How Much Sleep Does Your Baby Actually Need?

Science has the answer, but only sort of.

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Everyone knows that babies are basically tiny drunk adults, and never is that more true than at 2:00 AM, when they want to hang out and chat for a couple hours … and then throw up on you. Just like college! The difference is that you know how much sleep you need to recover (not that you’ll get it), but determining how much sleep babies need is a little less clear.

The biggest problem with baby sleep guidelines is that they’re based more on how much babies naturally sleep on average than research about how sleep affects their health and development. That’s because there’s not a whole lot of research out there to draw from. The most comprehensive study on the topic is only helpful if your baby was born in Switzerland between 1974 and 1993 (so not at all). Still, it’s the most widely cited study, so you might want to know it says that an 11-month-olds sleeps about 14 of every 24 hours, with 2.5 hours of daytime napping. For a 6-month-old, daytime napping averages between .04 and 6.4 hours, or more than a half an hour but less than your entire workday, which, again, is not particularly helpful.

Flickr / Lars Plougmann

None of that accounts for significant generational and cultural differences, both between and within them. For example, American babies sleep less than many of their peers, either because everyone decided adults shouldn’t be the only ones who suck at work-life balance, or babies love Jimmy Kimmel. Has to be Kimmel, right? Who can fall asleep when that guy’s on?

All this is to say that you shouldn’t feel awful if your kid falls outside the allegedly recommended averages, because they’re not all that average — or well-researched — in the first place. It’s far more important, and possible, to know how to tell if your baby is simply overtired. Mercifully, it’s also possible to keep them sleeping soundly with some fuzzy white noise once that 2:00 AM. conversation finally ends. Late-night munchies still optional for you.

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