Sleep is critical for all of us. It allows supports the our ability to maintain healthy circulation, reducing the risk of heart disease. It is associated with keeping a healthy body weight, and reduces our tendency to eat fatty foods. It reinvigorates our mind and facilitates better concentration and mood. On top of all this, the right amount of sleep is even more important for children in early years. A lack of sleep can hamper a child's growth and development. Let's see how early years sleep requirements change as a child grows.
Early Years Sleep Requirements; Newborns
In their first few months of life, babies will sleep for 16-18 hours each day. At this delicate age, children tend to sleep in blocks of around 4 hours. This is because whilst in utero, unborn babies' sleep is determined by chemical changes in the mother's blood, rather than changes in the level of light. Once out in the world, it takes children up to 12 weeks to develop their own "circadian rhythms" and settle into sleeping in the dark.
Once their circadian rhythms are established, children up to a year old will sleep for 12-16 hours in each 24 hour period. This includes time spent napping. During this period, the majority of children will begin sleeping through the night uninterrupted. There are many factors which affect when this starts happening, but the most crucial step is the end of night time feeding around 6 months old.
Early Years Sleep Requirements; Toddlers
1 and 2 year olds will generally need to sleep for 11 - 14 hours in each 24 hour period. At this age, their sleep requirements do not change substantially, but will reduce slightly as day time napping usual changes from twice to once a day.
At the upper end of the early years age range, 3 - 5 year olds will need to sleep for 9 - 12 hours in each 24 hour period. Although night time hunger and day time naps should disappear during this age range, interruption to night time sleep can actually increase. This is because the development of imagination and cognitive awareness at this time can increase the prevalence of nightmares. Sleep walking & bedwetting also peak at this age.
Supporting families as they manage their children's sleep routines is a big part of being an early years professional. Parents are often anxious to understand what is "normal", and so being equipped with some basic advice can be really helpful.