Sleep in Children | Kids Clinic Singapore

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Dr Dave Ong: 23 Aug

Dr Wendy Sinnthamby: 28 Aug (PM) & 29 Aug

Last updated: 3 August

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Sleep in Children

Why is Sleep Important?

Our body heals itself while we are sleeping. As we rest, the body and brain are repairing and rebuilding themselves whilst promoting cell regeneration and reproduction. Sleep helps to restore the functions of the brain and body. Furthermore, sleep evolves with developmental changes as your little one grows from an infant into adolescence.

Inculcate good sleeping practices in your child such as a consistent bedtime routine and having a conducive restful environment.

Benefits of Having a Good Night’s Sleep

  • Promotes growth
  • Healthy heart
  • Improves immunity – Cytokine
  • A better attention span
  • Increases memory power
  • Encourages learning
  • Improves emotional well-being
  • Reduces obesity
  • Reduces injury risk

Sleep Patterns in Children

Newborns (1-2 months)

Newborn babies will usually sleep for about 16 to 18 hours a day. While they are sleeping, you will probably observe some simple body movements like your baby smiling or the twitching of their hands and feet! They will typically wake up every 3-5 hours to be fed.

Babies born prematurely will sleep for longer, about 20 hours a day. Their sleep pattern will be quite irregular until they are 6-8 weeks old.

Infants (3-11 months)

Infants typically sleep for 10-14 hours during the night. It is quite normal for infants to nap in the day and the naps can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. The number of naps they require in the day will reduce once they turn 1 year old. The time spent sleeping reduces as infants tend to spend more time awake, moving, rolling and learning.
This is the best time for you to establish a sleep routine so that the timing of the sleep periods can be made regular. When infants are put to bed drowsy but not asleep, they are more likely to fall asleep independently at bedtime and put themselves back to sleep during the night when they wake. Those who have become accustomed to parents tending to them at bedtime often cry for their parents to help them return to sleep during the night.
Do note that between 6-12 months of age is when infants may experience separation anxiety. You should try not to pick up your baby, turn on the lights, sing or talk to them or else your baby will not learn to fall asleep on his/her own. If they are able to fall asleep on their own, they will then sleep through the night, allowing you to have a good night’s sleep too.

Infant Sleep Safety and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) Risk Reduction

  1. You should always place your baby on its back when putting him/her to sleep.
  2. Your baby’s sleep surface should be firm. Sitting devices like car seats are not recommended.
  3. It would be ideal if your baby sleeps in the same room as you but not in the same bed.
  4. Do not cover your baby’s head at all times.
  5. Ensure that your baby’s crib does not have any toys, stuffed animals and extra-bedding
  6. During bedtime, dress your baby in light clothes and do not overbundle him/her.
  7. You can use a blanket but make sure it is tucked in well and does not go beyond your baby’s chest.
  8. Your baby’s crib should always be in a smoke-free environment.
  9. When your baby is awake, you should have supervised tummy time to help him/her strengthen their muscles.
It is important to note that if your baby has an underlying medical condition, these recommendations may not apply. When in doubt, you should consult your paediatrician as they can best advise you on the recommended sleep position for your little one.

Toddlers (1-3 years)

Toddlers generally sleep for about 11-14 hours in a day. When they are 18 months old, you should decrease their nap times in the day to once a day. It should last between 1 and 3 hours. Naptime should not be too close to bedtime as your toddler might struggle to sleep at night. This is when you might struggle to put your child to sleep as many toddlers tend to experience sleep problems. They might resist going to bed and wake up in the middle of the night frequently. Nightmares and other fears associated with the night are also common at this age. You should comfort your child when they get nightmares. Let your toddler talk about the dream if he or she wants to, and stay until your child is calm. Once he/she is calm, you should gently encourage them to go back to sleep.

Preschoolers (3-5 years)

Preschoolers will typically sleep for 10-13 hours. They will usually no longer need a daytime nap by the time they are 5 years old. Struggling to sleep at bed time, waking up in the middle of the night and nightmares will still be common at this age. It is important to have a regular bedtime routine and a regular bedtime schedule.

Once your child starts attending school, he/she requires 9-11 hours of sleep at night. Bedtime problems can arise at this age due to several reasons, e.g. homework, sports, social activities and screen time. These might delay bedtime resulting in sleep deprivation.

Teenagers

Teenagers need about 8-10 hours of sleep. Ideally, a teen should try to have a consistent sleep routine whether it is a school day or not. However, they may be sleep deprived because of early wake times for school and from staying up late to do their homework. An insufficient amount of sleep can lead to poor attention, inability to concentrate and perform. Furthermore, some teenagers may develop a change in their ‘body clock’ at this age, and have a tendency to stay up late in the night. This may affect their sleep duration on school days (when they have to wake up early for school). Catching up on sleep during the weekend may cause irregularity in their sleep schedule, and they may have difficulty waking up early when the school week starts again.

Signs Your Child is Not Sleeping Enough

If you observe the following signs and symptoms in your child, it means they are not getting sufficient sleep.

  • They are always very sleepy during the day.
  • They are constantly moody.
  • They are not able to concentrate or pay attention.
  • They are facing learning problems.
  • Their reaction time is much slower.

Recommended Amount of Sleep

It is important to know how much sleep your child needs as it will change as they grow older.
Age Recommended Sleep Hours in 1 Day

Infants (4-12 months)

12 to 16 hours (including naps)

Toddlers (1-2 years)

11-14 hours (including naps)

Pre-schoolers (3-5 years)

10-13 hour (including naps)

Grade schoolers (6-12 years)

9 to 12 hours

Teens (13-18 years)

8 to 10 hours

General Sleep Tips

  1. Be consistent with your bedtime routine. Try and keep it about 10-30 minutes long and stick to the timing.
  2. You should make the bedtime routine enjoyable and ensure that it ends in your child’s bedroom. This way they will look forward to going to bed!
  3. If you read them a bedtime story, avoid scary stories and let them know when the story is about to end.
  4. Ideally, you should leave your child’s room when they are drowsy but not fully asleep yet.

For more tips on putting your child to sleep, you can read this article on cultivating healthy sleep habits in your child.

When to See a Doctor for Sleep Problems

If you observe any of the following symptoms in your little one, you should visit your paediatrician.
  1. Your baby is extremely fussy over an extended period of time.
  2. Your child has trouble breathing or breathes noisily when asleep.
  3. Your child snores. It is a greater concern if the snoring is loud.
  4. Your child wakes up at unusual times at night for no reason.
  5. Your child always wakes up with a headache in the morning.
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