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Healthy Sleep Habits

What is normal sleep?

The normal amount of sleep varies depending on the age of your child.

Age

Average nighttime
sleep

Average daytime
sleep

Newborns to 3 months

8 to 9 hours
(waking through the night to feed)

8 hours

6 to 12 months

10 to 12 hours
(usually sleeps through the night)

5 hours

2 years

10 to 12 hours

4 hours
(fewer naps after 12 months of age)

3 years

10 hours

1 hour

4 to 6 years

10 hours

Usually no nap

Helpful tips for healthy sleep habits

The following are some helpful tips for establishing good sleep habits for your child:

  • Newborns do not have a set night or day schedule for the first several weeks of life. It is best for a newborn not to sleep longer than 5 hours at a time in the first 5 to 6 weeks as their small bodies need frequent feedings.

  • Older babies and children should have a nap time and bedtime schedule.

  • Start a quiet time, such as listening to quiet music or reading a book, 20 to 30 minutes before bedtime. TV should not be a part of the quiet time.

  • After quiet time, follow a bedtime routine, such as a diaper change, going to the bathroom, and brushing teeth.

  • Set a time limit for quiet time and the routine so it does not drag on and your child knows what to expect before bedtime.

  • Say goodnight, turn off the light, and leave the room.

  • Security objects, such as a special blanket or stuffed animal, can be part of the bedtime routine.

  • It is important for children to be put to bed awake so they learn to fall asleep themselves.

  • Babies should not be put to bed with a bottle. It causes problems with tooth decay and ear infections.

Helpful tips for children with poor sleep habits

Children can easily fall into bedtime habits that are not always healthy habits. The following suggestions can help when a child does not want to go to bed or is having trouble staying in bed:

  • If your child cries, speak calmly and reassure him or her, "You are fine. It is time to go to sleep." Then leave the room.

  • Do not give a bottle or pick up your child.

  • Stretch out the time between trips to the room if your child continues. Do not do anything but talk calmly and leave.

  • Your child will calm down and go to sleep if you stick to this routine. It may take several nights for your child to get used to the new plan.

  • If your child is used to getting a large amount of milk right at bedtime, start to cut down the amount of milk in the bottle by 1/2 to 1 ounce each night until the bottle is empty and then take it away completely.

  • Sometimes children get out of their routine of night sleeping because of an illness or travel. Quickly return to good sleep habits when things are back to normal.

Sometimes, older children go through a stage or a period of time when they revert back to bad sleep habits or develop new problems in going to sleep. The following are some tips to help parents with older children who have problems going to bed:

  • If your child gets out of bed, take him or her back to bed with a warning that the door will be shut (not locked) for 1 or 2 minutes if he or she gets out of bed.

  • If your child stays in bed, the door stays open. If your child gets out of bed, the door is closed for 2 minutes. Your child can understand that he or she has control of keeping the door open by staying in bed.

  • If your child gets out again, shut the door for 3 to 5 minutes (no more than 5 minutes).

  • Be consistent. Put your child back in bed each time he or she gets out of bed.

  • When your child stays in bed, open the door and give your child praise (for example, "You are doing a great job of staying in bed. Goodnight.").

  • Your child can be rewarded by earning a star on a calendar for staying in bed all night. You can give a special prize for a certain number of stars earned.

Reducing the risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and other sleep-related deaths

Here are recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on how to reduce the risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and sleep-related deaths from birth to age 1:

  • Make sure your baby is immunized. An infant who is fully immunized reduces his or her risk for SIDS. 

  • Breastfeed your infant. The AAP recommends breastfeeding for at least 6 months. 

  • Place your infant on his or her back for sleep or naps. This can decrease the risk for SIDS, aspiration, and choking. Never place your baby on his or her side or stomach for sleep or naps. If your baby is awake, allow your child time on his or her tummy as long as you are supervising, to decrease the chances that your child will develop a flat head.

  • Always talk with your baby's doctor before raising the head of their crib if he or she has been diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux.

  • Offer your baby a pacifier for sleeping or naps, if he or she isn't breastfed. If breastfeeding, delay introducing a pacifier until breastfeeding has been firmly established.

  • Use a firm mattress (covered by a tightly fitted sheet) to prevent gaps between the mattress and the sides of a crib, a play yard, or a bassinet. This can decrease the risk for entrapment, suffocation, and SIDS.

  • Share your room instead of your bed with your baby. Putting your baby in bed with you raises the risk for strangulation, suffocation, entrapment, and SIDS. Bed sharing is not recommended for twins or other higher multiples.

  • Avoid using infant seats, car seats, strollers, infant carriers, and infant swings for routine sleep and daily naps. These may lead to obstruction of an infant's airway or suffocation.

  • Avoid using illicit drugs and alcohol. Don't smoke during pregnancy or after birth.

  • Avoid overbundling, overdressing, or covering an infant's face or head. This will prevent him or her from getting overheated, reducing the risks for SIDS.

  • Avoid using loose bedding or soft objects. Bumper pads, pillows, comforters, and blankets should not be used in an infant's crib or bassinet to help prevent suffocation, strangulation, entrapment, or SIDS.

  • Avoid using cardiorespiratory monitors and commercial devices. Wedges, positioners, and special mattresses should not be used to help decrease the risk for SIDS and sleep-related infant deaths.

  • Always place cribs, bassinets, and play yards in hazard-free areas. Avoid dangling cords or wires to reduce the risk for strangulation.  

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