Few topics get parents jabbering more than sleep. Every child’s needs and rhythms are different, and overtiredness can wreak havoc on a home. From navigating night-wakings and naps when they’re little to balancing busy schedules and screen time as they age, how’s a parent to know the “right amount” of sleep for success?
The consequences of getting that wrong—even just by a half an hour—can be serious. Kids who don’t get enough sleep are at risk for physical and mental problems including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, and more frequent injuries.1 On the other hand, when kids get the right amount for their age on the regular, they’re more likely to reap the benefits of improved behavior, attention span, learning, memory, emotional regulation, and overall quality of life.1 The price is high!
What “right amount” means
If you’re an adult who thinks you’re “crushing life” on just six hours of sleep a night, good for you. But babies, children, and teens need much more sleep than adults to support their fast mental and physical growth.2
Sleep experts and researchers developed the following recommendations for hours of sleep per day, which are backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).1
Keep in mind, some amount under or over these recommendations may be the appropriate amount for your child. If you have specific concerns, talk with a doctor about sleep needs for your child’s age and activity level. Teladoc is available 24/7 (in case you’re up reeeeeally late!).
Pay close attention if you have teenagers: they may seem old enough to regulate their own sleep patterns, but busy, overworked, or overstimulated teens often trade sleep for socializing (or social media). In fact, 85% of teens don’t get enough sleep,1 which may harm their mood or attention span and can lead to other more-serious struggles.
Tips for tuck-in time
The key to getting regular, quality sleep is maintaining a bedtime and night routine. Work backward from the typical morning wake-up time using the chart above: Around what time should your child be falling asleep? How long does the pre-bedtime process take? Account for those and set a time for calm-down and lights-out. Young kids, especially, who don’t have a regular bedtime behave worse than kids who go to sleep at the same time each night.3
But setting a reasonable bedtime—be that 7:00, 8:00, or 9:00 p.m.—is only half the battle. As the parent, you need to think about creating a calm environment and a reassuring routine. Depending on your kids’ ages, this may include a bath or shower, brushing teeth, changing into comfortable clothes, listening to relaxing music, reading a book, journaling, or talking about the day.
What it shouldn’t include are electronic devices: All screens should be turned off at least 30 minutes before bedtime, and televisions, computers, smartphones, and other screens must stay out of kids’ rooms.1 The light from digital devices can stimulate the nervous system and confuse the internal rhythms for sleep.4
Stay on it
Sleep isn’t simple. Sometimes when children seem energetic, they’re actually sleep-deprived and overtired. Their sleep problems can also be caused by medical issues or a disorder. The amount of sleep they get—and the quality of their sleep—is important to their well-being. Don’t take it lightly.
If you’re worried about your child’s sleep, please reach out to one of our physician experts for advice. Our network of U.S. board-certified doctors—which includes pediatricians and family medicine doctors—is available on demand, 24/7. Sign in now to request a visit. Learn from the sleep recommendations chart above, but also trust your instincts and those who are trained to help your family.
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