As I’m sure most parents are aware, the nightly bedtime battle can be a tricky one. With your child constantly asserting that ‘they’re not tired yet’ and that ‘Sarah’s mum let’s her stay up past 10pm’, it’s difficult to know if you’re doing the right thing.

No matter no much your little one begs, remember that an early bedtime is essential not only for your own downtime, but also for your child’s development. So, to help you decide the best bedtime for your youngster, we asked top sleep experts their recommended times to hit the hay.

How much sleep do children need?

The ideal bedtime for your child is dependent on their age, as teenagers will need significantly less sleep than newborns. Psychiatrist, physician, and brain expert Dr. Daniel Amen, author of Time for Bed Sleepyhead recommends the following hours of sleep for each age group:

  • Babies: 12-18 hours. Newborns haven’t developed any circadian rhythms yet, so if your child is this age they do not need to adhere to a normal monophasic sleep cycle, and are likely to sleep and wake throughout the day.
  • Toddlers: 11-14 hours. When toddlers reach about 18 months old their nap times will decrease to once a day lasting about 1-3 hours. So increase their night-time sleep accordingly.
  • 3-5 years: up to 12 hours. At this age, difficulty maintaining sleep during the night is expected as there are further developments to their imagination and they commonly experience nightmares.
  • Primary school age: up to 11 hours. Although there is an increasing demand on the time of children of this age, an adequate amount of sleep is still essential for their growth.
  • Teenagers: up to 10 hours. Teenagers will need no more than 10 hours sleep a night, however do not go under the recommended 8 hours for adults.

An image of a sleeping child at bedtime

Related: What Happens to Your Body During 8 Hours of Sleep [Infographic]

With the above hours adjust bedtime accordingly for whatever time they need to get up in the morning. Batya Sherizen, the baby coach and sleep expert, also discusses the advantages of children sleeping overnight instead of napping throughout the day, stating:

‘It’s important to utilise the body’s natural rhythms to make sure children get the necessary sleep. While some parents will put kids to bed later and offer a longer nap in the afternoon, I don’t recommend this to the families I work with. The reason being that children will have the most energy from the longest possible stretch of sleep.’

Here’s what our sleep expert Dr Pixie McKenna, radio presenter Dave Berry and sleep consultant Maryanne Taylor have to say about how much sleep children need in the Sleep Matters Podcast:

Why do children need this much sleep?

The recommended hours may seem excessive, especially to us adults who can allow aspire for a meagre 8 hours of sleep. However, these lengthy sleep cycles are very necessary for your child’s development. Dr. Daniel Amen explains this, saying:

‘We all know that getting a good night’s sleep is important. But, poor sleep does more than just make kids tired the next day, it can affect their developing brains. I often tell my patients and their parents that a lack of sleep can trigger depression, attention and learning problems, poor judgement and impulse control issues. Sleep is the prime time for growth hormones to be most effective in kids.

Sleep helps the brain refresh and maintain itself so one can function. Without sleep many of our body systems can fail to function properly. So it’s essential that your child’s brain be allowed to have enough time to develop during sleep.

Simply put, bodies that have more growing to do need more sleep and good sleep is crucial for your children’s growth and development.’

Child Reading

How do I get them to sleep?

So it’s all well and good knowing when your child needs to go to bed, but the next question is how you get them to sleep when they’re not tired.

With younger children, a trick to lure them to their bed is to offer to read them a bedtime story, this way you get to spend quality time together before they drift off. Bedtime stories also help expand your child’s imagination while educating them.

Need help choosing a bedtime story? Try our Bedtime Story Finder

If you haven’t already, it’s also crucial to make sure your child’s sleep environment is quiet and dark, without noise and light which will disrupt their melatonin production. It might be helpful to make sure that there are no TVs in your child’s room.

Finally, it’s important to establish and maintain a regular sleep schedule, so whichever bedtime you opt for, try and stick to it every night so your child can establish a natural routine and drift off as soon as they hit the sheets!

An image showing a parent reading to a child

What time do you send your child to bed? Let us know in the comments!