When Should Your Child Be in Bed at Night? A Guide to Bedtimes by Age
Does a child’s bedtime really make a difference in their overall health? It does! According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), consistency is key to developing healthy sleep habits (also known as “sleep hygiene”). Going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning, (including the weekends) helps keep our internal clock ticking in the right rhythm.
As parents, we’ll sometimes try to convince ourselves that if we let our kids stay up late that they’ll just wake up later or they’ll catch up on their rest over the weekend. However, it often doesn’t work out that way. Too-late bedtimes can lead to a number of challenges:
- Difficulty falling asleep. A too-late bedtime can disrupt your child’s natural rhythm, causing their body to begin producing cortisol and adrenaline (both hormones that rev up the body).
- More wakings during the night. Increased cortisol production means lower sleep quality.
- Too-early wakings. Though it seems illogical, going to bed too late triggers many kids to wake up extremely early the next day.
- Decreased overall health. Studies show sleep deprivation increases the likelihood that children will suffer myriad negative consequences, including an inability to concentrate, poor grades, anxiety, and depression.
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How Many Hours of Sleep Do Kids Actually Need?
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has released official recommendations for the amount of sleep children need at different stages of development. These estimates reflect total sleep hours over a 24-hour period on a regular basis, including naps and nighttime sleeping.
Their recommendations are as follows:
- Infants four to 12 months: 12 to 16 hours
- Children one to two years: 11 to 14 hours
- Children three to five years: 10 to 13 hours
- Children six to 12 years: nine to 12 hours
- Teenagers 13 to 18 years: eight to 10 hours
As you can see, the amount of sleep a child needs depends largely on their age. This number will change as they grow, but the importance of adequate nightly sleep remains constant.
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What Is the Best Bedtime for My Child?
The right bedtime for any child depends primarily on their age. Since the recommended amount of sleep for children gradually decreases as they get older, younger children typically go to bed earlier in the evening than older children. A consistent bedtime routine is essential to developing healthy sleep habits. Ensuring your child goes to bed and wakes up at the same time each day may be more critical than when they specifically do so.
In addition, bear in mind that philosophies about bedtime can vary by cultural background. Some cultures prioritize going to bed early, while families in other groups may allow their children to stay up later in the evening.
Here are some general guidelines by age, according to Sleep Sisters, certified infant and child sleep consultants:
Newborns to 4 Months | N/A
Newborns haven’t developed circadian rhythms and generally sleep in little clusters of two to four hours at a time throughout the day and night.
5 Months to 8 Months | 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Circadian rhythms are beginning to develop at this age. Routine naps (typically around mid-morning, noon, and mid-afternoon) along with an early bedtime help these infants get the sleep they need for important physical and mental growth. Bedtime may be on the early side of this range if naps are skipped or cut short.
8 Months to 10 Months | 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Babies this age may only take two naps, one mid-morning and another mid-afternoon. Bedtime should be no later than three and a half hours following the end of the second nap. Bedtime may move earlier to make up for the absence of a third nap.
10 Months to 3 Years | 6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Babies may be shifting to only a single afternoon nap. Bedtime may need to move up a bit during this transition. Bedtime should be no later than 4 hours after waking from their nap. After about one and a half years of age, children may start to phase out of naps completely or nap inconsistently. Again, shift bedtime earlier to help with the adjustment to no nap.
3 Years to 6 Years | 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
By this age your child will probably have dropped the afternoon nap. This means they will need an extra hour of sleep at night. Adjust bedtime accordingly to accommodate this need.
7 Years to 12 Years | 7:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Elementary school children are still growing and developing at a rapid pace and need plenty of sleep.
Teenagers | 9:00 p.m.+
Most teens have to rise early for school. Count backward from wake time to land on the bedtime that will allow them to get adequate sleep. Remember, it takes children about 15 minutes to fall asleep, possibly more if they have a lot on their minds. Unfortunately, many teens do not meet the recommended eight-hour guideline due to employment, academic demands, early school start times, and social pressures. According to surveys, sleep durations for teens have been steadily declining over the last few decades.
How Do I Know if My Child Is Getting Enough Sleep?
Babies and toddlers under age two are pretty obvious about being tired. They’ll often rub their eyes or cry. As kids get older, they tend to show other signs of insufficient or deprived sleep. These signs may include the following:
- Difficulty waking up on time
- Feeling tired throughout the day
- Inability to control their emotions
- Dark circles under their eyes
- Inability to concentrate
- Other behavioral problems, such as tardiness or truancy
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The Bottom Line
It's important for children to develop good sleep hygiene at an early age. Adequate sleep is crucial for children's healthy growth, immune function, and behavior. Exhausted children are more likely to be cranky, impatient, and do poorly in school. The earlier you start developing a consistent sleep routine with regular bedtimes and waking times, the easier it is to establish healthy nighttime habits in your children. If your child is having difficulty falling asleep from the start of bedtime, speak with their pediatrician about possible factors that may be negatively impacting their sleep and possible solutions.
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