to sleep during natural awakenings throughout the night.

5. Can children become dependent on sound machines or white noise?

The goal is to associate sounds with sleep. In that way, children may become “dependent” on the sounds. These sounds, though, can also help when traveling or sleeping away from home. While kids may depend on the sounds to a degree, they can also help children sleep in new settings that otherwise may disrupt sleep.

6. Is it true that some children just need fewer hours of sleep to function?

Some kids with certain brain or developmental differences may have different internal wiring than normal and some of these kids survive on less sleep. For “typically developing” kids, however, these sleep hour recommendations tend to apply to almost everyone. It is very rare that people need fewer hours of sleep. Most children will have optimal development if they regularly get at least the minimum amount of recommended sleep.

Chronically getting insufficient sleep is associated with many health and behavior problems, including obesity, difficulties with attention and concentration, and mood problems.

7. As a parent, when should I be concerned about my child’s sleep?

Observe whether your child’s daytime functioning is concerning – they appear sleepy or too “hyper” during the day, have trouble paying attention in school, or have problems controlling their moods.

Consider whether your child is regularly getting less than the recommended amount of sleep for their age.

If you have concerns about your child’s sleep, make an appointment to have your child evaluated for any medical problems that may be contributing to poor sleep (such as regular snoring or obstructive sleep apnea). Experts in our Pediatric Sleep Program can help address any challenges that are preventing your child from getting a good night’s sleep.

To schedule an appointment with our sleep team experts, please call 720-777-6181.