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Neat Little Guide — 19 minutes

How many hours does a child have to sleep?

Every child is unique, and so is how they sleep. A good night’s sleep is as essential to children’s health and well-being as it is to adults. With the right information, you can help your children build good habits from the start.

a sleeping baby

Encouraging Good Sleep Habits from Birth to Adulthood

We spend about a third of our life asleep, and sometimes it might seem like your children either spend way more than that, or nowhere close to that. Children may have difficulty falling asleep at night or napping, and just like grown-ups, if they don’t get the proper amount and quality of sleep, their days are going to be a lot harder to get through. The good news is that these problems aren’t unusual – up to half of those under 18 will suffer from insomnia, and other sleep issues are also common. Though every child is different, understanding how to help them through their sleep issues can be straightforward.

As the body grows and changes, healthy sleep is the foundation for everything else – while sleeping, the body is hard at work recharging for the next day, fighting off infections, replenishing our capacity for memory and learning new skills, reducing stress, and improving overall mood. Sleep is one of the most important aspects of your child’s health and well-being, and good sleep habits are acquired from birth.

As with everything else about growing up, sleep habits will constantly evolve, and new issues may emerge as their bodies change. Whatever your child’s age, there are a variety of simple tips and tricks you can use to support them as they build good habits and adapt to their changing bodies and sleep needs. This guide will also help you keep an eye out for signs of more serious sleep disorders, which can lead to ongoing challenges for everyone in the family.

The Science of a Child’s Sleep

How much sleep should my child get?

Every child is different. Some sleep a lot and some sleep a lot less. The following table provides a general overview of the amount of sleep children need over a 24-hour period, whether it’s at night or naps during the day. Though we’ve given some averages, what matters more than the number of hours of sleep is whether the child is getting enough sleep to appear rested and well-functioning during the day. Ideally, your child should be able to fall asleep without difficulty, stay asleep (as appropriate for age), and awaken refreshed in the morning.

Settling a child into regular sleep cycles can be one of the hardest things about being a new parent. If your child isn’t getting the average recommended sleep, there’s no need to panic. Focus on routine, and consult your doctor for ongoing support.

Babies (birth to 4 months)

  • Amount of sleep needed

Different for every child

  • What to look out for

Newborns can sleep up to 18 hours a day, from 3 to 4 hours at a time. It is normal and healthy for them to wake up at night to feed. As your baby grows, sleep periods will gradually become more consolidated and they will stay awake longer during the day and sleep longer during the night.

Like adults, babies need cues to learn when it’s time to sleep. For example, if they are always placed in their crib at nap time and at night, they will learn that this is the place where they sleep. Even if your baby doesn’t understand immediately, they are a fast learner and will eventually make the connection.

Shortly after 3 months, your baby will have developed more predictable sleep habits, and you will be able to establish a more regular nap schedule. A sleep diary will help you develop a regular sleep pattern. Trust the hints your baby is giving you. They will let you know when they are tired.

  • Healthy Sleep Habits
    • A child who is too tired will have more difficulty sleeping. Naps help babies sleep better at night and if you keep them awake during the day, they will not sleep any longer during the night.
    • Your baby should sleep on her back on a firm mattress in a crib that meets Canadian safety standards, from birth onwards. The blanket should be the only extra thing in the crib.
    • Soothers can comfort babies and help them fall asleep. However, if it’s possible for you, breastfeeding should be well established before soothers are introduced.
    • Your baby will wake up at night. As hard as it might be, give the baby a few minutes to get back to sleep before going to check on him or her. Babies go through sleep cycles just like adults, and they may become visibly agitated at times during this normal cycle.
    • Avoid stimulating your baby when you are feeding and changing diapers at night.

Babies (4-12 months)

  • Amount of sleep needed

12 to 16 hours

  • What to look out for

Older babies sleep for about 14 hours a day, but it may be normal to sleep more or less than this – every child is different. By 4 months, most babies need three naps a day, in the morning, afternoon, and early evening.

  • Healthy Sleep Habits
    • Maintain a regular schedule for napping and sleeping. Repeating the same actions each night will also help them create a routine that makes sleep easier. There’s no one correct routine – you’ll figure out what works for you and your baby.
    • Avoid putting your baby to bed with a baby bottle. This habit promotes tooth decay and can create a dependence on baby bottles for falling asleep.
    • Prevent your baby from falling asleep while breastfeeding.
    • Place your awake or sleepy baby in their bed before they are fully asleep – this will help them learn how to go to sleep on their own when they wake in the night.
    • Around the age of 6 months, if your baby wakes up at night and cries, go check on them to make sure everything is fine and that they’re not too cold or too hot, but if you can, resist the urge to take them out of the crib.

Toddlers (1-2 years old)

  • Amount of sleep needed

11 to 14 hours

  • What to look out for

Most toddlers sleep between 11 and 14 hours over a 24-hour period.

  • Healthy Sleep Habits

    • Always maintain a regular sleep schedule.
    • Avoid letting your child nap too late during the day as it can affect their sleep at night.
    • Help them calm down about half an hour before bedtime.
    • Be gentle but firm when your child refuses to go to bed.
    • Keep the bedroom calm and comfortable for sleep.
    • Transitional objects (such as a blanket or stuffed animal) often become important at this age.
    • Night terrors may start at around 1 year old – if your chld is screaming or crying but still asleep, there’s no need to worry or console them, unless you think there’s a risk of them hurting themselves.

Children (ages 3 to 10)

  • Amount of sleep needed

10 to 13 hours

  • What to look out for

Preschool children sleep 10 to 12 hours a day. By the age of 3, your child will probably only nap once a day, but many are still taking a second nap. They may also experience some trouble sleeping and refuse to go to bed.

  • Healthy Sleep Habits
    • Do not give caffeinated beverages to your child.
    • Avoid screens (TV, tablet, computer, video games) for at least one hour before bedtime.
    • Some children try to delay their bedtime. Set limits, such as the number of books you will read to them, and make sure your children know them.
    • Don’t ignore your children’s fears at bedtime.
    • If your children nap too long at daycare, they may fall asleep later in the evening. If this is the case, you can reduce or eliminate their napping time. Your child will fall asleep at a more normal time in the evening.

Adolescents (ages 11 to 18)

  • Amount of sleep needed

8 to 10 hours

  • What to look out for

Adolescents need 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night. They will naturally fall asleep later in the evening, which is normal. However, it is also important to protect their sleep by managing stimulation inputs and teenage habits that keep the brain active at night. It becomes important that adolescents follow life routine, especially before bed. It’s normal for adolescents to start going to bed later, which is a result of hormonal changes that affect the circadian cycle, but encouraging specific ritual and routine will help.

  • Healthy Sleep Habits
    • Avoid monitors (cell phone, TV, tablet, computer, video games) for at least one hour before bedtime. Consider use of parental controls and other phone features to enforce this.
    • Turn off the cell phone at night or switch to “do not disturb”. Incoming texts are harmful to recuperative sleep.
    • Make sure your child avoids beverages containing caffeine or stimulants.
    • Make a clear rule that the bed for sleep, no laptop, video games or phone in bed.
    • Homework should be done outside the bed.

What do I do if my child isn’t getting enough sleep?

There’s no need to panic and presume it’s a disorder. Do your best to minimise distractions and encourage routine. Good sleep is not a scoring system where children need to reach a certain number of hours – you can follow your instincts. If your child is falling asleep relatively easily at night, waking up without too much worry, and feeling relatively refreshed and functional during the day, then they are likely getting the sleep that they need.

What are the consequences of my child not sleeping?

Over the short or medium term, if not properly addressed, poor sleep for a child can result in:

  • Behavioural disorders (e.g., hyperactivity, irritability)
  • Drowsiness during the day
  • Learning disabilities (attention and concentration problems, decreased verbal and motor skills)
  • Impacts on the child’s growth and weight

I think my child has a sleep disorder

It is possible for children to experience sleep disorders in early childhood. For very young children, these disorders may be minor or transient, but sometimes there is something more serious that will need attention. Between the ages of 5 and 12, your child may develop sleep-related problems that, left untreated, may affect their health and physical and psychological development.

Obstructive sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea can manifest as snoring, respiratory pauses with obstructive noises, and agitated sleep.

Despite a full night of sleep, the child may appear tired in the morning. In children, this condition is often associated with hypertrophy of adenoids and/or tonsils.

Just because your child snores, it doesn’t mean they have sleep apnea. It’s quite straightforward to test for and know for certain with a painless, at-home procedure.

Does your child suffer from sleep apnea? This screening test could provide the answer.


Insomnia is very common in young people, affecting between a quarter and half of all those under the age of 18. As a result, it is a common problem that leads to shorter and often less relaxing nights caused by:

  • Difficulties falling asleep (your child cannot fall asleep within 30 minutes)
  • Waking up at night - If your child snores loudly at night and experiences respiratory pauses, or if nocturnal sleep is disrupted and he or she is tired during the day, consult your physician because he or may be suffering from sleep apnea
  • Delayed sleep phase disorder is the most common circadian rhythm sleep disorder in adolescents and young adults, and occurs when they fall asleep late at night and get up late. This is normal, but with poor sleep hygiene behaviour, problems arise. To meet social requirements, the teenager will go to bed late and get up early. The resulting lack of sleep could account for poor academic performance, traffic accidents and relationship problems.

The best way to deal with insomnia is to focus on good sleep routine, as appropriate for the age. Also encourage your child to avoid naps during the day as these will not help in the long run. There’s no simple cure here, but if your child is suffering from ongoing insomnia, you should obtain medical support.


Hypersomnia is a rare phenomenon in children and sometimes affects adolescents who experience excessive, disturbed and disorganized night sleep and the presence of drowsiness phases during the day. If there are severe, unexpected and irresistible episodes of falling asleep during the day, this is known as narcolepsy. You should consult a doctor for treatment if you are concerned that you may have narcolepsy.


Parasomnia describes various disorders characterized by unusual behaviour of the nervous system during sleep. Common forms of parasomnia include:

  • Sleep walking: behaviours that a child develops during deep sleep, becoming partially awake but not aware of his or her actions, which can include having eyes open without seeing, walking around the house, and even leaving the house. The child will have no recollection of the sleep episode after waking up. Don’t try to wake them up, but rather protect them so they don’t hurt themselves. Encourage them to calm down and return to bed calmly.
  • Night terrors: these occur during a deep sleep phase with partial wakefulness, usually early at night. They are more likely when the child is overtired. During a night terror episode, a child will become agitated with visible signs of fear (accelerated heart rate and breaking, sweating). They may start yelling, or be inconsolable. Don’t try to wake them up aggressively, but protect them so they don’t hurt themselves. If they wake, reassure them and calm them down using the same techniques you would during the day – quietly encourage them to take deep breaths, move them into a comfortable position, hold them for security, and so forth.
  • Nightmares: dreams that provoke fear. They occur during REM sleep and completely awaken the child, who remembers them the next day. Nightmares can be triggered by a stressful event and mostly occur late at night. Everybody gets nightmares from time to time,

As with insomnia, the best way to handle parasomnia is to do your best to encourage healthy sleep routine and minimise stress and distractions. Seek medical support if symptoms are proving difficult to manage or causing distress.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Every child is different and has different sleep needs. The best thing you can do as a parent is help them establish and maintain routine, and do your best to keep life as stress free as you can. If you’re worried about more serious issues, the Biron team is here to help you, with your family doctor’s support. We offer a full range of tests, at home and in the laboratory.

We can diagnose sleep apnea and other sleep disorders and assess the best treatment options for your child. Our team of health professionals trained in sleep care are here to listen to you and your child, consider their needs, and will be there before, during, and after the examination to provide them with a personalized treatment option tailored to their health and lifestyle.

When you need professional support, we're here to help.

We provide services that can help your doctor diagnose sleep disorders and determine the appropriate treatment.

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