Good sleep habits are essential to maintaining good health, especially for children who depend on that rest to help in their mental and physical development.
“Lack of sleep and lack of a proper diet are two of the biggest factors in health problems,” says Henry Ford pediatrician Mary Burton, M.D. “Depending on the age of the child, moodiness, tantrums and inattention are all clues that your child may not be getting enough sleep.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, an ongoing sleep deficiency can also raise the risk for some chronic health problems. It also can affect how well we think, react, work, learn and get along with others.
How Much Sleep Does My Child Need?
While adults may feel refreshed and rested after 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, children have greater needs for sleep. The National Sleep Foundation’s daily sleep recommendations for children are:
- 14-17 hours for newborns (0-3 months)
- 12-15 hours for infants (4-11 months)
- 11-14 hours for toddlers (1-2 years)
- 10-13 hours for preschoolers (3-4 years)
- 9-11 hours for school-age children (6-13 years)
- 8-10 hours for teenagers (14-17 years)
Dr. Burton thinks these ranges are a helpful tool but cautions against relying too much on the guidelines. “Guidelines are just guidelines. No person is a robot. Some children need more sleep than recommended, some need less.”
Research shows that many children and teens, like the rest of us, are falling short of those guidelines and are suffering from a sleep deficiency. For example, a National Sleep Foundation poll found that 59 percent of sixth through eighth graders and 87 percent of high school students in the U.S. were getting less than the recommended amount of sleep on school nights.
Signs of Sleep Deficiency
Parents may notice that their child is having difficulty going to bed, problems falling asleep, difficulty waking up in the morning, or are moody or irritable. These may be signs that their child is not getting enough sleep and may need to investigate their child’s sleep habits and consider making some changes.
On the other hand, falling asleep quickly (within 15 -30 minutes of bedtime) and waking up easily without repeated reminders to get up in the morning are a couple of great signs that your child’s is getting enough zzz’s. Another is remaining awake and alert all day (ask your child’s teacher if you aren’t sure).
How to Maximize Sleep
The most important thing parents can do is to establish a consistent, relaxing bedtime routine with a regular bedtime based on your child’s individual needs (not their friends’ or siblings’ bedtimes), according Dr. Burton.
Part of that relaxing routine is banning the use of electronic devices too close to bedtime since they can interfere with quality sleep time.
“Screens cause the brain to be stimulated. TV, video games, phones or computer screens send a signal to the brain that it’s time to ‘wind up.’ Bedtime routines like reading a book or taking a bath, send a ‘wind down’ signal,” says Dr. Burton.
Talk to your pediatrician about if you have questions or concerns about your child’s sleep.