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Children and Sleep

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There are two main types of sleep: rapid-eye-movement (REM) and non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM). The former is the stage we are in when we are dreaming. We begin at a low level of NREM sleep and slowly advance to very deep sleep. After thirty minutes of deep sleep, the body enters the REM phase for a while and then begins the process again from low-level NREM. However, this cycle is sometimes interrupted.

About Children & Sleep

Children and a lack of sleep

How often do you wake up in the middle of the night? Normally you’ll just look at the clock, put your head back down and fall back to sleep. Children of all ages wake up throughout the night. However, sometimes they don’t know or expect that just simply trying will get them back to sleep. For babies, you cannot tell them to try, so being there with a gentle touch or a soothing lullaby can get the job done. For slightly older, more comprehensive children, refusing attention will teach them to make their own effort. They might ask why they have to sleep. Do you really know? Children who get too little sleep during the night have the tendency to be irritable and grumpy the next day. As part of this effect, they will likely be more anxious and impatient than usual. Of course, if a child is regularly sleep deprived, this behavior becomes the usual. Also, lack of sleep weakens the immune system so people can get worse symptoms when sick for longer periods of time.


Some newborns will sleep eighteen hours out of twenty-four each day. However, the times they are awake are scattered throughout the day and night. Usually infants sleep for only three or four hours at a time, waking in between to feed. Infants spend more time in both very deep sleep and REM than adults. Though they often appear restless with twitching, they are not likely to “act out” in their sleep (sleep walking, etc.) because their neurons haven’t yet developed fully. However, the crib should still be safe and the infant should not be able to get out without your assistance. Newborns should always sleep on their backs, halfway down the cot with their feet almost touching the bars at the end. Although it was once thought that spitting up in the middle of the night could choke an infant, research has shown that this is not the case.

Baby and Monitor



It is recommended that toddlers sleep for twelve to fourteen hours each day. Every child is different. Some toddlers function just fine with eight or nine hours sleep while others need a full twelve. Unlike babies, toddlers will sleep only at night, save for a midday nap. Don’t let toddlers fall asleep in front of the television. Make sure they are lying in their bed before they fall asleep so they become comfortable with the routine. Use of a comfort object to aid with relaxation is extremely normal and common for toddlers.


Generally around age five, children stop taking naps. Preschoolers should be expected to sleep eleven to thirteen hours in one session. By this point, they should have a routine that includes going to sleep in their bed at a certain time with no distractions. If they get back up, be as boring as possible. Do not entertain them or argue. Focus on getting them back to sleep without having to be overly accommodating. If a child develops sleepwalking or night terrors, it usually happens during their preschool years.

School-Aged Children

While the number decreases as a child grows and enters high school, a school-age child should receive about ten to eleven hours of sleep each night. Sleep keeps the memory active. School-aged children that get too little sleep tend to have more difficulty paying attention. As a result, students deprived of sleep tend to get lower grades.

Enjoy These Additional Resources!

8 Infant Sleep Facts Every Parent Should Know

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Changes in Sleep with Age

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Newborn Sleep: The First 8 Weeks

Newborn Sleep Patterns

Safe Sleeping for Babies (PDF)

Sleep: An Important Part of Healthy Development (PDF)

Sleep and Aging

Sleep and your Child’s Health: Why Bedtime Matters (PDF)

Sleep in School-Aged Children

Sleep Practices and Tips for Children

Sleep Problems

Sleep Requirements for Children

Stages of Sleep

Why Babies Should Never Sleep Alone (PDF)

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