Some babies and children sleep much more than others. Some sleep for long periods, others in short bursts. Some soon sleep through the night, while some don’t for a long time.
Good quality sleep is important for everyone but especially for children as it can impact on their mental and physical development.
Good sleep helps to improve attention, behaviour, learning and memory.
There's no single rule about how much daytime sleep children need. It depends on their age, the child and the sleep total during a 24-hour period. For example, one toddler may sleep 13 hours at night with only some daytime catnapping, while another gets 9 hours at night but takes a 2-hour nap each afternoon.
Some babies and children take longer than others to respond to a routine and settle into good sleep habits. Look after yourself and contact your health visitor who can give you advise specific to the needs of your child.
Some babies sleep much more than others. Some sleep for long periods, others in short bursts. Some soon sleep through the night, while some don't for a long time.
Your baby will have their own pattern of waking and sleeping, and it's unlikely to be the same as other babies you know.
It's also unlikely to fit in with your need for sleep. Try to sleep when your baby sleeps.
If you're breastfeeding, in the early weeks your baby is likely to doze off for short periods during a feed. Carry on feeding until you think your baby has finished or until they're fully asleep. This is a good opportunity to try to get a bit of rest yourself.
If you're not sleeping at the same time as your baby, don't worry about keeping the house silent while they sleep. It's good to get your baby used to sleeping through a certain amount of noise.
It's a good idea to teach your baby that night-time is different from daytime from the start. During the day, open curtains, play games and don't worry too much about everyday noises when they sleep.
At night, you might find it helpful to:
- keep the lights down low
- not talk much and keep your voice quiet
- put your baby down as soon as they've been fed and changed
- not change your baby unless they need it
- not play with your baby
Your baby will gradually learn that night-time is for sleeping.
For the first 6 months your baby should be in the same room as you when they're asleep, both day and night. This can reduce the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
Your baby’s bed
- Place your baby to sleep in a separate cot or Moses basket in the same room as you for the first six months, even during the day.
- Use a firm, flat, waterproof mattress in good condition. Soft beds, bean bags and sagging mattresses are not suitable.
- Avoid letting your baby get too hot or cold – the chance of SIDS is higher in babies who get too hot. Try to keep the room temperature between 16 -20°C.
- The room where your baby sleeps should always be a smoke-free zone
Putting your baby to bed
- Put your baby on their back for every sleep, day and night – the chance of SIDS is high for babies who are sometimes placed on their front or side.
- Don’t cover your baby’s face or head while sleeping or use loose bedding.
- Keep your baby’s cot clear of any items such as bumpers or toys. Unnecessary items in a baby’s cot can increase the risk of accidents or SIDS.
Sharing a bed with your baby
If you choose to share a bed with your baby (also known as co-sleeping) it is very important for you to know how to do this safely.
- Keep pillows, sheets, blankets away from your baby or any other items that could obstruct your baby’s breathing or cause them to overheat. A high proportion of infants who die as a result of SIDS are found with their head covered by loose bedding.
- Follow all of the Lullaby Trusts safer sleep advice to reduce the risk of SIDS such as sleeping baby on their back
- Avoid letting pets or other children in the bed
- Make sure baby won’t fall out of bed or get trapped between the mattress and the wall
It is important for you to know that there are some circumstances in which co-sleeping with your baby can be very dangerous:
- Either you or your partner smokes (even if you do not smoke in the bedroom)
- Either you or your partner has drunk alcohol or taken drugs (including medications that may make you drowsy)
- Your baby was born premature (before 37 weeks)
- Your baby was born at a low weight (2.5kg or 5½ lbs or less)
- Never sleep on a sofa or armchair with your baby, this can increase the risk of SIDS by 50 times
You should never sleep together with your baby if any of the above points apply to you or your partner.
For more info on co-sleeping and safer sleep read the Lullaby Trust guide for parents
All babies change their sleep patterns. Just when you think you have it sorted and you've all had a good night's sleep, the next night you might be up every 2 hours.
Be prepared to change routines as your baby grows and enters different stages. And remember, growth spurts, teething and illnesses can all affect how your baby sleeps.
If your baby is having problems sleeping or you need more advice about getting into a routine, speak to your health visitor.
You may feel ready to introduce a bedtime routine when your baby is around 3 months old. Getting them into a simple, soothing bedtime routine can be a great opportunity to have 1-to-1 time with your baby.
The routine could consist of:
- having a bath
- changing into night clothes and a fresh nappy
- putting them to bed
- reading a bedtime story (see more in Baby and toddler play ideas)
- dimming the lights in the room to create a calm atmosphere
- giving a goodnight kiss and cuddle
- singing a lullaby or having a wind-up musical mobile you can turn on when you've put your baby to bed
- brushing their teeth (if they have any)
As your child gets older, it can be helpful to keep to a similar bedtime routine. Too much excitement and stimulation just before bedtime can wake your child up again. Spend some time winding down and doing some calmer activities, like reading.
Just as with adults, babies' and children's sleep patterns vary. From birth, some babies need more or less sleep than others. The list below shows the average amount of sleep babies and children need during a 24-hour period, including daytime naps.
Newborn sleep needs
Most newborn babies are asleep more than they are awake. Their total daily sleep varies, but can be from 8 hours up to 16 or 18 hours. Babies will wake during the night because they need to be fed.
Being too hot or too cold can also disturb their sleep.
Sleep requirements at 3 to 6 months old
As your baby grows, they'll need fewer night feeds and will be able to sleep for longer. Some babies will sleep for 8 hours or longer at night, but not all. By 4 months, they may be spending around twice as long sleeping at night as they do during the day.
Baby sleep at 6 to 12 months
For babies aged 6 months to a year, night feeds may no longer be necessary and some babies will sleep for up to 12 hours at night. Teething discomfort or hunger may wake some babies during the night.
Sleep requirements from 12 months
Babies will sleep for around 12 to 15 hours in total after their first birthday.
2-year-old sleep needs
Most 2 year olds will sleep for 11 to 12 hours at night, with 1 or 2 naps in the daytime.
Sleep requirements for 3 to 4 year olds
Most children aged 3 or 4 will need about 12 hours sleep, but this can range from 8 hours up to 14. Some young children will still need a nap during the day.
Looking after a baby can be really tiring, especially in the first few months after the birth, when your child is likely to wake several times during the night.
Most parents cope with a certain level of tiredness. But if you're feeling low, bad tempered and unable to cope or enjoy things, you need to find a way of getting more sleep, or at least more rest.
Here are some tips that may help you feel more rested.
Sleep when your baby sleeps
Try to rest when your baby sleeps. It might be tempting to use this time to catch up with housework or other chores, but sometimes getting rest is more important. Set an alarm if you're worried about sleeping for too long.
Get an early night
Try to go to bed really early for, say, 1 week. If you can't sleep when you go to bed, do something relaxing for half an hour beforehand, such as soaking in a hot bath.
Share the nights if you can
If you have a partner, ask them to help. If you're formula feeding, they could share the feeds. If you're breastfeeding, ask your partner to help with nappies or dressing in the morning so you can go back to sleep.
Ask friends and relatives for extra support
You could ask a relative or friend to come round and look after your baby while you have a nap.
If you're on your own, you could see if a friend or relative could stay with you for a few days so you can get more sleep.
Understand your baby's sleep patterns
The phase when your baby wakes several times a night won't last forever. As babies get older, they sleep for longer periods.
Find out more about how much sleep babies need, what to expect, and how to help your baby to sleep.
Try to do more exercise
When you're feeling tired, doing more exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing. But regular exercise can help you feel less tired.
Walking is one of the easiest forms of exercise. Try to get out for a walk every day with your baby, even if it's just to the shops.
Try relaxation exercises
As little as 5 to 10 minutes of deep relaxation may help refresh you. You can learn relaxation techniques online, or go to the library for books or DVDs.
Start by trying this simple breathing exercise that you can do anywhere.
Don't let stress get on top of you
Sometimes you can feel tired because you're stressed. If you can do something about the stress, you might find it easier to cope, even if you can't get any more sleep.
Be aware of the signs of postnatal depression
If you can't sleep at night even when your baby is asleep or you feel tired all the time, these could be signs of postnatal depression.
Other signs include feeling down or hopeless and not enjoying the things you normally enjoy.
If you think you may be depressed, talk to your GP or health visitor as soon as possible so you can get the help you need to make a quick recovery.
Lots of young children find it difficult to settle down to sleep and will wake up during the night.
For some people, this might not be a problem. But if you or your child are suffering from a lack of sleep, there are some simple techniques you can try.
Every child is different, so only do what you feel comfortable with and what you think will suit your child.
If your child will not go to bed
- Decide what time you want your child to go to bed.
- Start a "winding down" bedtime routine 20 minutes before the time that your child usually falls asleep. Bring this forward by 5 to 10 minutes each week – or 15 minutes if your child is in the habit of going to bed very late – until you get to the bedtime you want.
- Set a limit on how much time you spend with your child when you put them to bed. For example, read only 1 story, then tuck your child in and say goodnight.
- Give your child their favourite toy, dummy (if they use one) or comforter before settling into bed.
- Leave a beaker of water within reach and a dim light on if necessary.
- If your child gets up, keep taking them back to bed again with as little fuss as possible.
- Try to be consistent.
- You may have to repeat this routine for several nights.
If your child will not go to sleep without you
This technique can help toddlers (over 12 months) or older children get used to going to sleep without you in the room.
It can also be used whenever your child wakes in the middle of the night.
Be prepared for your child to take a long time to settle when you first start.
You can use strokes or pats instead of kisses if your child sleeps in a cot and you cannot reach them to give them a kiss.
- Follow a regular calming bedtime routine.
- Put your child to bed when they're drowsy but awake, then kiss them goodnight.
- Promise to go back in a few moments to give them another kiss.
- Return almost immediately to give a kiss.
- Take a few steps to the door, then return immediately to give a kiss.
- Promise to return in a few moments to give them another kiss.
- Put something away or do something in the room then give them a kiss.
- As long as the child stays in bed, keep returning to give more kisses.
- Do something outside their room and return to give kisses.
- If the child gets out of bed, say: "Back into bed and I'll give you a kiss".
- Keep going back often to give kisses until they're asleep.
- Repeat every time your child wakes during the night.
More sleep tips for under-5s
- Make sure you have a calming, predictable bedtime routine that happens at the same time and includes the same things every night.
- If your child complains that they're hungry at night, try giving them a bowl of cereal and milk before bed (make sure you brush their teeth afterwards).
- If your child is afraid of the dark, consider using a nightlight or leaving a landing light on.
- Do not let your child look at laptops, tablets or phones in the 30 to 60 minutes before bed – the light from screens can interfere with sleep.
- If your child wakes up during the night, be as boring as possible – leave lights off, avoid eye contact and do not talk to them more than necessary.
- Avoid long naps in the afternoon.
Babies and children often have sleep issues but for those on the autism spectrum or with long-term illnesses or disabilities sleeping well may be particularly difficult.
The charity Contact has more information about helping you and your child sleep.
Scope also has sleep advice for parents of disabled children.
Take a look at the autism website to find some strategies that can be used to help your autistic child sleep better.
It can take patience, consistency and commitment, but most children's sleep problems can be solved.
- If you're feeling really tired and struggling to cope, talk to your GP or health visitor. Find out about services and support for parents.
- Cry-sis offers advice on coping with a crying or restless baby. You can call their helpline on 08451 228 669. It's open 7 days a week from 9am to 10pm.
- Family Lives has a free helpline you can call for information and support on parenting or family issues. The number is 0808 800 2222 and it's open Monday to Friday, 9am to 9pm, and Saturday and Sunday, 10am to 3pm.
- Home-Start offers support to parents and carers through a parent-helper visiting scheme. Contact your local Home-Start.