Sleep is the primary activity of the brain during early development. Circadian rhythms, (rhythmic biological cycles recurring at 24 hours cycles) are regulated by light and dark and these rhythms take time to develop resulting in irregular sleep cycles for newborns. The rhythms begin to develop at about six weeks and by the age of 3-6 months most babies have regular sleep schedules.

Newborns (1-2 months) tend to sleep between 10.5 and 18 hours a day on an irregular schedule. During sleep they are often active, making noises, suckling or twitching.

Infants (3-11 months) may sleep through the night, By 9 months 70-80% of babies will be sleeping 9-12 hours at night with 1 to 4 naps during the day lasting 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Toddlers (1-3 years) need about 12-14 hours sleep in a 24 hour period, naps usually decrease to one or two a day by the age of 18 months.

Pre-Schoolers (3-5 years) typically sleep 11-13 hours each night without naps.

School age children (5-12 years) usually take between 10-11 hours a night.

On average a child will spend 40% of its childhood asleep.

Every child is unique and therefore there are always exceptions.


Developing your baby’s sleeping skills

The first six months are crucial for developing good sleeping skills, in these months the babies sleep patterns mature quickly and the stage is set for sleep through later life.

You can help your baby to develop sleeping skills by putting them to bed when they are sleepy but not asleep, they are more likely to fall asleep quickly and eventually learn how to get themselves to sleep.  As they grow, babies can be encouraged to sleep less during the day and more at night by exposing them to more light, sound and stimulating play during the day and dimmer, less active and quieter evenings.

Developing regular routines as they grow.


Sleep directly impacts physical and mental development.

Good quality sleep is required for the brain to develop and function properly.

Poor and inadequate sleep can lead to mood swings, behavioural issues such as hyperactivity and cognitive problems.

Non-Rapid Eye Movement – quiet sleep is when the blood supply to the muscles is increased, energy is restored, tissue growth and repair occur and important hormones are released for growth and development.

Rapid Eye Movement – active sleep is when the brain is active and dreaming occurs. Researchers have found that when a baby dreams, it stimulates the brain and assists in healthy growth.


Some factors that can inhibit sleep in babies and children.

  • Toddlers strive for independence and an increase in their motor, cognitive and social abilities
  • Night Tremors and nightmares. (these are common in pre-school and school age children)
  • Sleep walking
  • Separation Anxiety
  • Increased imagination
  • Distractions, particularly television and computers before bedtime.


Good quality sleep reduces emotional difficulties and promotes good health. Good sleep promotes good sleep, so children that are not overtired will settle more easily.

(National Sleep Foundation 2012)

Not enough sleep has a similar effect on adults with feelings of lethargy and negative thoughts. This can cause parents to be anxious, through lack of sleep so remember to take some time for yourselves to do some relaxation and regenerate yourselves while your children are sleeping soundly!

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