Do you ever wonder if your kids are sleeping enough? How much sleep should kids get?
Nearly every new Mom has probably googled these questions at one point or another, likely in those early newborn days when everything seems new and foreign. But as time goes by and babies turn into toddlers, then preschoolers, and eventually start school — the bedtime battles begin, and it’s easier to just let them stay up a little longer than to put up a fight.
Believe me, I’ve been there. No judgment here. But according to the latest research on kids and sleep, the numbers just aren’t adding up. Chronic sleep deprivation is just as harmful to children as it is to adults.
Keep reading for the essential info on kids and sleep, including recommended bedtimes and some tips on how to enforce them.
As a Momma to three kids, if you asked me why they need sleep, I’d probably respond with something like “for my own sanity.” As much as we love our kids, we look forward to nap time and bedtime when we can finally have a much-needed break. I’ve often felt a pang of guilt over those feelings, but the truth is — your child’s sleep is as essential to their mental and physical health as it is to yours.
Still feeling a little guilty about that early bedtime? Let’s take a look at some of the scientific reasons why little people need more sleep.
It may seem like a no-brainer that sleep is important for the brain, but you’ll be surprised to know that even just the slightest reduction in time spent sleeping can impact learning and cognitive function. A study done in 2007 looked at the sleeping patterns of kids starting at age 2.5 until they were 6 and found that less than 10 hours of sleep in little ones under 41 months of age led to hyperactivity, impulsivity and lower cognitive performance on neurodevelopmental tests at age 6.
Plenty of research has been done on the dangers of early school start times and learning. Missing out on sleep has been found to directly impact test scores, memory, focus, and outlook toward school. For example, one study found that reduced sleep can lead to struggles with problem-solving, verbal creativity, and lower scores on IQ tests.
Now those are two words that ought to get every parent and educator interested. Many studies have looked at the link between sleeping patterns and difficulties with attention and behavior in childhood, including disorders like Autism and ADHD.
One study of 1,046 children followed them from birth until age 7 and discovered that getting too little rest during the toddler and preschool years led to challenges with executive functioning and behavior by age 7 compared to peers who did get adequate rest. Some of the areas that can be affected by too little sleep are attention, reasoning, emotional control, problem-solving, and behavior.
Blame it on your partner’s genes (not yours of course), but have you ever noticed that your toddler seems extra clumsy? During those early years when their bodies are growing at rapid rates, kids are more prone to stumbles and falls, but according to some research, too little shut-eye may make matters worse. One study involving 4,980 Chinese school-age children found that those who slept less than 8 hours had a 30% increased risk of injury.
Research has already identified a link between skimping out on slumber and the increased risk of diabetes in adults, but some preliminary research suggests that there may be a link in children too. A study involving 4,525 Ukranian children found a strong relationship between sleep duration and diabetes risk markers where for every additional hour of shut-eye, insulin levels decreased by 3%.
There are many factors impacting the weight of children from genetics to activity. Many families are trying to eat healthier and make time for physical activity. Rarely do parents worry about how sleep could be affecting the weight of their children — but according to research, it can.
Among the multiple studies that have been done on the subject, one discovered that preschoolers who slept 8 hours or less were 2.2 times more likely to be overweight.
According to research, we know that a link exists between hours of shut-eye and mental health issues in adults. It turns out, the same is true for children too. A study in Norway followed preschoolers until grade 1 and found that sleep disorders were linked to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, ODD, and others.
You probably don’t need science to tell you that sleeping is important for helping little ones to fight off germs. Without adequate rest, the body goes into a chronic state of inflammation and stops producing proteins known as cytokines. These proteins are involved in our body’s response to infections, stress, and inflammation, and without them, immune health is compromised.
Kids also face their own unique challenges like separation anxiety, fears, and bedtime resistance as they learn to test boundaries.
Depending on age, there are some biological reasons why getting adequate zzz’s may be more challenging. Teething, waking for feedings, and illnesses like colds and flus are all common possibilities. Some disorders like Autism, ADHD, and mental illness are also associated with their own challenges when it comes to sleep.
We don’t typically think of young people suffering from sleep disorders, but according to doctors, they do. Insomnia, sleepwalking, and circadian rhythm disorder are just a few examples of disorders that can impact sleep in kids.
Sleep apnea is another condition that is becoming more common in the pediatric population and causes disordered breathing that prevents the body from going into the deeper cycles of sleep.
Aside from developmental and biological reasons why children aren’t sleeping enough, another huge factor is that we live in a day and age of busy schedules, long commutes, artificial light, and high stress. While these may seem like “adult” problems, they directly affect children too.
Many children go to bed far later than they should, either because they have lots of extracurricular activities or due to their parent’s late workday. Rushing from activity to activity with little downtime can be stressful for kids and make it difficult to unwind at bedtime.
Then, there’s the issue of early mornings. Many children wake up to an alarm, interrupting a deep sleep cycle and robbing them of REM sleep that typically occurs in the stages leading up to natural awakening. Thanks to early school start times or before-school care, many students are not getting the rest they need, and research is starting to shed light on the effects it has on grades, physical and mental health, and attitudes about school and learning.
It’s easy to accept that babies need a lot of sleep. With bucket seats and comfy carriers for babywearing, infants can snooze anywhere and at any time. Even up until my older two kids started school, they would still occasionally fall asleep in the car if they were tired enough.
As little people emerge into the world, we somehow automatically assume they can keep up with the stressful, high-paced norms of society — including the trend of skimping out on zzz’s just to fit it all in. Unfortunately, children are not just “tiny adults” and their bodies continue to need more rest than their grown counterparts all the way through the teenage years.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants require between 12-16 hours of sleep throughout the day and night. In the early days, the cycles are shorter due to an immature circadian rhythm. Newborns often follow a pattern of eat-sleep-awake for most of the day and night until their systems mature and they are able to be awake for longer stretches.
If your baby still isn’t sleeping through the night by 6 or even 12 months, don’t despair. According to one study, nearly half of babies aren’t sleeping 8-hour stretches by the time their first birthday rolls around and this is developmentally normal.
Not many studies on infants and sleep have been done, so there’s very little data to go by. One systematic review looked at data from over 34 studies and discovered that infants are sleeping an average of 12.8 hours a night, although the range was between 9.7 hours up to 15.9 hours. This means that there is a percentage of infants who are getting far less than the recommended amount of rest that they need for proper growth and development.
As babies turn into toddlers, their sleeping habits become more consolidated and they typically have one long stretch at night and 1-2 naps during the day. Toddlers are also more aware of all of the exciting things happening in the world, so they may start resisting naps and bedtime. Teething or working on developmental milestones may also be common culprits that keep toddlers awake.
Toddlers need a total of 11-14 hours of rest, including naps. While up to 16 hours may be normal (especially for nappers), anything less than 9 hours is too little.
According to the same systematic review mentioned above, toddlers are getting an average of 12.6 hours with a range of 10 hours on the lower end up to 15.2 hours on the higher end. This means that the majority of toddlers are falling within the recommendations, although some toddlers may be getting only the bare minimum.
If you’re lucky, your preschooler may still be taking an afternoon nap up until they start school (and some even during mandatory “rest time” in kindergarten). In total, preschoolers should be getting 10-13 hours a day, including any snoozing during naps or long car rides. Just like in other age groups, the “normal” range may be anywhere from 8 hours up to 14 hours.
Another systematic review and meta-analysis looking at 79 published studies of sleep in children and teens found that preschoolers are only getting an average of 9.68 hours a day. This means that the majority of preschoolers are at least somewhat sleep-deprived. It may look like only a slight loss, but in this age group when growth and development are happening at rapid rates, even just a few minutes loss could have serious consequences.
As we saw earlier, studies have found that the preschool years are a crucial time for rest with negative consequences like greater risk for obesity, behavioral issues, learning difficulties, and more when adequate sleep is lacking.
Once they start school, it may feel like all bets are off when it comes to sleep. Between homework, extra-curricular activities, and family time, the priority of rest gets lowered. At this age, kids should be getting between 9-11 hours, although the range could fall anywhere from 7 hours up to 12 hours and still be considered “normal.”
Unfortunately, there’s also a large gap between what they need and what they get during the school-age years. The same systematic review and meta-analysis that discovered a lack of adequate slumber in preschoolers found similar discrepancies in the sleep of school-aged children who average 8.63 hours a day.
A soon-to-be-published study involving data on 49,050 children ages 6-17 years old in the combined 2016-2017 National Survey of Children's Health found that only 48% of school-age kids in the US get the recommended minimum of 9 hours on weeknights.
The study also found that those who didn’t get 9 hours scored lower on individual flourishing markers that predict things like more healthy behaviors and fewer risky behaviors.
If you ask teens how much sleep they think they need, you’d probably get a flippant one-word response of “more.” Ask those same teenagers’ parents the same question and you’d likely hear “too much.”
A lot of parents of teens equate their predisposition towards staying up late and sleeping in with laziness, but biologically – it’s normal! While teens don’t necessarily need a whole lot more sleep than adults (8-10 hours is recommended for adolescents), their biological clocks (known as circadian rhythms) are wired to operate on a later schedule than at any other time during life.
Scientists can only speculate why this may occur, but this supposed evolutionary trait appears to be common among all adolescents regardless of geographical location.
While their bodies may be wired to operate on a later schedule, the rest of the world is not. Forced by the hands of early school start times, many adolescents are missing out on critical hours of sleep that are necessary for learning, mood, and reducing risky behavior.
The average adolescent gets only 7.73 hours a night with an average range of 6.50 to 8.75. Studies on the detrimental effects of too little sleep in the adolescent years have discovered increased risks of car accidents, substance use, and mental health issues including increased suicide rates.
As parents, we need to take these statistics to heart and consider them as serious as other health factors like what we feed our kids and making sure they are wearing a seatbelt in the car. Lobbying for later school start times is one way we can help our children have more opportunities for sleep, but maintaining a regular bedtime is another.
Here’s a handy chart to help you figure out your child’s recommended bedtime based on age. Instead of looking at what time you want your child to go to bed, look at what time you need them to wake up and work backwards to find their appropriate bedtime.
|Age||Recommended Hours of Sleep||Recommended Bedtime||Recommended Wake-up Time|
|12-16 (average 11 at night with multiple wakings to feed)|
|11-14 hours (average 11 at night plus daytime naps)|
|10-13 hours (average 12 at night)|
|9-11 hours (average 10 hours at night)|
|8-10 hours (average 9 hours at night)|
Sleep needs vary based on age, so it’s important to start by finding out how many hours your child needs according to their age category. Once you know that, start with the time you need them to be awake by and work backwards to find their bedtime.
Once you choose a bedtime, stick to it every night. This will help your child to fall asleep faster and hopefully achieve better quality rest too. While shifting bedtimes slightly on the weekend should be fine, try not to move them by more than one hour.
Having the same routine every night will help children to unwind and prepare for sleep. You can let your child help you select the routine and make a chart or flashcards to serve as reminders. Examples may include brush teeth, read stories, sing a lullaby, tuck-in, and lights out.
Nighttime is when kids are growing, so it’s no wonder they’re always hungry when it’s time to turn the lights out. Offering a healthy bedtime snack is a great way to prevent a rumbly tummy that could disrupt sleep during the night.
Have boundaries around bedtime that you can live with, and stick to them. If your child wants you to lay with them, try setting a timer and agreeing that after it goes off, it’s time to say good-night. Making sure they’ve had a sip of water and used the bathroom before bed can also help to minimize battles.
Children learn more by watching what we do than by listening to what we say. If you frequently stay up until midnight watching Netflix marathons, guess what they’ll want to do too? Model healthy behaviors around sleep and your child will learn to do the same.
While some parents worry that their children aren’t getting the zzz’s they need, others may wonder if they are sleeping too much. There’s a wide range of “normal” when it comes to kids and sleep, and every child has their own unique needs.
If your child is consistently sleeping beyond what’s recommended for their age, it could be that they just need more rest than other children. However, if they are sleeping far beyond what is recommended and still seem tired or display other concerning behaviors, it warrants a trip to the doctor to rule out sleep disorders such as night walking or sleep apnea.
No conversation among a group of Moms is complete with mention of how early their child wakes up in the morning. It can be alarming to discover that your child’s 5 am wake-up call is the earliest in the batch, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem.
Just like some kids sleep a little longer than average, some sleep a little less. If moving their bedtime slightly later doesn’t help, talk to your doctor about your concerns and to find out if there are other strategies that may be helpful.
Many children with psychiatric and behavioral issues also struggle with sleep. While we still don’t know if chronic sleep loss causes behavioral problems, there are many studies that have shown there is a direct link. If you’re concerned that your child isn’t sleeping enough and is having behavioral issues, talk to your pediatrician about your concerns and possible treatment options.
Once thought to be a disorder that only adults faced, being diagnosed with insomnia is now becoming more common in children. It is especially prevalent in kids with conditions like Autism, ADHD, and mental health disorders. If you’re worried that your child isn’t sleeping enough despite adequate opportunities for rest, talk to your pediatrician about the possibility of insomnia.
If your child is diagnosed with insomnia, they may or may not be prescribed medication to help them sleep. There are also some natural insomnia treatments that may be helpful for kids. Some natural supplements like magnesium and melatonin have been studied for their calming effects in children, but it’s important to speak to your pediatrician about safe doses before starting any supplements.
Other natural treatments for insomnia in kids may include cognitive behavioral therapy, establishing a regular bedtime and routine, and creating an environment for sleep by using things like a white noise machine, room darkening blinds, or a weighted blanket made for kids.
For years, public health campaigns have been trying to teach parents and children about the importance of eating a healthy diet, exercising, wearing a helmet for sports, etc. Unfortunately, education about the importance of sleep for kids is lacking. According to the latest stats and trends, most kids aren’t getting enough sleep from the preschool years up — and the dangers are many.
As parents, it’s important that we prioritize rest for our kids by establishing regular bedtimes and making sure they have adequate opportunity for sleep at night. Once you figure out the best bedtime based on your child’s age and individual needs, use our tips and tricks to make sure you stick to it. While a well-rested child certainly isn’t the only ingredient in the recipe for a happy and sane parent, it’s an important one.