Kid sleep data

Emily Oster’s Parent Data shared results from a new sleep study this week. She asked thousands of parents about their kids’ sleep based on age.

One caveat is that I think (from how I’m reading the survey) they asked about typical/general sleep — like when does your child go to bed? That’s a different question than “when did your child go to bed last night?” As readers of this blog know, there is no typical day or week! A child’s intended 8 p.m. bedtime could get derailed by all sorts of things on an actual day. Or a kid could crash early.

That said, I thought the results were interesting. Among them: about 90 percent of kids are in bed by 9 p.m. even up to age 10.

In my household, our school year “in room” time is 9 p.m. and lights out is 10 p.m. We’d originally been aiming for earlier with the 4-year-old but given that he has all older siblings, this has been hard to pull off. If they’re up, he wants to be up.

On the other hand, it seems that the average wake up is between 5:45 a.m. and 7 a.m. While we dealt with that for a while, these days the 4-year-old (and the 9-year-old) generally wake up after 8 a.m. So they’re still both getting the 10 hours of sleep that’s pretty typical for kid night time sleep, according to the Oster survey. And since sometimes the little guy does go down earlier (like 9:30 p.m.) it gets into the 10-11 hour range. I would like him to go to bed earlier but given that our household schedule doesn’t start at the crack of dawn there’s more give than if we did have to be out the door earlier.

Anyway, it’s an interesting survey, so please give it a look. If you have kids under age 10 (but not babies – that’s kind of a different area of this survey) when are they usually in bed? How much sleep do they get each day?

22 thoughts on “Kid sleep data

  1. My 4 year old goes to bed at 7:30 and gets up at 6:30ish, so about 11 hours a night. My 2 year old goes to bed at 7 and gets up at 7. I commend you for parenting little kids until 9:30 or 10– I am the opposite of a night owl and would struggle!

    1. @Claire – oh, it is definitely a struggle, which is why I’d like to shift this earlier. Though I suppose they might wake up earlier then. All a trade-off…

  2. Our daughter’s schedule has always been on the later side (in part because of my work schedule and not wanting her in bed 20 minutes after I am done working) and I am not mad about it. She does seem to be a night owl by nature and the early school mornings for this 5 year old did require her to adapt, but I think life is best when she sleeps until 8:30am or 9am. Our summer evenings have more going on and she is ready for it because she sleeps later. Last night we started books after 9:30pm and she was awake until 10:15 or so. This morning she was having pancakes by 9:15am but she will likely never see a 7am wake up this summer unless we have a plane to catch. Two working parents and no siblings. I get up at 5:30am most mornings and I can do a lot before I have a helper. The summer babysitter comes at 9:30am and this is working great for us.

    1. @Nicole – I think some kids are definitely more night owl than others. I have never managed to get any of my kids to go to bed regularly at times like “7:30.” Even 8:00 has been pushing it. They seem to be lower sleep needs and oriented slightly later.

  3. I wonder if the results of the survey were reflective of reality… Standard wisdom is that kids “should” go to bed between 7:30 and 8:30, which was impressively typical in these results, even for older kids. Maybe it’s just that I live in a more night-owl city, but I know of many young (age 3-7) kids who have an official bedtime of 9 and are frequently awake until 10.

    My kids have a door-closed time around 7:40 (age 4) and 8:10 (age 6). The older child is allowed to read until 8:40 and is almost always asleep by 9; if the younger child is still up and playing at 9, I go in and send her to bed. They are not allowed to come out of their rooms until 7 a.m. but the older one, at any rate, is up well before that – I think he gets about 9-9.5 hours of sleep, while his younger sister, marching to the beat of her own erratic drum, might get anywhere from 8 to 12.

    1. @Erica- there may be something to that – she noted that it is people who are interested in child sleep, and a higher income group of folks — we may just be seeing that people in this demographic know what time kids are “supposed” to go to bed and how much sleep they are supposed to get. Whether that happens on any given night in their household is a different matter.

  4. I haven’t had time to look into the data closely but plan to check it out. Our boys are 3.5 and 6. They need to be up around 6:15 since we leave the house at 7am M-F. The 3.5 yo still naps around 1-2 hours each day and he goes to sleep around 7:30 (but the bedtime process starts around 7-7:15). The 6yo goes up to bed around 8 but he likes to read in bed (which he comes by naturally from me!) but he can be in and out of the room often these days so sometimes he isn’t asleep until 8:45. One thing I have learned in my 6 years of parenting is how much of a ‘2 steps forward, 1 step back’ vibe there is to sleep. The boys trade off the role of having the worst bedtime. Right now the 6yo is worse, 2 months ago it was the 3.5yo. They really like to keep us on our toes!!

    1. @Lisa- wouldn’t it be nice if it was just 2 steps forward?? Ugh. Last night my 4-year-old got up twice. He usually doesn’t do that but it was definitely frustrating.

  5. I have a 6 year old and we are upstairs by 7 for PJs, teeth, reading (right now, we are reading Percy Jackson and the chapters are long), audiobook, and solo reading, with a goal of lights out at 810 and sleep shortly thereafter. We had tried to get to lights out by 740, but my son was up chatting away and asking for things (songs, meditations, cuddles). We introduced 10 minutes of solo reading and this wears him out enough to go to sleep much more quickly.

    He has to wake up for 640, with a goal of leaving the house at 740 to cycle to breakfast club (8am arrival unless we spot something interesting en route). I feel like he could use slightly more sleep, but it’s so light here in the summer, there isn’t that natural signal to go to sleep.

    1. @Coree- late summer light (and early light) will change people’s sleep cycles. I have to imagine that ancient humans in northern places must have just slept less in summer and more in winter.

  6. My youngest child is 8 yo. He is very all or nothing kid, as in all running, jumping talking, wiggling, or fast asleep. Despite having 3 older siblings with very teenagery sleep schedules, the 8 yo is asking to go to bed at 8 and out cold by about 8:05. He is awake around 5:45 am every day. At this stage the early waking is not a problem because he is able to be completely independent in the mornings until his dad or I are up.

    1. @Gillian – the independence is key. A 5:45 wake up for a 3 or 4 year old is really tough. An 8-year-old who can watch cartoons…not so much.

  7. Interesting. Our kids are 3 and almost 7 and go to bed at 8, lights out around 8.15, asleep somewhere between 8.30-9 depending on the night. But they are up somewhere between 6 and 7, so it’s pretty typical hours of sleep. We set this up to suit us as parents- I’m a morning person so I like to go to sleep not long after them! Also, we all need to leave the house by 8.15 so a later wake up wouldn’t work. But I think if you go to France for example your bedtimes would be much more typical Laura, it’s a very cultural thing. As long as your mornings aren’t too early and they are getting their sleep, it really doesn’t matter.

    1. @Sophie – definitely a cultural thing. When we were in Spain we saw little kids out with their parents into the evening so I don’t think Spanish 7-year-olds are going to bed at 8 p.m. That’s dinner time!

  8. Sigh. Another caveat is that the project relied on a convenience sample (from the link — “… we put links in this newsletter and on Twitter and Instagram. … Nanit sent the survey out to its user base),” though to be fair Oster notes that “Both audiences skew higher-education and higher-income than the average, and mostly have younger children.”

    But — the problem with surveys done with non-probability sample (a very, very, very widespread problem) is that we don’t have any way to estimate how well or how poorly those who responded reflect any larger reality — how well or how poorly they represent any other population we might be interested in learning about.

    And yes, this (non-probability samples) is a huge problem nowadays, but it’s also a sharp contrast from e.g. the American Time-Use Survey on which @Laura Vanderkam bases some of the other writings about time-use, schedules, etc. that appear in this blog and elsewhere in your work. So, yeah — my main thought is that this report teaches us very little beyond how people who responded to that survey, responded to that survey.

    1. @Alexicographer – I’m trying to remember if there have been ATUS style surveys done of children’s time. I know the ATUS does have age 15+ so you get some adolescent data in it.
      Yes, there are always big caveats with non-representative samples. On the other hand, I think this is interesting, given that it’s a lot of people (14,000?) and probably similar demographic to me so I can see how my kids are compared with what might be their peers. It does reinforce for me that we are skewed later than a lot of families — though that also has to do with a later start in the morning.

      1. Hi, @Laura — I’d never thought about it before this (not my area), but a quick internet search turned up the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) and a quick search on sleep ( ) turned up 3 sleep-related question, 2 about “how many hours” and 1 about sleep position for babies (click link to see more details). So it looks like there are some data out there from surveys with more scientifically crafted samples, though not the exact same questions.

  9. My 8, 10 and 11 yr old are all in their rooms by 7.15pm. The eldest reads until 8.30 and up at 6am. The 10year old has lights out at 7.30 and the option to read but prefers to just day dream/think over the day and is asleep by 8pm and up at 7am. The youngest needs the least sleep and has lights out by 7.30pm, will often come out and quietly join dad to watch sport, asleep by 8.30pm ish and is up by 5.30am. I always find it interesting how it depends on the individual tendencies. We do also skew to be early risers, my husband and I are both up at 5am, I’m sure that influences the kids waking early.

    1. @Kate- I think people’s innate sleeping tendencies reveal themselves pretty early on. The early birds and night owls are just different, even as kids…

  10. Almost 10-year-old: on an ideal/school night, we aim for shower/brush teeth/PJs by 8:30p, then he typically reads until 9. He is starting to want to stay up later but has also started sleeping later (a huge change from his younger years!), so he tends to sleep until somewhere between 7:30-8a depending on how late he goes to bed. We are more flexible with his bedtime on weekends/during the summer/& due to sports.

    Almost 7-year-old: she tends to be lights out, asleep by 7:45-8p (except for swim meet nights, which usually go until 10p). She almost always wakes up between 6:30-7a, and tends to wake up earlier the later she goes to sleep–which is why we don’t usually let her stay up/out as late as her brother!

    2-year-old (3 in August): lights out, in crib by 7:20-7:30p. He usually chatters to himself for a while before falling asleep. He tends to wake up between 6:30-7a, but will sleep later if we have a later night (like when he went to bed at 9p earlier this week after a neighborhood block party, he slept till 8 the next day). He still naps 2.5-3 hours a day, and is a third kid, so we are much more flexible with his bedtime than we were with his big siblings’ at that age! He is also my only child who has loved to nap this much and I’m guessing we are going to pay for it with later bedtimes/more shenanigans once he is out of a crib.

  11. My 12 year old had been staying up until about 10 due to extracurricular activity. Given school start time they need to be up no later than 7. And my kid missed a ton of school or felt awful in the morning. Some days this is unavoidable….but we agreed to shift bedtime back to in room 845/9. This is still happening over the summer…and my kid is sleeping most days until 8 or 830. Clearly there was a major sleep deficit happening! I sleep better being able to be done parenting earlier, as I also need a long wind down time.

  12. We are on the early side over here… my 3 and 5 year old are in bed around 6:30pm and asleep by 7. Then they’re up at 6:30 or sometimes a bit earlier. The babies (7 months old) sleep 7 to 7 (with some baby wake ups)

    I know our early bedtime means we miss evening stuff and also we eat family dinner at 5:30pm which is early for most people. But right now everyone in the house is asleep by 9 because we have too many small children to stay awake ourselves.

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