The Right Amount of Sleep for Your Child, Backed by Science

man sleeping with baby

The age old question every parent struggles to figure out: how much sleep does my child need?

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has come out with its latest recommendations on the number of hours of sleep children should get, according to age:

  • Infants four to 12 months should get 12 to 16 hours (including naps)
  • Children one to two years should get 11 to 14 hours (including naps)
  • Children three to five years should get 10 to 13 hours (including naps)
  • Children six to 12 years should get nine to 12 hours
  • Teenagers 13 to 18 should get eight to 10 hours

“Sleep is essential for a healthy life, and it is important to promote healthy sleep habits in early childhood,” said Dr. Shalini Paruthi, Pediatric Consensus Panel moderator and fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “It is especially important as children reach adolescence to continue to ensure that teens are able to get sufficient sleep.”

The suggestions from the AASM come from a 10-month project lead by sleep experts throughout the U.S. This expert panel reviewed 864 research studies and discovered that getting the right amount of sleep produced improvements in:

  • Attention
  • Behavior
  • Learning ability
  • Memory
  • Consistent emotional regulation
  • Overall quality of life
  • Overall mental and physical health

On the other hand, the panel also found that sleeping fewer or more than the recommended hours resulted in a number of physical and mental health problems, including:

  • Attention, behavior and learning issues
  • Increased risk of accidents and injuries
  • Obesity
  • Depression
  • Other mental health issues
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

Specifically for teenagers, data showed that not enough sleep was related to an increase in the risk of self-harm, suicidal thoughts and attempts at suicide.

sleeping childHow to Help Your Child Get More Sleep

Practicing good sleep hygiene or self-care with your child is a great way to help them get the sleep they need. Here are some tips to follow:

Develop a ritual: A bedtime ritual (e.g., taking a bath, then getting into pajamas, followed by reading a story and bed) can be a powerful cue telling your child it’s time to sleep. Be sure your bedtime ritual is simple. Infants and young children should be put to bed when they appear tired but still awake. They shouldn’t fall asleep in their parents arms or in another room. Parents should avoid getting into bed with children in order to get them to sleep.

Being mindful of the environment: A cool, dark, quiet room is best. The bedroom should be slightly cooler (60 degrees to 67 degrees Fahrenheit) to promote sleep. Background noises, sleep partners, bedding, favorite toys and lighting can all affect a child’s ability to fall asleep.

Establishing consistent waking times: Bed times and wake times should be as consistent as possible, seven days a week. Remember, it’s easier to enforce a waking time than a bed time. “Sleeping in” could be a sign of sleep deprivation.

Managing screen time: No screen time one to two hours before bedtime (this includes smartphones, TVs, computers and tablets).

Skipping caffeine: Caffeine is a powerful stimulant and is an ingredient in many beverages (and foods).

Getting exercise: Working to ensure your child gets a good amount of exercise (60 minutes is ideal) every day will nurture quality sleep. If it’s possible for them to play outside, that’s even better.

Avoiding medication: Medications for sleep can become ineffective over time and can also affect daytime alertness. Some medications can also cause nightmares and other kinds of sleep disturbances. Good sleep is essential, but it is rare when a child needs meds on a long-term basis (including melatonin).

Discouraging excessive evening fluids: Allow your child to drink only to quench thirst.

Building a sleep-only zone: If your child is having routine trouble falling asleep or is frequently awake at night, remove most toys, games, TVs, computers and other distractions from the bedroom. Teens might need a designated space outside their bedroom to do homework.

You may also consider using melatonin to help your child get some Z’s, if she/he is having problems falling or staying asleep. You should speak with your pediatrician and weigh the benefits and risks before giving your child melatonin though.