A baby sleep chart can’t tell you exactly how long your baby needs to sleep. Researchers don’t fully understand baby sleep patterns, let alone baby sleep requirements. But researchers have collected information from parents about their babies’ sleep habits, and based on these surveys, we have a pretty good sense of what’s typical — the normal range of variation that parents report.
In addition, experts have offered some broad guidelines about optimal sleep duration for older babies and toddlers. As we’ll see, these recommendations represent educated guesswork, and they are rather vague. But they can help us identify the range of sleep times that are linked with better behavioral and health outcomes.
So what does normal sleep look like in babies? When should you be concerned that your child isn’t sleeping enough? And what can parents do to help babies and toddlers sleep longer? Here I’ve put together a baby sleep chart based on a combination of sources. For each age range, it summarizes the sleep behavior that most parents encounter. Next, we discuss where the numbers come from, and the challenges of obtaining accurate information about baby sleep times. Finally, we’ll go over those expert recommendations, and some tips for coping with babies who are “short sleepers.”
As you might expect, newborns sleep a lot – often as much as 16-17 hours per day, especially during the first couple of weeks postpartum. And, as babies get older, total sleep duration decreases (e.g., Pecora et al 2022). But there’s a considerable range of sleep times among different individuals, and it’s helpful to drill down beyond a single number representing the “average” baby. Here’s my summary of the data on parent-reported sleep behavior.
* Nighttime sleep duration and range for middle 50% of the population derived from a study of Canadian and U.S. parents only (Sadeh et al 2008).
Other estimates derived from review of multiple, international studies (Galland et al 2012). Numbers rounded to nearest 0.5.
To create this chart, I have relied primarily on a meta-analysis by Barbara Galland and her colleagues (2012). These researchers estimated average values for baby sleep statistics by combining data from studies conducted in Australia, Canada, China, Italy, Israel, Russia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Information in my chart about average total sleep duration, the range for 95% of the population, naps, night wakings, and the longest reported sleep bout reflects these values. But Galland’s team didn’t provide estimates for every variable. For example, their analysis didn’t include detailed data about the range for total sleep duration for half of the population. Nor did they report information about nighttime sleep duration.
So I used another source to fill this gap — a survey of Canadian and U.S. parents (Sadeh et al 2008). We shouldn’t assume that information from this North American study will be representative of babies internationally (see below). However, for every age group, the average total sleep duration for the North Americans was very close to the international averages. And the range for total sleep duration looked roughly consistent with graphical information provided by Galland’s team (figure 3, p. 218, Galland et al 2012).
It’s worth keeping in mind that studies reporting typical sleep times are usually based on the impressions of parents – not on objective measures. In some cases, parents are asked to keep careful sleep diaries. In others, parents merely fill out brief questionnaires about their children’s past habits — questionnaires which they answer from memory.
Either way, parents can be wrong, and research suggests that many parents tend to overestimate how much their babies sleep. This is understandable, because parents don’t lie awake all night to confirm what their babies are doing. If the night seems quiet, parents may simply assume that their infants are sleeping. But are they really?
When researchers have measured baby sleep using objective methods — like continuous, overnight recordings — they’ve found that babies sleep less (and awaken more frequently) than parents realize. For example, in one study, parents overestimated total nighttime sleep duration by an average of 55 minutes (Quante et al 2021). In another, parents weren’t aware of all the night wakings their babies had experienced (Goodlin-Jones et al 2001).
To some degree, this is a story about regional or cultural differences. For example, in a study conducted in Switzerland, the average reported total sleep duration for babies aged 6-12 months was about 14 hours — an hour higher than the international average (Iglostein et al 2003; Galland et al 2012). And researchers have found evidence for a broad cultural trend: Parents in predominantly Asian countries tend to report shorter sleep times than do parents in predominantly Caucasian countries (Galland et al 2012; Mindell et al 2010). The biggest contrast I’ve seen is between Japan and New Zealand, with Japanese parents reporting about 100 minutes less total sleep time than Kiwi parents (Mindelll et al 2010).
But even within the same culture, there is a great deal of variation among individual variation. And either way, we’re left to wonder what specific causes make one baby sleep longer than average, and another much less. What might be going on?
We know that sleep duration is affected by genetic factors (Touchette et al 2013; Fisher et al 2012), but it isn’t as if babies are genetically programmed to sleep for a certain number of hours. Instead, some individuals may have genes that predispose them to certain responses — like becoming especially upset or irritable in response to stressors. And these responses, in turn, can lead to sleep problems, including shorter sleep duration (Sorondo et al 2015).
We also know that environmental factors can impact everybody, whether or not they are “temperamental” or hyperreactive to stress. For instance, studies suggest that young children tend to sleep longer at night when we provide them with consistent bedtime routines (e.g., Mindell et al 2015; Tsai et al 2022), and respond with sensitivity, peacefulness, and patience to our children’s nighttime needs (Jian and Teti 2016). Babies may also sleep longer overall if they fall asleep earlier at night (Adams et al 2020).
Finally, it’s possible that some of the differences in reported sleep times reflect measurement error. Some parents share a bedroom with their babies. Others sleep farther away. When parents and babies sleep in separate rooms, parents may be less aware of the times when their babies are awake, leading them to overestimate sleep duration. By contrast, parents who share a bedroom may report shorter (and more accurate) sleep times. This could explain some of the variation in parent’s answers, both from family to family, and from region to region. Room-sharing is more common in predominantly Asian countries than it is in predominantly Caucasian countries (Mindell et al 2010).
It’s hard to say because researchers lack a clear understanding of the behavioral and health consequences of baby sleep patterns. We need more studies to sort this out. But based on limited scientific evidence – mostly correlations observed between children’s sleep habits and their health outcomes – experts have offered some very rough estimates about optimal sleep times for older babies and toddlers. For example, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (Paruthi et al 2016), the recommended total amount of sleep every 24 hours (including nighttime sleep and naps) is:
What about babies under the age of 4 months? The American Academy of Sleep Medicine hasn’t made any specific recommendations, because there isn’t enough high-quality scientific data on the subject. But members of the National Sleep Foundation has recommended 14-17 hours of sleep for babies 0-3 months, and noted that 11-19 hours of sleep “may be appropriate” for some babies in this age range (Hirshkowitz et al 2015).
Not every baby can get away with the minimum recommended hours and still feel healthy and happy. Babies are individuals, and their sleep needs vary. So we need to pay attention to signals that they are feeling tired. For help, see my article “Baby sleep deprivation: How to tell if your baby isn’t sleeping enough.”
It looks like many families are in this situation. For example, when researchers asked the parents of nearly 2500 babies (4 to 12 month olds) living in the United States, about 40% of them said their children were getting less than 12 hours of sleep each day (Wheaton et al 2021).
This is concerning given the problems associated with short sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine chose 12 hours as a minimum threshold, in part, because babies who regularly sleep more than 12 hours as less likely to experience behavior problems (Paruthi et al 2016).
But there is at least one reassuring observation for parents with babies who get less sleep than normal: For most of these babies, total sleep duration moves closer to average as they get older (Magee et al 2014). And when researchers track these individuals over time, they have found no obvious long-term differences in emotional or social functioning. Yes, infants who sleep less than average tend to be more irritable. But as long as sleep duration becomes more typical over time, kids seem to turn out pretty well (Magee et al 2014).
So the really important thing is to watch long-term trends, and take steps that will help your baby move in the right direction. Here’s some advice about this.
Babies can have trouble sleeping for a variety of reasons. My Parenting Science article, “Infant sleep problems: A troubleshooting guide” can help you identify what’s wrong, and lead you to focused solutions.
As noted above, bedtime routines have been associated with longer nighttime sleep duration for babies. Read more about it in my article, “Infant sleep training: Gentle alternatives to ‘cry it out’”.
Some babies seem adapted to stay up late each night. If that’s your situation, simply insisting on an earlier bedtime won’t work. Your baby won’t feel sleepy enough to comply. But it’s possible shift your baby’s “internal clock.” It just requires some planning and a few days to implement. For more information, see my article about resetting your child’s circadian rhythms, as well as my instructions for an evidence-based training procedure called “bedtime fading.”
As noted above, babies tend to sleep longer at night if their parents are emotionally available at bedtime. This means acknowledging a child’s presence and needs, and responding to them in a calm, soothing way. It’s also important to avoid activities that could excite or stimulate your baby (such as tickling him, or twirling her around). When parents follow this formula, babies may spend a longer portion of the night sleeping (Philbrook and Teti 2016).
If you found this article to be helpful, see these Parenting Science articles about baby sleep.
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Content of “What’s normal? An evidence-based baby sleep chart” last modified 12/2022. Portions of the text are derived from an earlier versions of the article, written by the same author.
image of baby boy sleeping in cot with arms outstretched by Antonio Tanaka / shutterstock
image of sleeping infant in darkness by istock / mdphoto16
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