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. 

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