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Our sleep changes a lot over our lives, but probably not as much or as fast as within the first 5 years of life. Cathy A. DiVincenzo, MD, an independent practitioner affiliated with NorthShore goes over the first 5 years and what you can typically expect. additionally, she takes a look at what a lack of sleep will do to your child.
Newborns between 0-3 months sleep around the clock. Their cycles tend to revolve around their base needs like feeding, changing and being nurtured. They sleep up to 17 hours in an irregular schedule, with periods of 1-3 hours spent awake.
Between 4-11 months a lot can happen to an infant’s sleep. Typically, by 6 months, nighttime feedings are unnecessary, and by 9 months most infants are sleeping through the night. Naps continue in this phase, taking between 1-4 naps per day. At 4 months, as infants grow and develop more awareness of their environment and develop a deeper connection with parents, some can develop trouble putting themselves back to sleep after normal brief nighttime awakenings. Sleep training may be needed during this time to get their sleep back on schedule. The recommended amount of sleep for 4 months until 1 year is 12-16 hours.
At ages 1-2, toddlers will require 11-14 hours of sleep. Naps will gradually decrease to once per day and only last 1-3 hours. It’s at this point where resisting going to bed, as well as nightmares and night terrors, usually occur. Parents used to sleeping through the night will become exasperated at nighttime awakenings in this phase. Fear not! It’s totally normal. Normal behavioral issues, like temper tantrums, and developmental milestones can increase resistance to going to bed or staying in bed.
Preschoolers (from 3-5 years old) still need between 10-13 hours of sleep but will lose the nap sometime before age 5. With their imaginations really ramping up, nightmares become more common. Additionally, sleep terrors peak during preschool.
Of course, that’s the recommended amount of sleep, but what happens if your children are not hitting those targets? The ramifications on their emotions, behavior, and thinking and learning could be critical.
On the emotional side of things, lack of sleep can make your child moody, irritable and cranky. Their feelings will be difficult to control and they will be upset more easily. Behaviorally, you can see a lack of concentration and restlessness. Finally, a lack of sleep can cause problems with reaction time, decision-making, paying attention and even memory. It’s best to discuss your sleep concerns with your pediatrician as they can provide great advice on how to help your child develop healthy sleep habits.
While every child is different, it’s best to try and help even the fussiest little ones to get the correct amount of sleep.