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Are the New Sleep Guidelines As Impossible As They Seem?

Photograph by Twenty20

Dear Heather,

I was looking over the new sleep guidelines for babies, kids and teens. That’s way more sleep than my kids get. I know sleep is important, so I’d like to try to meet these guidelines. But, can you walk me through just how to get that number of hours in per 24-hour period?

Counting Zzzzs

Dear Counting,

Looking at sleep guidelines can make your head spin, especially when babies are young and need many naps. Adding up and averaging all those daytime sleeps—and factoring in nightwakings and feedings—can make it tricky to know if your little one is clocking the right number of hours.

RELATED: My Toddler Won't Go To Bed Without A Bottle

In the Happy Sleeper book, we have a chart that breaks down sleep needs for every age, as well as nap schedules and so forth. You can also find that chart, “How Much Sleep Does Your Family Need?” on our website if you scroll to the middle of the page. Equally important, we have a detailed checklist in the book that tells you if your child is getting enough sleep (because sleep needs vary by child). Items like, does your child wake up naturally, fall asleep in the car, have a regular bedtime and wake-up time each day. Take that quiz, and you’ll know if you’re on track.

Just like we don’t take to a pizza and fries diet because it’s summer, we don’t need to let good sleep go out the window for that reason.

As you said, sleep is a high priority, just like exercise and healthy food. That means making choices that respect the early bedtime needs of babies and little kids, like not having screens on in the hour before bed, allowing for a regular routine and bedtime. We tend to get looser about sleep in the summer, but if our kids miss sleep bit by bit (an hour later to bed for a few nights in a row makes for a 3-hour sleep debt), then no one is having fun. Just like we don’t take to a pizza and fries diet because it’s summer, we don’t need to let good sleep go out the window for that reason.

RELATED: My Newborn Night Owl Won't Go To Bed Earlier

Sleep habits depend on the family and the kids’ ages. Some families can make a 7 p.m. bedtime work, while others make it 8 p.m. because of work schedules—their babies may sleep a bit more during the day. Some preschoolers drop naps earlier than others and add that sleep into their nighttime, taking their 24-hour allotment of sleep all in a 12-hour night.

The best path is usually to pick a schedule and stick to it, so everyone’s body can adjust.

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Do you have a sleep question you want Heather to answer for Sleep Fix? Email her at heatherturgeonmft@gmail.com. Sleep expert Heather Turgeon, co-author of "The Happy Sleeper: The Science-Backed Guide to Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night's Sleep—Newborn to School Age," will fix your family's sleep problems in this space as she does in her Los Angeles-based sleep consultations. Turgeon's solutions are nonjudgmental, kind and—best of all—based on science.

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