Written by: Juliann Scholl
Updated March 12, 2021
Sleep plays a fundamental role in attention, learning and memory, and emotional regulation (1) in early childhood. And although sleep needs change as your child grows, quality sleep for older children is no less important to their mental and physical health.
Recent surveys show that 36% of school-aged children and 32% of teenagers (2) aren't getting the sleep they need. Poor sleep in childhood and adolescence has been linked to various problems (3), including behavioral and mental health issues, poorer academic achievement, weight gain and obesity, a higher risk of injury, and an increased risk of depression and anxiety.
With a better understanding of your child's sleep needs, you can work with them to improve their sleep habits and overall health.
How Many Hours of Sleep Do Kids Need?
Based on extensive research, the National Sleep Foundation (4) and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine have formulated recommendations for children's optimal sleep requirements by age.
It's important to note that these guidelines are not set in stone. It's possible that a perfectly healthy child might sleep less or more (5) than what is recommended for their age. That being said, knowing the general guidelines for your child's age group may help you identify when they are not getting enough sleep.
Newborns and Infants (0-12 months old)
According to the National Sleep Foundation, newborns should sleep between 14 and 17 hours in a 24-hour period, broken into smaller segments. Since sleep patterns in newborns can vary widely, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine guidelines do not state a recommendation for the optimal hours of sleep in young infants.
A baby's sleep needs shift over time, and many babies start receiving more of their sleep during the night at the age of six months (6). Older infants up to a year old need between 12 and 15 hours of sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation, or 12 to 16 hours, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Toddlers (1-2 years old)
Ideally, toddlers should sleep between 11 and 14 hours daily. This recommendation includes time for naps, which are important for cognitive development. A toddler's sleep needs steadily decrease with age (7).
Preschoolers ( 3-5 years old)
Preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours of sleep including naps, which continue to contribute to emotional development in young children. Preschoolers may have different nap habits according to family schedules, cultural differences (8), or daycare timetables (9). Those who nap during the day may be able to handle a slightly later bedtime. As they grow older, fewer and fewer preschoolers nap. Naps are often dropped altogether with the start of kindergarten.
School-Aged Children (6-12 years old)
School-aged children should aim for nine to 11 hours of sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation, or nine to 12 hours per the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Younger school-aged children tend to fall on the higher end of recommended hours of sleep, and their sleep needs continue to decrease as they get older.
Although we don't typically associate naptime with school-aged children, a recent study in China found that napping led to a host of improvements in happiness, self-control, and academic achievement for pre-teens (10). More research may help shed light on whether or not napping should be recommended for school-aged children.
Teenagers (13-17 years old)
The National Sleep Foundation and American Academy of Sleep Medicine guidelines agree that teenagers should obtain between eight and 10 hours of sleep each night. There is a common misconception that teenagers need less sleep than adults, when in fact the opposite is true.
Sleep deprivation among teenagers is currently considered a public health problem (11) that is difficult to solve because adolescents' later biological rhythms conflict with early school start times. Research suggests that too much or too little sleep in adolescence may lead to a higher risk of self-harm and substance abuse, which highlights the urgency of improving sleep for teens.
Frequently Asked Questions About Child Sleep Needs By Age
Should My Child Be Napping?
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine guidelines state that napping is normal in children up to seven years old. The panel has found that eliminating naps for toddlers and preschoolers can have a negative effect on emotional and cognitive performance, especially when the skipped nap results in a shorter sleep duration overall.
That said, it helps to remember that there are vast differences between individuals (12) when it comes to sleeping habits. Careful attention to your child's tiredness cues may help you decide whether your child needs to be napping or not.
How Can I Help My Child Sleep Better?
Better sleep for your child starts by following healthy sleep hygiene habits and establishing a regular bedtime routine (13). Provide your child with a soothing bedroom environment and try to have them avoid stimulating activities, television, and screen time (14) before bed.
Sleep hygiene also includes daytime habits, such as exercising regularly and following a healthy diet. It's helpful for parents to set a good example by prioritizing sleep and leaving screens out of the bedroom. Your child may find it easier to find time for sleep if their schedule isn't too full of extracurricular activities.
How Do I Know If My Child Is Getting Enough Sleep?
Children who are sleep-deprived may show obvious signs, such as complaints of feeling sleepy (15) during the day. They may also be irritable or have trouble controlling their emotions, and they may seem to get sick more than other children their age. Unlike in most adults, sleepiness in children sometimes manifests as being hyperactive (16).
Sleep loss in children can cause problems concentrating and a loss of interest in school. You may have difficulty getting your child to do their homework, which may result in poorer academic performance. Asking your child's teacher about their behavior in class can help you get a fuller picture of how they are feeling throughout the day.
There is limited research on the consequences of getting too much sleep in childhood. However, if your child is excessively sleepy, this may be a sign of an underlying health problem or sleep disorder.
When Should I Contact A Doctor About My Child's Sleep Habits?
You should talk to your pediatrician if your child is showing signs of sleepiness or if you're concerned about their sleep. It may help to bring a sleep diary to the appointment with notes on your child's bedtimes, wake-up times, the amount of time it takes them to fall asleep, and any sleep-related complaints. Even if your child is technically getting enough hours of sleep, it's possible that their sleep might be of poor quality.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises pediatricians and parents to maintain an ongoing dialogue about a child's sleep, even before sleep problems arise. Catching problems early can help get your child's sleep back on the right track and reduce the risk of long-term consequences.
Helping Your Child Get the Recommended Sleep for Their Age
It's not always easy to maintain healthy sleep habits in our busy modern world. However, by helping your child establish proactive sleep behaviors when they are young, you can help set them up for better sleep in the future.
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