A good night’s sleep is essential for children’s well-being. And, as with almost everything, good habits are created early. We explain why and give you the table with the number of hours of sleep advisable for each age group. The number of hours a baby needs to sleep varies according to age and growth. When he is a newborn, he usually sleeps around 16 to 20 hours a day, while when he is one year old, he already sleeps around 10 hours a night and takes two naps during the day, of 1 to 2 hours each.

Although babies sleep most of the time, until they are about 6 months old, they do not sleep for many hours in a row, because they wake up or have to be woken up to breastfeed. However, from this age onwards, the baby can sleep almost the whole night without waking up to eat.

Number of hours of sleep for baby

The number of hours a baby sleeps per day varies according to his age and growth. See the table below for the number of hours the baby needs to sleep.

AgeNumber of hours of sleep per day
Newborn16 to 20 hours in total
1 Month16 to 18 hours in total
2 Months15 to 16 hours in total
4 Months9 to 12 hours per night + two naps during the day of 2 to 3 hours each
6 Months11 hours a night + two naps during the day of 2 to 3 hours each
9 Months11 hours a night + two naps during the day of 1 to 2 hours each
1 Years10 to 11 hours per night + two naps during the day of 1 to 2 hours each
2 Years11 hours a night + a nap during the day of about 2 hours
3 Years10 to 11 hours per night + a 2-hour nap during the day

Every baby is different, so some may sleep much longer or for more hours in a row than others. The important thing is to help create a sleep routine for the baby, respecting their developmental rhythm.

How to help baby sleep?

Newborns should sleep around 16 hours a day. Every child is different and feeding is a factor in the equation – at the beginning it may be recommended that the baby is fed every two or three hours. It is important to understand that the benefits of sleep at this stage go far beyond the parents’ rest. Sleeping well is essential for brain development, memorisation, and mood balance, helping children to be less irritable. It is also proven that babies who sleep less tend to accumulate more fat, with an effect on excess weight in the first years of life. Some tips to help baby sleep include:

  • Create a sleep routine, leaving the curtains open and talking or playing with the baby while he is awake during the day and speaking in a lower, softer tone at night so the baby starts to differentiate day from night;
  • Put the baby to bed when any sign of tiredness is observed, but with him still awake to get him used to falling asleep in his own bed;
  • Decrease the number of games after dinner, avoiding very bright lights or television;
  • Give a warm bath a few hours before the baby goes to sleep to calm him down;
  • Lull the baby to sleep, read or sing a song in a soft tone before putting the baby to bed to make him realize that it is time to sleep;
  • Do not take too long to put the baby to sleep as the baby may become more agitated and it is more difficult to fall asleep.
  • From 7 months on, it is normal for the baby to become agitated and have difficulty falling asleep or to wake up several times during the night because he wants to practice everything he has been learning during the day.
CREDIT: WILIAM FORTUNATO / PEXELS

Can I let the baby cry until it calms down?

There are several theories on how to train a baby’s sleep. A very common one is to let the baby cry until he calms down, however, this is a controversial theory as there are some studies that indicate that it can be traumatic for the baby, who may feel abandoned, causing stress levels to increase.

However, there is also other research that supports the idea that after a few days, the baby understands that it is not worth crying at night, learning to fall asleep on its own. According to these studies, although it may seem like a cold and cruel attitude on the part of the parents, the technique seems to work without causing any trauma to the baby or harming his relationships with his parents.

For these reasons, there is no real contraindication for this strategy, but it should only be adopted when this is the wish of the parents and always under the supervision of the paediatrician. Parents who choose to adopt this strategy must also take some precautions such as: avoid doing it with babies less than 6 months old, introducing the approach gradually, and always peeking into the room to confirm that the reason for crying is not dangerous situation.

Growing and learning

Sleep in early childhood, up to the age of six, goes through several phases. Between the ages of three and six, children need 10 to 13 hours of rest, but it is not only the duration of sleep that changes. According to the National Sleep Foundation in the United States, in the first months of life, the children’s sleep cycle is divided equally between the two stages REM and NREM, the first being the deepest in which dreams occur and the second the one in which the oxygenation of the muscles necessary for growth occurs and hormones essential for development are released. As children grow, the cycles become shorter and NREM sleep dominates as they grow more rapidly. Hence the importance of preventing sleep deprivation and resisting requests to go to bed later so that they can make the most of these effects.

1 – Until the age of three/four, most children need a mid-day nap lasting one to three hours.

2 – At bedtime it is important to have a sleep routine, whether it is following hygiene habits, reading a story or drinking a glass of milk. There should be no television in the child’s room and screens before bedtime are totally inadvisable. The blue light from devices such as smartphones confuses the organism and inhibits the production of melatonin, essential for quality sleep.

3 – The Portuguese Paediatric Society (SPP) recommends a calm sleeping environment, with a mild temperature. Contact in the middle of the night should be brief, in order to keep the child in its bed. Having a transitional object such as a soft toy or a blanket can help the child to feel safe during this phase.

Autonomy with rules

Until the age of 12 the child will increasingly assert his personality, finally entering adolescence. While some youngsters may be more nocturnal, partly because melatonin tends to be produced later, until this age the minimum is nine hours’ sleep per night, with some children needing more hours of sleep.

1- Insist that wake-up and bedtimes are essential for a good sleep routine. At the weekend there can be more compromises, but no more than one to two hours in relation to school days. Similarly, during holidays the timetable may be less strict but before returning to school care should be taken to restore a proper sleep schedule.

2 – Nightmares or the usual fear of the dark are common problems in this age group. They should be detected early so that they do not become something with greater impact. If talking or strategies such as leaving the light on temporarily don’t work, seek advice.

3 – It is estimated that up to a third of children experience some form of sleep disturbance, including insomnia. One risk factor is eating stimulating foods such as sweets and sugary drinks, particularly in the evening.

4 – Exercising during the day contributes to good nights’ sleep. A Monash University study, which followed 519 children from birth to seven years old, concluded that those who were more physically active took less time to fall asleep. On average, participants took 26 minutes to fall asleep but the more sedentary ones took up to three hours. At night, however, there should be restraint in the practice of physical exercise. The SPP defends that vigorous physical activities should be avoided at least two hours before bedtime.

5 – Rather than forcing them, tell them about the benefits of sleep. Several studies have already linked bad nights’ sleep with worse grades at school.

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