How Much Sleep does an Infant and Toddler Need?

One question I get almost everyday is, How much sleep does my child need? 

The amount of sleep a person wants is biologically determined. It is one of the few things about sleep that is biological. As with all things biological, it can be very different from one person to the next. Yet there is a range of normal. Most of the information for infants and toddlers suggests a very high amount of sleep. These numbers are based more on social cultural ideologies and are the high ends of the spectrum. 

If your little is on the high spectrum of sleep need, you likely are pretty happy about how your baby is sleeping. If your baby falls on the middle to lower end of the normal spectrum, you may be frustrated with how your baby is sleeping. Even if your baby is actually sleeping fine. Expectation and worry about your baby is not getting enough will make even a good situation feel bad. 

My frustration with the numbers out on most sleep sites is the overwhelming amount of research published with the amounts of sleep. 

So I am giving you a few charts from different resources on the amount of sleep infants and toddlers (and through childhood) actually sleep. These included both measured and/or recommended amounts.

1. Richard Ferber's measured amounts.

This chart was created based on a chart from the Harvard Child's Sleep Lab and Richard Ferber's Book Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. This is the chart I refer to the most often. It has the best breakdown of ages, day to night divisions of sleep, ranges and averages for sleep amounts. For most parents this will be the most helpful chart.

amount of sleep for infants, toddlers and young children.

2. This is a graph from an analysis of 23 studies done on the amount of sleep in childhood. The vertical lines show the range of measured sleep at each age. The dot on the line shows the average amount of sleep at each age. 

You will notice the range of sleep is much larger in early infancy and gets smaller as a child gets older. 

This chart is hard to read the total averages. I like how it shows the variability of sleep at each age. 


Reference: Normal sleep patterns in infants and children: A systematic review of observational studies. Barbara C. Gallanda, et all Sleep Medicine Reviews 16 (2012) 213e222

3. I created this chart based on the chart on the National Sleep Foundation(NSF) website. Click here to see the original chart. 

The NSF recently undated their numbers to reflect the latest research on infant and toddler sleep. I love that this chart provides "may be appropriate" numbers. This shows the large range of normal outside the recommend amounts. 

The problem with this chart for parents of infants is how it lumps together the ages 4-11 months. The difference in sleep need and want from 4 months to 11 months is huge. Putting these ages into one group skews the data. The higher numbers only apply to the younger months. Lower numbers only apply to infants over 6 months. 


Reference: National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary. Max Hirshkowitz, PhD, et all. Sleep Health 1 (2015) 40–43

3. This chart is the average sleep totals of infants and toddler across different countries. 

I love how the rage between countries reflects the average range of sleep for infants and toddlers; 11-13 hours. This for me solidifies this sleep range. If the averages from countries around the world creates the same rage of normal, it takes the cultural differences in attitudes of sleep from impacting the numbers. 

The one aspect of these numbers I find interesting is the relationship of the sleep totals to the rate of SUIDs (Sudden Unexpected Infant Death, formally SIDs). Japan has the lowest sleep average and the lowest SUIDs rates. New Zealand has the Highest sleep average and the highest SUIDs rate. Could there be a correlation? I would love to see some reasearch. 


Reference: Cross-cultural differences in infant and toddler sleep. Jodi A. Mindell, et all. Sleep Medicine 11 (2010) 274–280

It is important to remember, the numbers in all the charts are the total sleep amounts in a 24 hour period. Only the first chart includes information about day versus night time amounts of sleep. I usually recommend tracking the 24 hour amounts of your child's sleep from wake time to wake time. 

Wake time is when the system reboots. When the curtains open, or the lights go on, the brain hormones change indicating the start of the day. This is why we limit light exposure at night. I could launch into another entire discussion about the hormones. But I will save that for another day.

Back to sleep amounts. 

In most cases, babies get the sleep they need. If there is a problem it's usually in the organization of the sleep. If you baby is getting much lower then the sleep amounts, there could be an overtired issue impacting sleep. 

Do you have further questions about sleep? Join in Live Online or In Person at my office for a Sleep Support Groups. Learn More.

Talking with Toddlers- #4- The Power of Pantomime

One of the best parts about having a toddler is the joy of seeing the mundane world through the eyes of your child. Everything is so new and exciting to them. A dirty rock or a dead leaf can create hours of joy and exploration. While this fresh way of seeing the world is fun to watch and can be very entertaining, it can also be very frustrating. 

Young children's understanding of the world is limited to the senses; what can be seen, touched, smelled and heard. It can be a bit tricky as an adult to remember what the world looked like from that limited point of view. What appears to make sense to us, can be far out of reach for your toddler to grasp. One of the best ways to bring ideas and concepts to a toddler's level of understanding is pantomime.

Body Language

If our young child is having a hard time following directions, or shows frustration, parents have a tendency to increase their facial expressions and tone of voice. If we say it louder, or in a sterner tone, our children will understand better.  But we are still using language as out main mode of communicating. Language is often too abstract for the young child, especially in a time where they are feeling upset or frustrated. Or when you need them to stop a behavior that makes total sense to them but is dangerous or inappropriate.

Only 20% of meaning is conveyed by the words we use. Another 10% is the tone of our voice. Which leaves a whopping 60% of meaning to come from our gestures, posture, and facial expressions; your body language. You use your body to communicate every second of the day. Toddlers use gestures even more to make up for their limited verbal skills. So we are not introducing an entirely new concept with pantomime, just increasing the intensity of the body language you already use.

Increased Gestures vs Over exaggeration

Exaggeration of body language is key to explaining new things to young children. There is a fine balance between, making your expressions bigger and turning yourself into a clown. We want to use the gestures to explain, but we want to avoid turning those gestures into dumbing down the message. Your language and your tone are the same but you are just using more gestures and body language. 

For example, your child is climbing on a chair in the kitchen. You are worried about your child falling off the chair. You tell your child, "Climbing on the chair is scary, you could fall." But the child is focused on the upward climbing. They are not looking down. So your words are not enough to get your focused, one-track-minded toddler to stop. The option I see many parents take is to over exaggerate the words and emotion. From across the room a parent will say, in an exaggerated tone of voice with hand and arm gestures, "Oh no, you are climbing up so high. I am so worried you are are going to fall down and get an owie." The parent may even be pointing up and down to show what they are saying. The child will look at the parent for a moment and then continue climbing.- sound familiar to anyone?

The first thing to make your words and your gestures more effective, is to move directly into your child's field of vision. This may mean getting really low, or having to stand up tall (especially if they are climbing). It may also require you touching them. Once we know they are looking at us, we can talk about what they are doing and what needs to change. Here is an example of how it could go. "Wow, you are up really high (point toward the ground). Look how far down the ground is. If your foot were to slip (touch their foot, and wiggle it a little) you could fall all the way down (move your whole body in a falling motion) and you could bump your head (hit your head with your hand) or fall on your arm (grab your arm). It would hurt so much (make a sad face). I want to keep you safe so (pep up your voice and brighten your face) lets find a safe place to climb." 

Of course it is not always possible to be right next to them, but be sure they are looking at you. Then use your body and face to act out what could happen or what needs to happen. Young children are visual learners. Use the power of body language to make your message more clear.

Talking with Toddlers- #3- Bye Bye Baby Talk

Baby talk or parentese, as we call it in psychology, is the universal way adults talk to babies. It is know for its higher pitch and rise at the end of the statements. For infants, this kind of talk lights up the brain. Baby talk encourages social interactions and helps with language acquisition. These benefits of parentese are only true for young infants. Once infants have better comprehension, the benefits go away.

As children become verbal they will change their own voices when they talk to infants too. From early on, young children have an understanding that the tone and rhythm of language for babies should be different. Parents who continue to use baby talk with their toddlers will find that their children begin to disengage or even ignore them. Toddlers feel disrespected when you use a type of language meant for babies. It is important to talk with your older infants, and toddlers in a normal tone of voice. The same tone you would use with adults.

Complex Structure

We have a tendency to think we need to keep it short and simple when we talk to our young children. Many adults think if it is simple it is easier to understand. In truth, simple sentences bore toddlers. Simple sentence talk about obvious things, in a way your toddler is already familiar with.

Toddlers are working on learning and improving their own language. Which means, they are paying very close attention to the way you speak. They are listening for new words and ways to say things.  The more complex your sentence structure is, the more focused your toddler will be on what you are saying.  For example, lets say you see a cat in your yard and you want to show your child. You could  say, "Look, a cat! The cat is walking in the yard. It is a white cat." Your child will look, but will be more interested in what they see verses what you are saying. On the other hand if you say, "Look, there is a white cat walking in the yard! I wonder what the cat is doing? I think it is looking for food. What do you think?"

The more complex and thought provoking the conversations you have with your child, the more interested they will be in listening to what you have to say. Remember, you are modeling the use of language. Always strive to use language a few steps above what your child is able to use. It shows them how to improve their own language, and it communicates a belief in your child's ability to understand. And children do understand. By about 8 months children have close to 100% comprehension. 

Context Based Content

It is important to find the balance between complex structure and appropriate content.  The content of the language needs to be based on what your child can experience with their senses. Ideas like fairness, gentle, and 5 minutes, for example, are too abstract. If your child is pulling the dog's hair for example, saying, "Be gentle," only expresses and idea. It doesn't actually give them anything they can do.

For our young children to follow a direction, we need to break the abstract idea down into the physical experience Tell your child to be gentle with specific descriptions of what being gentle actually looks like. You could say, "Keep your hands open, and move them slowly when you touch the dog." 

Big Words

Be careful not to confuse abstract with big words. The word alphabet is a big word, but it describes a thing. You can show a child a picture of the alphabet. Abstract words are ones you can only show a picture of someone doing or being. We can't show a picture of sharing, only one of people in the act of sharing. This is an important difference.

You want to avoid the abstract, but fill (or infiltrate) your child's language with  big words. Introducing lots of words and increasing your child's vocabulary is important for literacy, and better communication. The children's picture book series, Fancy Nancy, is a great example of using big or fancy words. Longer words with more syllables are just like every other word they are learning. It is just as easy for a child to learn the word pink, as it is to learn the word magenta. Early exposure makes the longer, more complex words more accessible and less intimidating when your child starts reading. It is also hilarious to hear toddlers use big words.

Your toddler is a very smart, language learner who wants to hear all the possibilities language has to offer. Limiting your language to baby talk, only undermines your child's learning. It also is too simple for them to want to pay attention to it. You do need to be careful in the content, especially when you are giving directions. But really, just talk to your child like you would talk to anyone. 

Talking with Toddlers- #2- The Purpose of Whining

As toddler become more verbal they start to use a new tone of voice. The Whine. It is that sing-song tone that makes your skin crawl. Most parents hate this voice and don't respond to it. So why does it even happen? Why are toddlers so whinny? The answer may surprise you. The whinny voice is actually a transitional stage.

A Step Up From Crying

From birth infants have two modes of communication, body language and crying. The main vocalization is crying. As a child learns to talk they add a new way to communicate. But the other ways don't just go away. There is still a good amount of body language. They point, hold their hands up, turn away, and shake their heads, and use many other nonverbal gestures to communicate. They also cry when they are tired, frustrated and hurt. With the addition of words and language, children combined the cry with the words. The result is whining.  

Just like crying, whining drives us crazy, and moves us into action. With crying we usually focus on the need the infant is trying to communicate. We meet the need and the crying stops. When a child whines we tend to focus on getting rid of the whining. In our culture, whining is viewed as an inappropriate form of communication at every age. Instead of helping the child with the need they are expressing we get make them tell us again in a non-whining way. The result is often the child getting whinier and everyone is frustrated.

Developmental Expectations

Don't me wrong. I think it is very important for children to learn not to whine. But it has to be with in the correct developmental expectations. We understand the infants limitations in communications and allow for them to use crying as a way for them to tell us they have a need. For the young child who is using words in a sing-song tone, this is the developmental appropriate transitional stage. They know they need to do more than cry. Toddlers are still learning how much more effective talking is for communicating.

Instead of being annoyed by the whine with young children, we should be excited that they are starting to use language to express their needs and want. By being excited about the words the toddler learn to use more and more words and the whiny voice will drop away on its own. Since all children begin using language at a different age, the age at which the whine stops is also different. In general, once a child is using 4-5 words sentences on a regular basis, they will whine very little. 

Supporting Though the Whine

When your very young toddler whines the best thing to do is to encourage the use of words, and avoid making the whine the focus. Tell them how glad you are that they are telling you what they want instead of just crying. If the whine is so intense it is all you can hear, you will want to have them tell you again. Avoid being upset, or sarcastic that you can't understand them. You want to encourage them, "I can see that you want to tell me something, but you seem a little bit too upset for me to hear all your words." Giving them support to calm down a little before they tell you again, is often helpful. 

Once your child has better languages skills you can up the expectation and point out the tone of voice. Stay in a place of support, and watch your own tone of voice. The words and tone of voice you use when talking to your child are the ones they will use too. If the child uses a whiny tone, start by just asking them to repeat what they said. The more emotionally neutral you are in the way you ask the better. If the whiny tone is used again, point out the tone, have them take a breath and ask again. If you are consistent in this approach, the child learns to correct the tone of voice any time you ask for a repeat of what they are saying.

 Whining is a transitional behavior, not a bad behavior. As long as you support a child in learning and using language, most will stop whining on their own. However, if the whine gets you to change the limits you set, then it is going to keep happening, no matter how many times you correct it. 

Talking with Toddlers #1- Modeling Social Skills

The number one way you communicate with your children is through your own actions. Most of us know this, but we limit it's meaning. There is one area of modeling that often gets lost and that is the modeling of social skills. Most parents think a young child needs to be around other children to learn social skills. I often hear parents say they want to put their child into preschool, so they can learn how to interact with others. This seems logical.  If a child is home with adults, how can they learn to interact with children? The problem is, other children don't know how to behave correctly either. It is like the blind leading the blind. The common result is children coming home with a myriad of wrong, and often aggressive, behaviors. 

Social skills are actually learned from watching adults. As adults we model social behaviors in the way we interact with other adults, and how we treat our children. These interacts are the lessons our children internalize about how to talk to other and what to expect from others. If you want your children to hear your words, you need to make sure you are walking your talk.

Avoid the Double Standard

We have a tendency to have higher expectations of our children then we do of ourselves.  We think children should share everything, never get upset, say only kind words, and play with everyone equally. As adults we have things we don't share. If fact, we often get very upset if other people mess with our things. I don't know about you, but I don't like to share my morning cup of coffee-- with anyone. Ask my husband.  Then there are my lotions and potions. My children know the shelf in the shower that is off limits to them.

Our behaviors communicate quite clearly that some things are off limits. So it is easy to see why our young children don't share everything either. Despite the popular belief, the mine, mine, mine of toddlers, is not a universal. There are some cultures without any possession words. Since possession is not modeled, it isn't learned. There are things children need to share. We need to help them make choices about what to be share, and what they don't have to share. Our expectations for them need to match our own behaviors.

Life Long Skill Building

Social skills are just that, skills. Skills are first learned and then practiced. Learning the right way to be with other people is one of the hardest skills around. There are many books and classes out there for adults on how to improve social interactions. It takes a lifetime. As parents we need to remember to support our children in this area the same way we support children learning to read or do math, with kindest and encouragement.

For some children, social skills come naturally and easily to them. Others will need a little help. A few will have a great deal of difficultly learning social skills. We want to meet these children where they are and help with the level of support they need. A child who is having a hard time with social situations, needs more love and encouragement. Be kind to your children when they make social mistakes. Remember, in that moment, you are modeling how to treat people under stress.

Practice makes Perfect (or at least better)

As adults we have created scripts for many of the social situations we run into on a regular basis. When we find ourselves in that situation, we just pull out the script and follow it. Young children are in the process of creating these scripts. The more practice they have, the better they will be.

One way to practice is by playing with adults. When you get down and play with your child, you model the behaviors you want them to use with others. Which means you have to ask before you take a toy, or change what they are doing. You have to wait your turn, and sometimes be okay with it not going your way. Remember to also model standing up for your idea in a kind and gentle way.

Prepping for the New or Difficult

Reminding our children of social expectations is a simple and powerful way to help children as they head into social situations. When you are in the car, on your way to a play date, or the grocery store, or the park, you can go over the right behaviors. For example, if you are going to grocery store, you want to remind children about using walking feet, staying close by, and keeping our hands off the food. You can just tell them or you can do the reminders as a game. Older toddlers love this game. You ask if a behavior is right or wrong. "Do we yell at the store?"- No " Do we stay where you can see me?" - Yes. "Do we ask before we take things off the shelf?"- Yes.

Young children are wired to repeat the behaviors they observe. Children learn how to behave with others by watching you. Watching how you treat your spouse. Watching how you treat the neighbor. Watching how you treat them.  And watching how you treat yourself. If you want your child to listen to you, you need to listen to them. If you make them feel bad, they learn to make others feel bad. If you uplift and support them, they will uplift and support others. Your most powerful way to communicate with your young child is through your actions. 

Culture of Sleep- Myth #5- If You Help a Baby Sleep, They Will Always Need Help

As Americans we are obsessed with independence. We believe in being self sufficient and doing it on our own. This spills over into our parenting values in many way. The first way our individualist values show up, is in the goal of getting baby to fall asleep without help. Then to stay asleep alone. The importance of teaching a baby to self sooth is advocated almost as soon as they are born.  Our babies must learn to be individuals, and the sooner the better. 

Not all cultures see a need to push babies toward independence. In collectivist cultures, the infant is seen as an individual who needs to be made into a member of the community. These cultures are driven to keep babies close at all times, including during sleep. In Bali, a baby is held continuously until they are 6 months old. They are not alone in the belief that small infants should be held all the time. 

Our cultural push towards falling asleep without help has led us to a very strange leap in logic. It has been decided the only way an infant can learn to be an independent sleeper is to get rid of any support. Because support means dependance. This logic assumes that helping a child learn a skill is somehow the wrong way to encourage growth and development.

Support Equals Bad Habits

Helping a baby to go to sleep takes many forms. As a parent we nurse, rock, bounce, walk, pat, rub, sing to, wear, push in strollers, and drive around as a way for baby to either get to sleep or stay asleep.  These ways of helping are often a part of the daily flow. Sometimes they are used in moments of exhusted desperation. Parents, however, are told they are creating bad habits, and dependance, by doing any of these to help their infants sleep.

Nursing seems to have the worst reputation for creating a negative sleep association. If you let a baby fall asleep nursing, they will always need to nurse to fall asleep. From a safety and biological perspective, nursing is one of the best places for a baby to fall asleep. The rhythmic sucking regulates the nerves system, allowing for better and safer sleep. Filling the belly before sleep allows for a baby to sleep longer before needing to eat again. The hormone release for both mother and baby are sleep inducing. Any nursing parent can tell you how sleepy you get when you are nursing. All these affects, help baby sleep better. Yet it is seen as a bad habit. 

If we apply this idea- support creates bad habits- to any other form of development, the argument falls apart. We would never say, "If you hold your child's hand when they are learning how to walk, they will never learn to walk alone." The support and help we give by holding their hand is seen as a way to encourage the development of independent walking, not hinder it. The development of learning to consolidate and sustain sleep is the same kind of skill. Moving from wake to sleep independently is partly development and partly practice with support, just like walking.

Self Soothing 

So many of the parents who end up in Sleep Group talk about the need to teach their baby to self sooth. Self soothing it touted as the key to getting a baby to sleep though the night. The thing is, infants can't self sooth. It is a physical impossibility. They can learn to stop crying, but they are unable to bring their brain out of distress without the help. There is actually a cell in the brain with the task of handling  stress. These cells develop with age, and until you have enough you can't bringing yourself out of distress. Research has shown young children don't have enough of these cells until they are 5 years old. This means until children are 5 years, they require the support of an adult to bring their nervous system out of distress.   

I would really like to change self soothing, to self maintenance. An older infant can learn ways to prevent distress from happening. Some infants will use tools or props to help them maintain calm. This could be a pacifier, a lovey, or a blanket. Often you will see an infant or toddler use a repetitive behavior, like rubbing the sheet, twirling their hair, or tapping a foot to help them stay clam while falling back to sleep.  It would be much better to focus on helping a child learn to stay calm, instead of leaving them to try to calm down once they have hit their limit. Yet, self maintenance is still a skill that has to be practiced -with support.

Sleep Cycle Patterns 

A more important habit to worry about is the sleep cycle patterns.  Our brains likes patterns because they make the brain's job easier. When an infant is learning to sleep, how we support them will teach the brain the patterns it should create for the cycles of sleep. We all move through light and deep cycles while we sleep. Light sleep, for a very young infant, is a very active neurological state. This active light sleep can cause the baby to wake, especially if they are not given support. 

Our belief in the need to make babies self sooth and go back to sleep without support, makes us leave babies alone in this light sleep. A parent waits to see if baby will go back to sleep alone. Usually, resulting in a baby who wakes up. Once awake, it is much harder for baby to go back to sleep. On the other hand, if we give a baby support when they are in light sleep, they stay asleep. Without help the pattern becomes, deep sleep-light sleep- wake. With help, the pattern becomes deep sleep-light sleep-deep sleep. Even when a baby needs to nurse to go back to sleep, if you get them before they wake up, they learn to go back to sleep. So when the food is no longer needed, they just stay asleep.

Habits can be broken

Habits do form and can at times cause problems. Yet our cultural idea of habits around infant sleep suggests habits are bad and can never be changed. We all know this is not true. Bedtime routines can create really important habits to help support sleeping well. Habits are also not permanent, they can change and can change quickly. Infants are in a state on constant change. Abilities and sleep needs go through major shifts in the first year. So any thing do with your 3 month old is going to very different from what you do with your 9 month old. Because infant change so much, habits can be created and broken in a week, or less.

The main point, is mostly to stop worrying about what sleep is going to look like down the line. You don't know what is going to come up between now and three months from now. You want to support your child's sleep where they are right now. Do what works right now. When it stops working, you can change it. 

The Culture of Sleep-Myth #4- Only Long Naps Count

One concern parents often have is how long their infant's naps are. There seems to be a pervasive idea about short naps being non-restorative. I have heard everything from naps need to be an hour, to naps need to be two full sleep cycles. Yet, history and research don't back this up.

The organization of sleep for humans has changed over the millennia. When we were more indigenous, the rise and fall of the sun played a major roll in when we slept. So did the season. In winter months, when the nights were longer, and colder, we slept more at night. Saving the daylight hours for working. During the summer, the early hours and the later hours were the best ones for working. The mid-day was too hot, so we had long naps, and shorter nights.  There are some cultures where napping is still important, even into adulthood.

In America, the importance of night sleep for infants and children is over stressed. This over emphasis on night sleep, results in infants and children taking shorter naps. It also causes children to drop napping at a much younger age. I think most infants do better with more daytime sleep. But many parents are not willing to forego a longer night of sleep.  The amount of day sleep and the number of naps changes very drastically over the first year. How many and how long naps need to be depends on development, total amount of sleep your child wants and the day to night ratio of sleep.  

How Long a Nap Needs to Be

Different lengths of sleep are associated with different kinds of benefits. A nap lasting 15-20 minutes is shown to improve alertness and motor performance. Naps lasting 30-60 minutes, improves decision making skills. For sleep lasting over an hour, when deep sleep is achieved, allows the brain to solidify new connections and improve problem solving . As you can see, all lengths of sleep provide benefits. Infants need all these benefits at different times of the day.

These benefits show a nap of only 15 minutes can be an important part of your child's sleep. Short naps usually only become a  problem if all the naps are short. Most children do best when they have at least one longer nap a day. A long nap is one that lasts over an hour.  

How Many Naps 

The main factor in how many naps an infant needs, is the length of time they can maintain wakefulness. The main system running sleep in the first year is the Homeostatic Sleep System. This is the most basic system. This system says, the longer you are awake, the more tired you are. The longer you sleep, the more rested you are. For very young infants, being awake requires a large amount of energy.  In fact, being out of the womb requires energy, even when asleep. This is why infants under 3 months sleep often, and for most of the day. As the nervous system develops, an infant gets more efficient at eating and running their automatic systems. This development allows them to be awake for longer periods of time, resulting in fewer naps. 

The number of naps in those first months are so variable, there is no normal pattern of sleep. After 3 months we see trends in the usual number of naps infants and toddlers take. These averages, are just that, averages. Some children will want more or less naps. But in general, 3-6 month olds take 4-5 naps a day, 6-9 month olds take 2-3 naps a day, 9-12 month old take 1-2 naps a day, and 12-24 month olds take 1 nap a day. As we reach older toddlerhood, some children are ready to drop their naps. Most children are done napping between the 3rd and 4th birthday.

The Cause of Short Naps

There are three main reasons an infant takes short naps. These reasons are, too much night sleep, working to hard to get naps, and getting ready to drop the number of naps. All these reasons have one major root cause, thinking an infant or toddler needs more sleep then they want. So, let's look at each of these causes and how to eliminate them. 

As I discussed in the first blog of this series, most children over 6 months only want to sleep 8-10 hours at night. With a total amount of sleep for 24 hours being in the 11-13 hour range. Let's use an example to show how too much night sleep, creates short naps. Charlie, is a 7 month old who goes to bed at 7:30pm and gets up for the day at 6:30 am. Charlie has some night wakings, but goes back to sleep pretty quickly after eating. During the day Charlie takes 3-4, 30 minute naps. All we have to do is add up the hours of total sleep. Charlie sleeps about 11 hours at night and 1.5-2 hours during the day. This puts Charlie's total sleep at 12.5-13. Right where we would expect a 7 month old to be. There is no need to get Charlie to sleep more. We just need to shorten the night sleep so there is more sleep to use in the day time.

The idea of good long naps being important causes many parents spend a lot of the day trying to get, or keep, baby asleep. This is especially true for older infants. Your baby falls asleep nursing. You go to put them down and they wake up. You bring baby back to the breast, and they go back to sleep. Most parents think this means they need to sleep with baby to make sure they get a long nap. What it usually means, is baby isn't really ready for a nap. If you try to put an older infant down for a nap and they keep waking, they don't need to nap. Also, the older infant has slightly different sleep cues. Yawning and wanting to snuggle can often mean they just need a break. Older infants spend much of their time moving around. They need breaks of being more still between times when they work on new skills. My general rule for naps is: If you have spent 20 minutes working to get them to sleep and they are not staying asleep, Stop and get active. Usually in another 20-40 minutes they will be ready for a nap and sleep much better.

When a infant is getting ready to drop the number of naps, you will usually see some, or all, the naps get shorter. One way to see if this is the case, is to get baby can stay up a little longer then normal. If an infant has been regularly taking a nap at 9am, they will show tired cues. This is because the brain is use to sleeping at that time. The brain triggers sleep cues automatically, even if they are not tired enough to sleep. Keeping a baby active will usually get them to push past the habitual tiredness. If you try to keep a baby who really needs a nap awake, they yell at you. So, it is usually clear if they are ready to extend the awake time or not.  Some children will drop their over all amount of sleep before they can be awake for longer. This causes more shorter naps. Give them a few weeks to adjust.

There is one last reason a baby may take short naps. They only need short naps. The division of day sleep and night sleep is developmental. As the sleep system develops, infants and toddler move more and more of their sleep to the night. Just like some babies walk sooner then others, some consolidate sleep sooner. If your child does a lot of night sleep, takes short naps during the day, and is a happy content baby, this may be the perfect schedule for them.

Where to Nap

One last thing about napping, where baby should nap. As I discussed last week, babies are safest sleeping in the same room as their care provider. This is true for day and night sleep. In terms of what baby should sleep in, I believe in flexibility. There is usually only one nap left for most children who are 1.5 years and older. Why are we worried about where babies sleep during sleep that is going to go away?

 Next Week: Myth #5- If you help a baby sleep they won't learn to sleep alone.

The Culture of Sleep-Myth #3- Baby Should Sleep Alone

There is a strong belief in the idea of getting infants to sleep in their own beds in their own rooms. The problem with this belief is that independent sleeping is unsafe for babies and impractical for parents. If we look at the over arching history and across cultures, infants and young children have almost always slept within close proximity to the adults who care for them. Despite all the campaigns and advice, the numbers show that about 50% of American families sleep with their infants in bed with them, some part of every night. Another 30% sleep with baby 1-6 nights a week. So where did the idea of infants sleeping alone originate?

Where is Started

As far as I have been able to find, the idea of separating infants during sleep was all about communicable disease.  The most common sleeping arrangement for families, especially families with less income, was a family bed. With everyone sleeping together illness was easily and quickly passed from family member to family member. In the late 19th century, the theory of gems was being developed. With this, the concept of exposure. Infants are the most vulnerable to illness. If the infants were moved out of the family bed, they were less likely to get sick. And less likely to die. It worked too. 

At this same time the new ideas of behaviorism were coming out of psychology. Thanks to John Watson the idea of spoiling an infant was born. The new science of human behavior decided that mothers who touched their babies were causing psychological harm. I think it is safe to say we have disproven that idea many times over. These two ideas combined led to the advocating for infants to be put to sleep on their own.


Infants require numerous diaper changes and feeding at night. A parent who has to get up, go to another room, meet baby’s needs, get baby back to sleep, get baby back into bed- I am tired just writing it.  These parents will be much more sleep deprived. If a parent can stay in bed and meet baby’s needs, they will get more rest. 

The farther away baby is from the care provider, the more awake baby has to be before the parent can respond. Very young infants learn to sleep through sleep cycles the way a toddler learns to walk. We hold a toddler's hands while they gain strength and coordination. A new baby brain learns to move through sleep cycles by having someone there to help them stay asleep.

Sleep and Safety

The idea of infants sleeping alone was developed based on increased safety and we have played on the theme. The problem is infants really are not safe sleeping alone.

The American Academy of Pediatric recommends infants stay in the same rooms as parents until they are 12 months old. This recommendation is based off many studies showing the reduction of SIDS and other causes of death in very young infants. Statistics show that more SIDS cases actually happen during the day, when baby is sleeping away from a care provider. The numbers are reported this way: Having infants sleep in the same room as the care provider is 75% protective during the day and 53% protective during the night.  

So the question of safety is really more about if the infant should sleep in bed with the parents or not. Bed sharing, while widely practiced is very controversial. The AAP recommends infants in the same room, but not in the same bed. Yet, there have been many resent studies showing how safe bed sharing can be when we eliminate the risk factors. In countries like Japan where bed sharing is the norm, SIDS rates are close to zero.

Where Should Your Baby Sleep

The best place for a baby to sleep is the place that allows everyone to get the best sleep. If the sleeping arrangements you have are working for you and your family, keep doing them. When the sleeping arrangements stop working, change them. On average, infants sleep in 3-7 different places on any one given night. So your baby may start in your arms, then to a bassinet, then into bed with you.

Surprise, Surprise, there is not a set answer to where your baby should sleep. Your sleeping arrangements will likely change overtime. Some children will be independent sleepers very early while others will want to sleep with someone else for much longer. Yet, as a parent you  get a say in where and with who your baby and toddler sleeps. You can teach an infant or toddler to sleep in any situation, it just may take some work. You and your baby both have input into the sleeping arrangements.  So do what works for both of you.

To see research related to this topic click here

Next week: Myth #4- Only Long Naps Count

The Culture of Sleep-Myth #2- Early Bedtime

One question I am asked often is “What time should my baby go to sleep?” There are many articles and books that talk about how sleep begets sleep, or a baby who isn’t sleeping well needs to go to bed earlier. For a baby who is truly overtired, getting them to bed early may help. For many infants, a bedtime that is too early can create more sleep issues.

From a biological perspective there is no ideal bedtime. How we organize sleep is determined by where we live and the flow of our day. Our desire to have our babies to go bed early is driven by our cultural attitudes of parenting and adult time. 

House work and Down time

 American parents, especially the educated parents, think we must interact and stimulate our young children every minute they are awake. We have been told the first three years are critical to development. The result is parents overstimulating their infant and exhausting themselves. Yes, we need to provide for our infants needs. We needs to respond to them then they ask for acknowledgment or support. We need to provide them with a stimulating environment. Providing those things is very different then looking, talking to, or playing with your infant every minute they are awake. If fact your baby needs time without being stared at.

This belief of continuous stimulation makes the sleep times the only times parents have to work or rest.  By the end of the day parents have used up all their resources. They are tapped and tired. The trick is learning how to do take care of yourself while the infant or toddler are awake.  It can be difficult to imagine as a first time parent, and harder to accomplish with multiple children in the house.  Yet, finding ways to read a magazine, do the dishes, or answer emails while your child is awake, actually makes getting baby to sleep less stressful. Your not desperate for your child to sleep, so are more relaxed if it doesn't happen exactly how you planned. 

Early to Bed, Early to Rise

Doesn't just make a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. It makes a parent tired. Last week's blog discussed how most babies only sleep 8-10 hours at night. If you put a baby to bed at 6:30 pm that means baby is done sleeping between 2:30-4:30am. Now you can keep a baby sleeping until 6am by holding them or nursing them or bringing them to bet with you. This sleep is usually pretty light during those morning hours.

The biggest complaint about moving bedtime later is that baby doesn't sleep later. Babies will usually still wake up between 6:00-7:00am because they are done sleeping. Because 8:30p-6:30am is 10 hours of sleep. Moving the bedtime results in a better day to night ratio of sleep. It allows for more day sleep, and longer naps. Shortening the night sleep also improves the quality of the sleep through the night. Allowing for longer stretches of sleep and fewer wakings.

The other issues with the early bedtime is the incongruent sleep schedule. Parents stay up later then baby, to get in those hours of work or couple time or self care. Yet, the first stretch of sleep for an infant is usually the longest most restful sleep. The stretch that happens when parents are still awake. This means the baby sleeps best when the parent is still awake.  Parents get better sleep if the long stretch of infant sleep matches up with when the parents are sleeping. Some parents will solve this by going to bed early with the baby. But most parents don't want to be in bed that early.

Finding the Right Bedtime

Despite the fact that so much sleep information says infants should go to bed early, the average bedtime for infants and toddlers in the United States is 8:30pm. In most of the rest of the world the average bedtime for infants and toddlers is 10:00pm.

The optimal bedtime for a child is greatly influenced by in the amount of day sleep and the total sleep an individual child needs. The biological rhythms play an important role in bedtime too. Studies have shown the importance of the circadian rhythms and bedtime being in sync. If you put a toddler in bed before the brain is ready to sleep, it can cause more wakeful nights.  

The families schedule is also a major factor in finding the best bedtime. What time the parents get home from work, when the parents want to go to sleep and when the day starts all affect bedtime. The right bedtime for your child and your family may be drastically different from the bedtime that works for anyone else.

Bedtime Consistency

While the time a child goes to sleep can vary, a bedtime that works should be fairly consistent. Once an infant is over 6 months, bedtime should stay consistent within an hour window. If the target bedtime is 8:30 then baby should be asleep between 8-9pm most every night. Moving bedtime due to an early or late nap makes it very difficult for the brain to regulate sleep cycles through the night. So once you have a bedtime that works for your child and your family, it is good to stick to that time. 

The optimal bedtime is different for every family. But bedtime is an area where parents can make adjustment so it works for the whole family. You may want your child to go to bed early, you just need to be aware of the results of that choice. For may families a later bedtime makes more sense to the flow of their day. 

Next week- Myth #3- Where babies should sleep

The Culture of Sleep-Myth #1- 12 Hour Nights

While sleep is a biological process, most of how and when we sleep is determined by the culture you live in. Culture determines how much you value sleep, who sleeps with who, when you go to bed and when your day starts. In America, there are many ideas around how infant and toddlers should sleep. Most parent think these ideas come from biology. When actually, the most pervasive beliefs about infant and toddler sleep, are only cultural constructs.

These cultural ideas often don't match up with biology or parental beliefs and leave parents feeling lost and helpless. Over the next 5 weeks I am going to debunk the top cultural beliefs about sleep that tend to cause problems when a parent is trying to create healthy sleep for their infants and toddlers.


Here goes- 

Myth #1- 12 Hour Nights

One of the most pervasive ideas we have about infants is the goal of getting a new baby to sleep through the night. "Is your baby sleeping through the night?" is a question new parents get so often many start to lie in response to avoid the unsolicited advice. What does that even mean, to sleep through the night? Well the most prevalent answer is 12 hours. This idea is taught and discussed in articles and book. There are even books with this idea as part of the title. I am not sure where this idea came from or how it started, because there is no evidence to back it up. 

What is Through the Night? 

What does it even mean to sleep through the night? The problem with that question is that it varies based on a child's age and weight. It also depends on how you define through the night. In the realm of clinic sleep research, though the night is defined as 5-7 hours of uninterrupted sleep. For most parents sleeping though the night means sleeping from bedtime until morning time without needing any help. In my work with families I have seen a parent feel their child is sleeping through the night, even if there are night wakes to eat. But since baby goes right back to sleep, they don't really count it as a wake up. On the other hand, some parents count going in to replace a pacifier as a wake up. 

Sleep Development

The developmental task of sleep in the first 2 years is to combined wake and sleep times. A new born sleeps every hour or so for about an hour all day and night. While a 2 year old sleep one 1-2 hour nap and then sleeps 8-10 hours at night. By 2 year children's sleep time has consolidated to mostly at night, while the wake times have all moved to the day. This is a developmental process just like learning to walk. Some children will walk sooner, others later. The same is true with sleep consolidation. Some children will do more night sleep sooner, while others will take longer to combined wake and sleep. Which means there is more of a range for when children will start sleeping with out interruption. What is the range? The not very helpful answer of 6-36 months.

 How Long a Baby Can Sleep

The total average amount of sleep in 24 hours for infants over 6 months of age is 11-13 hours  . This has been shown again and again in research both in the United States and cross culturally. If the total amount of sleep for most children who are still napping is 11-13 hours, it is physically impossible for them to sleep 12 hours at night. Most infants and children average about 8-10 hours of night sleep. The exact amount an infant or young child will sleep at night will depend on if they lean toward the lower or higher end of the average, and how much they are sleeping during the day. For example, a 7 month old infant who wants 12 hours total, sleep 3 hours during the day, will sleep 9 hours at night. But baby probably won't sleep 9 hours strait.

Most infants still need to nurse or eat at least once thought the night. How long a baby can sleep uninterrupted before they need to wake depends on age, weight and how much they eat during the day.

 So if your baby doesn't sleep 12 hours at night, they are perfectly normal. If your baby does stay in bed for 12 hours, remember all babies are different. Some do want more then average amounts of sleep.

Next Week: Myth #2- Bedtimes

for information on research please click here