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Talking About ZZZZs- How Many Hours Of Sleep Does My Child Need?

child-sleeping.jpgSurrounded as I am by moms concerned about their children, their planet and their lifestyle, it often amazes me how little concern is shown for sleep.

Sales of organic food clothing and household cleaners are rising as parents become more and more aware of the hazards of everyday toxins. Articles about phthalates in plastic and the mercury-autism connection abound but nobody’s talking about zzzzs.

As any parent can attest to, the aggressive, whiny or anti-social behavior engaged in by toddlers and preschoolers is often caused by hunger. We see it in our kids all the time. I see it in myself.

But just as often it is caused by not enough sleep. How much sleep? Well, children between 2 and 4 years of age need between 11 and 13 hours of sleep per night…how many get it?

If your household gets up at going by 7:00 AM, that means your 5 year old should be in bed by 7- 7:30 and asleep by 8:00. Your 2-year-old should be asleep by 6:00. These facts have been published in a number of different places but I ran across them again today at Ask Dr. Sears.

2 years…….. 13 hrs

4 years………. 11-12 hrs

5 years……….. 11 hrs

10 years……… 9.75 hrs

Long ago when I first started attending a Waldorf Playgroup I came across a book entitled The 7 O”Clock Bedtime and became a convert to ensuring my child gets enough sleep. It’s not that easy. I rush around in the early evening to get dinner on the table at 5:30 or 6:00. Bath comes before dinner (which necessitates an extra change of clothes since dinner too often ends up on the post bath attire.) Dinner is followed immediately by bedtime.

I have a number of friends who try to follow this sort of routine and it is a trade-off. If mom or dad doesn’t get home until 6:00, there’s no time for pre dinner play. If the arrival is later, a kiss good night may be all there is of the parent child interaction for that day. It is a trade-off. I choose getting enough sleep.

If either of us gets home after 6:00 dinner is already started. Yes, emotionally it’s better for children to enjoy a family dinner but, without enough sleep children focus less in school have a harder time with impulse control and can be generally crankier…you know the feeling.

So, while most parents wonder if a toddler in the midst of acting out is hungry, a product of inadequate parenting or undisciplined, I’m the one sidling over to the parent and politely asking…what time did he go to bed last night?

Image credit: Smaiksha at Flickr under Creative Commons License

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  1. 6 for a 2 year old? Wow I’m proud that my 2.5 year old got down by 8:30 tonight. When does the child take a nap if they are tired by 6? I thought when Sears said 13 hours, he meant total sleep time, so that’s 11 or so hours at night and then a 2 hour nap.

  2. kiwimama says:

    I was under the impression that the totals were including any naps. My almost three year old is usually awake by 6:30 am. While I try to get her to bed around 8pm many times she will not sleep for 30-60 minuets. She does however usually nap for at least 1-2 hours during the day…sometimes as much as 4.

  3. Your post doesn’t take into consideration naptime. For instance, my 2 year old sleeps 9-10 hours at night and takes a 2-3 hour nap every day. It adds up to the right amount of sleep, but he doesn’t go to bed until 9-10pm (and gets up at 7-8am).

  4. SO important! But don’t forget to factor in naps. Both of my children go to bed about 8 p.m. and wake at 7 a.m. But my 20-month-old supplements that schedule with a hearty afternoon nap, while my almost 5-year-old has long outgrown his.

  5. Melissa says:

    Yes, I was going to mention naps too!
    My almost 4 year olds still take a two hour nap. That allows them to be awake for post work family time.

  6. My 2-year old son sleeps 12 hours every night (since he was born) and has a 1 hour nap in the afternoons. I guess the tally should include naps too.

  7. Thank you so much for this article. I’ve been a proponent of “sleep education” for quite some time. It started when I read “The Baby Whisperer” by Tracey Hogg while dealing with a very intense newborn. It saved my life! I realized quickly that our issues were mainly due to lack of sleep. As soon as I figured it out (he was 8 weeks at the time) and learned to follow his cues to know if he was sleep deprived, he slept most of the entire day, the entire night (for the first time ever) and most of the day the next day at all. And his fussiness was gone. Now he is 18 months old and I am still able to see the signs when he hasn’t had enough sleep. We always get comments about how he is the happiest and most well adjusted toddler anyone has ever come across, and we contribute it mainly to getting enough sleep!! (as well as breast feeding still and eating organics and no junk! :)

  8. I was so happy to see this article and would love to show it to all of my friends who let their kids stay up until 10pm at night! We have always stuck to a nap schedule and bedtime schedule. At 3 1/2 yrs old, we dropped the nap and our son is getting ready for bed at 615-630p and asleep by 7p. He wakes at 730p and is a happy healthy kid not to mention the “adult” time my husband and I get each evening to enjoy each other. We have always followed the same routine and most 3-4yr olds can not tell time so when we do bath, dinner and bed it can happen at 530 or 630p and he will still do it with no problems. We just stay firm to our schedule and all is well! There are also links to obesity for kids who do not get enough sleep so I think sleep is more important than most people give it credit for.

  9. Hi
    A good point- but remember that a child can go to sleep at night and get 11 hours and nap for 2-3 and get enough total sleep in that way as well. allows some flexibility for bedtime. children are also all different- just as adults are. some need more hours and some need less- it is a spectrum, not a prescription.

  10. Thank u so much for all of your posted comments, Ladies! I was always worried that my son was sleeping too much.(Goes to bed about 9 or 9:30 and wakes up at around 8:30 9 am and takes about an hour to two hour nap in the after noon). I was so glad to hear that is the normal amount of sleep a child his age should get. I used to worry there was something wrong with him, even though my doctor assured me that it was normal. All of my friends seemed surprised that he slept so much. So I am glad I got some more answers! Also, I know this is off the subject, but I have a hard time getting my boy on a regular eating schedule. He fights me tooth and nail at sit-down meal times and its very stressful, then not ten minutes after he gets down from his chair he wants hot dogs, crackers, or items he can carry around with him, Am I too overly concerned about this, or should I just let him have the finger foods during the day and make sure he gets a good dose of veggies and a ‘hot meal’ at family dinner? I welcome any responses from u Mom’s! Please email me at KayHites717@yahoo.com Thank u!

  11. I was so intrigued by this article and the comments that followed. When my 2 year old was born a good friend gave me an awesome book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” It has been a God-send as far as educating my husband and I about how important good sleep habits are for a child and family. In response to the article posted, I think author “mcmilker” had a good point in that for families with two full time working parents, achieving early bedtimes for little ones is next to impossible because dinner and bath times have to fit in somewhere. I would guess that little ones who are in bed by 6:30 or 7:00pm almost have to have a parent who gets home with them earlier in the afternoon or who stays home with them. The earlier the child goes to bed, the earlier they wake up, the earlier their naptime begins, etc. My 2 year old is in bed by 7:30, asleep by 8:00, and wakes between 6:30 and 7am. Then she naps anywhere from 1.5 to 3 hours each afternoon. I always HOPE that she gets at least 12 to 13 hrs of sleep per day. I notice that the EARLIER I can get her to sleep, the longer she will sleep!! If I can get her to sleep by 6:30, she’ll sleep until 6:30 the next morning! In a perfect world this would be her bedtime everyday. I agree that the earlier bedtime sacrifices play time with parent and child but the sleep the child gets is SO MUCH more important for their brain and body development, their emotional well being, and their temperament control. For parents who have to have later bedtimes for kids, I still think that the child will hopefully adjust – if a child goes to sleep at 9pm and has to wake up at 6am, they will hopefully be allowed to take longer afternoon naps to make up for thier shorter nights. Some day-cares however WAKE the kids up at 3pm regardless of who is still sleeping. This policy is so sad to me….I hate to ever wake a sleeping baby or child because they must NEED the sleep.

  12. Samantha Sternberg says:

    My son is 4 1/2 years old and will be going to pre-k this year because his birthday is late in the year. If he goes in the morning he will have to get up at 6:30 in the morning just to start getting ready for school. So we have started getting him up just so he can start getting his body acclimated. he wakes up at 6, we go for a 30-45 minute walk every day then we come home and start the day. but by 8 he is such a grump and he refuses to take a nap.we eat dinner then we do tub time and, scrtipure time for 30 minutes and then i put him down at 6 at night and i am lucky if he is asleep by 8. HELP. is there anything i can do.

  13. No offense, Samantha but your post doesn’t make a lot of sense. You said he wakes up at 6…. you for a 30-45 minute walk every day and then we come home to start the day??? And by 8 he’s suppose to take a nap? If you want someone provide assistance, please repost your question and detailed.

  14. No offense, Samantha but your post doesn’t make a lot of sense. You said he wakes up at 6…. you for a 30-45 minute walk every day and then we come home to start the day??? And by 8 he’s suppose to take a nap? If you want someone provide assistance, please repost your question with specific details and times that we can understand.

  15. Yes, these totals DO include naps. It’s also important to remember that all children vary in their needs.

  16. Samantha, your post made plenty of sense to me. My DD is a morning napper, and honestly, that’s ideal for us. Lots of moms prefer an afternoon nap, but my little girl is just too grumpy to deal with 7-8 hours with no nap. We wake at 8am, and are usually back down for our nap by 11am. Judging from your schedule, and considering that he’s just now acclimating, like you said, being grumpy and ready for a little nap at 8am might be normal right now. You seem like a very active family, too, so that increased morning activity might be wearing him out, too, which is fine! It may seem right now that just as things are getting started, he’s wearing out and ready for another nap, but that might just be his thing. I might try letting him take a nap a few minutes later every day than the day before, and see how late you can push his nap. That might retrain his clock to transfer his energy to the morning time and give you some more freedom. Good luck. You sound like you’re doing great.


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