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How much sleep do kids need? Top advice for developing healthy sleep habits
Most parents would agree that establishing healthy sleep habits is absolutely essential for growing kids. But how much do you really know about sleep? How much sleep do kids really need, and what’s the impact if they miss out on an hour, or even half an hour?
Kids need different amounts of sleep, depending on how old they are, to support their mental and physical development. Sleep allows our bodies to absorb new information and solidify long-term memories. While we rest at night, our bodies work on muscle development, tissue growth and organ repair and our brains eliminate disease causing-toxins.
Science shows that kids thrive on a regular bedtime routine. When children get the sleep they need, there are boatloads of benefits, including better memory, better behaviour, better school performance, and a healthier immune system.
In contrast, the effects of a lack of sleep for an extended period of time include everything from hypertension and obesity to irritability and depression. In fact, missing out on an hour can have an impact on your child’s mood and behavior. Interestingly, when kids are overtired, instead of slowing down as adults do, the opposite occurs: they become increasingly hyper. Knowing what to look out for can help you identify an overtired child.
How much sleep do kids need at each age?
To make sure your kids get enough shuteye, we’ve broken down our sleep recommendations for you into 6 age groups. Keep in mind that the numbers refer to a 24-hour period, so if your baby or child is still taking naps, be sure to include that in your child’s total sleep hour calculation.
Something else to keep in mind: these are simply guidelines. Recent scientific studies seeking to determine how much sleep kids really need have yielded contradictory results, including the revelation that there is no evidence for “optimal sleep duration” for kids.
That being said, if you loosely follow these recommendations while also paying attention to your kids, you’ll be able to figure out more or less how much sleep your children need.
Breaking it down
During the first 4 weeks, newborn babies need, on average, between 15 and 18 hours per day, but they generally sleep for short periods of time of between 2 and 4 hours. Newborns also don’t have a biological clock yet. As a result, their sleeping patterns aren’t yet tethered to daytime and nighttime cycles.
Once your baby is between 1 and 4 months old, he or she will need around 14 or 15 hours of sleep. As their circadian rhythm is slightly more developed, they will begin sleeping more at night, albeit in stretches of about 4 to 6 hours.
For babies between 4 and 12 months of age, 15 hours of sleep is the magic number. Their biological rhythms are slightly more mature now, and as from 6 months they are actually capable of sleeping through the night.
Toddlers (1 to 3 year olds) need around 12 to 14 hours of sleep each day and will start napping just once per day, although naps can be anywhere from 1 hour to 3 ½ hours long.
3 - 5 year olds need 10 to 12 hours per day. Naps become increasingly shorter and may be dropped altogether before they are 5. Around 50% of kids stop napping around 4 years old.
6 - 12 year olds
As for school-age kids (6 to 12 year olds), they’ll need 10 to 11 hours per day to keep up with school, their social activities, sports, etc.,
13 to 18 years old will get considerably less sleep than they need.
Studies show that teens need 8 to 9 hours, though kids of this age may find it harder to get the rest they need, due to social pressures and their bodies’ changing internal clocks.
Teenage brains release the hormone melatonin later at night, with the result that they often fall asleep later and wake up later. This presents a challenge as school start times are often very early in the morning.
The most common sleep problems
If you suspect your child isn’t getting enough sleep, he or she may have one of many common sleep problems, and it helps to know what to look for.
The most common issues children face is snoring, having trouble falling asleep, waking up multiple times during the night, resisting going to bed, obstructive sleep apnea, snoring, and heavy breathing during sleep.
How to help your kids get enough sleep
There are many ways to create the right environment to support your kids in getting enough sleep.
For starters, make sure they lead active lives. Ensure that they spend time outside, get fresh air every day, and are physically active.
Keeping a regular routine is also essential. Try to ensure that your kids wake up, nap and go to bed at the same time each day. It also helps to create a sleep schedule or a bedtime routine, for example, brushing teeth and washing hands, putting on pajamas, reading a bedtime story and going to sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics also has its own program called “Brush, Book, Bed” which is worth checking out.
You’ll want to create a comfortable sleeping environment for your child, too. That means keeping just a toy or two in his or her bed, dimming the lights before bedtime, and making sure their bedroom is the right temperature and they’re dressed appropriately.
For babies, don’t feed them solids before they’re 6 months old. Although you may think this will help them feel satiated and sleep through the night, it actually has the opposite effect. Giving a baby solids before he or she can actually digest them can lead to stomach pain and reduce the quality of sleep.
For teens, who often need to study for exams and are busy with family life, sports, activities and their social lives, it’s important to remember that they actually need more sleep, not less.
Also, high school often begins very early in the morning, so it’s important to try to encourage as early a bedtime as possible so your teenager gets enough rest. Also, don’t let your teen take sleep medicine or sleep aids as they’re not approved for children.
You’ll also want to keep screen time in check. Having devices in the bedroom, especially at night, is counterproductive. Also, don’t let them use phones, laptops or tablets at least 2 hours before bedtime.
Another important strategy is to avoid the urge to overschedule. Let your kids unwind before bed. That means no running between extracurricular activities, lessons, appointments and playdates. Kids (and everyone else) need solid downtime to get a good night’s sleep.
Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of being a good role model. Don’t let your child see you pulling all-nighters or not getting enough sleep. Make it a priority so kids learn from the beginning how important sleep is for everyone in the family.
What to do if your child isn’t getting enough sleep
If you’re suspect that your child isn’t getting enough sleep, check in with his or her day care supervisor or teacher. They can let you know if there are any behavioural issues or if your child seems tired during the day.
If you suspect that your child isn’t getting enough deep sleep, speak to your pediatrician or a sleep specialist for sleep tips. There could be underlying conditions that need to be addressed, from ADHD to sleep apnea, which are keeping your son or daughter from getting the rest they need.
Growing, learning and playing take energy, at every age. Sleep is the glue that holds everything together; it’s the foundation on which everything is based.
Sleep helps the heart, it increases children’s attention span, it reduces the risk of injury, it impacts weight, and it helps beat illness, and those are just a few of the benefits.
Never underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep for your little one and do everything you can to follow childhood sleep guidelines and help them maintain healthy habits to get the sleep they need each night.