Healthy Sleep Habits: How Many Hours Does Your Child Need?

From infants and toddlers to school-aged kids and teens, parents want to know how many hours of sleep are recommended. While it’s true that sleep needs vary from one person to another, there are some very reasonable, science-based guidelines to help you determine whether your child is getting the sleep he or she needs to grow, learn, and play.

Childhood Sleep Guid​elines

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) provides some helpful guidelines regarding just how much sleep children need at different stages in their development. Keep in mind that these numbers reflect total sleep hours in a 24-hour period. So if your son or daughter still naps, you’ll need to take that into account when you add up his or her typical sleep hours.

Sleep Hours Table

Do those numbers surprise you?

So, are you sending your child off to bed early enough? If those numbers are surprising to you, you’re not alone. Working and single parents, especially, are often forced to get by on 5, 6, or even fewer hours of sleep each night. This is likely impacting your own social and mental functioning, as well as increasing your risk for other health problems. It might be tempting to think that your children can also get by with less sleep than they need, or that they should be able to cope fairly well with a few skipped hours here and there. However, all children thrive on a regular bedtime routine. Regular sleep deprivation often leads to some pretty difficult behaviors and health problems—irritability, difficulty concentrating, hypertension, obesity, headaches, and depression. Children who get enough sleep have a healthier immune system, and better school performance, behavior, memory, and mental health.

Healthy Sleep Habits – Tips from the AAP

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports the AASM guidelines and encourages parents to make sure their children develop good sleep habits right from the start.

  • Make sufficient sleep a family priority. Understand the importance of getting enough sleep and how sleep affects the overall health of you and your children. Remember that you are a role model to your child; set a good example. Staying up all night with your teen to edit his or her paper or pulling an all-nighter for work yourself isn’t really sending the right message. Making sleep a priority for yourself shows your children that it’s part of living a healthy lifestyle—like eating right and exercising regularly.
  • Keep to a regular daily routine. The same waking time, meal times, nap time, and play times will help your child feel secure and comfortable, and help with a smooth bedtime. For young children, it helps to start early with a bedtime routine such as brush, book, bed. Make sure the sleep routines you use can be used anywhere, so you can help your child get to sleep wherever you may be.
  • Be active during the day. Make sure your kids have interesting and varied activities during the day, including physical activity and fresh air. See Energy Out: Daily Physical Activity Recommendations for more information.
  • Monitor screen time. The AAP recommends keeping all screens—TVs, computers, laptops, tablets, and phones out of children’s bedrooms, especially at night. To prevent sleep disruption, turn off all screens at least 60 minutes/1 hour before bedtime. Create a Family Media Use Plan and set boundaries about use before bedtime.​
  • Create a sleep-supportive and safe bedroom and home environment. Dim the lights prior to bedtime and control the temperature in the home. Don’t fill up your child’s bed with toys. Keep your child’s bed a place to sleep, rather than a place to play. One or two things—a favorite doll or bear, a security blanket—are okay and can help ease separation anxiety. See Suitable Sleeping Sites for more information specifically for babies under 12 months of age.
  • Realize that teens require more sleep, not less. sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty. At the same time, most high schools require students to get to school earlier and earlier. The AAP has been advocating for middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later. It is important that parents and local school boards work together to implement high school start times that allow teens to get the healthy sleep they need. See the AAP policy statement, School Start Times for Adolescents, for more information.
  • Don’t put your baby to bed with a bottle of juice, milk, or formula. Water is okay. Anything other than water in the bottle can cause baby bottle tooth decay. Feed or nurse your baby, and then put him or her down to sleep.
  • Don’t start giving solids before about 6 months of age. Starting solid food sooner will not help your baby sleep through the night. In fact, if you give your baby solids before their system can digest them, he or she may sleep worse because of a tummy ache.
  • Avoid overscheduling. In addition to homework, many children today have scheduled evening activities (i.e., sports games, lessons, appointments, etc.) that pose challenges to getting a good night’s sleep. Take time to wind down and give your children the downtime that they need.
  • Learn to recognize sleep problems. The most common sleep problems in children include difficulty falling asleep, nighttime awakenings, snoring, stalling and resisting going to bed, sleep apnea, and loud or heavy breathing while sleeping.
  • Talk to your child’s teacher or child care provider about your child’s alertness during the day. Sleep problems may manifest in the daytime, too. A child with not enough, or poor quality sleep may have difficulty paying attention or “zoning out” in school. Let your child’s teacher know that you want to be made aware of any reports of your child falling asleep in school, as well as any learning or behavior problems.
  • Talk to your child’s pediatrician about sleep. Discuss your child’s sleep habits and problems with your pediatrician, as most sleep problems are easily treated. He or she may ask you to keep a sleep log or have additional suggestions to improving your child’s sleep habits.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2016). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

A Lullaby for Good Health

​​​Many times, we adults deprive ourselves of the one thing that can help refresh our bodies and minds overnight: sleep. And as adults, we sometimes make choices that cause our sleep patterns to get out of whack.

But do your children have a choice when it comes to the amount of sleep they get? It is our duty to help them adopt healthy sleep habits while they’re young so they can grow into happy, energetic, and healthy adults.

Healthy Sleep

Because their bodies are growing, children need more sleep than adults. An important part of a child’s healthy sleep is a steady bedtime routine. At the end of the day, both the body and mind need to wind down, relax, and prepare physically and mentally for sleep. A bedtime routine is the best way to make sure that there is enough time to make that transition.

The body’s natural cycles of sleeping and being awake are sometimes called circadian rhythms. These sleep patterns are regulated by light and dark. Children begin to develop a cycle around six weeks of age, and most have a regular pattern by three to six months.

Troubled Sleeping

What is keeping our children awake? Some of the most common include the following conditions and occurrences:

  • Insomnia occurs when a child complains of having trouble falling or staying asleep, or of waking up too early in the morning.
  • Nightmares occur late at night during REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep and awaken a child.
  • Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a movement disorder that includes uncomfortable feelings in the legs, which cause an overwhelming urge to move.
  • Sleep terrors (also called night terrors) occur early in the night. A child may scream out and be distressed, although he is neither awake nor aware during a sleep terror. Sleep terrors may be caused by not getting enough sleep, an irregular sleep schedule, stress, or sleeping in a new environment.
  • Sleeptalking occurs when the child talks, laughs, or cries out in her sleep. As with sleep terrors, the child is unaware and has no memory of the incident the next day.
  • Sleepwalking is experienced by as many as 40 percent of children, usually between ages 3 and 7.
  • Snoring occurs when there is a partial blockage in the airway that causes the back of the throat to vibrate, creating the noise we all know. About 10 to 12 percent of normal children habitually snore.
  • Sleep apnea occurs when snoring is loud and the child is having trouble breathing. Symptoms include pauses in breathing during sleep caused by blocked airway passages, which can wake the child up repeatedly.

Lack of Sleep = Health Problems

Sleep deprivation in children has been linked with potentially serious health issues. These can include some of the most pressing illnesses facing American children today.

  • Anxiety and Depression: Insomnia can contribute to anxiety by raising levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Sleep problems can also make other symptoms of depression worse and are much more common than oversleeping in people with depression.
  • Obesity: About two-thirds of the children diagnosed with sleep apnea in our clinic are overweight or obese. Obese children tend to have more fat tissue around their neck, which puts more pressure on the airway and further block air from getting through to the lungs.
  • Diabetes: Research from the American Diabetes Association showed that inadequate sleep may prompt development of insulin resistance, a well-known risk factor for diabetes.
  • Immunity problems: Several nights of poor rest can hamper the production of interleukin-1, an important immune booster. A good night’s sleep helps your child’s body fight off illness and stay healthy.
  • ADHD: Children who often snore or have sleep problems are almost twice as likely to suffer from ADHD as those who sleep well. Other research has shown that children who don’t get enough sleep tend to have more problems concentrating during the day.

What Can Parents Do?

  • Talk to your pediatrician if you notice any of the following symptoms:
  • An infant who is extremely and consistently fussy
  • A child having problems breathing
  • A child who snores, especially if it’s loud
  • Unusual awakenings
  • Difficulty falling asleep and maintaining sleep, especially if you see daytime sleepiness or behavioral problems

Sleep Tips

Here are some important things you can do to help your child get enough sleep.

  • Set a regular bedtime for everyone each night and stick to it.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine, such as giving your child a warm bath or reading her a story.
  • After one year of age, let your child pick a doll, blanket, stuffed animal, or other soft object as a bedtime companion.
  • Do not allow a TV or computer in your child’s bedroom.
  • Avoid giving children anything with caffeine within six hours of bedtime, and limit the amount of caffeine children consume.
  • Keep noise levels low, rooms dark, and indoor temperatures slightly cool.
  • Talk to your pediatrician if your child has symptoms of RLS. There are several options for treating this condition.
  • Talk to your pediatrician if your child is showing signs of sleep apnea. There are proven treatments for this condition, as well.

Source: Adapted from Healthy Children Magazine, Summer 2007. The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatric