Children Need Sleep: The Effects of Too Few ZZZs - Nemours Blog


Children Need Sleep: The Effects of Too Few ZZZs

Baby sleeping shows importance of sleep in children

After a 10-month study reviewing published papers and sleep expert advice, the American Association of Sleep Medicine recently released recommendations for the amount of sleep needed by children and teens to achieve optimal physical health, mental health and cognitive functioning. This marks the first time the organization has set official guidelines for pediatric sleep.

How Much Is Enough?

If you’re wondering how much sleep your child should get — it depends on their age and individual sleep needs. Each age group has a range of optimal time and your child may fall anywhere on the spectrum. These are the new recommendations:

  • Infants 4–12 months should sleep 12–16 hours per 24 hours.
  • Children 1–3 years should sleep 11–14 hours per 24 hours.
  • Children 3–5 years should sleep 10–13 hours per 24 hours.
  • Children 6–12 years should sleep 9–12 hours per 24 hours.
  • Teenagers 13–18 years should sleep 8–10 hours per 24 hours.

Making Sleep a Priority

It can be difficult to get your child to achieve this much sleep in a day with school, work, daycare and other family obligations. Think of sleep as one piece of your child’s health puzzle. Just like going to the pediatrician for yearly check-ups and feeding your child healthy foods are good preventive measures, getting enough sleep is in the same arena. Make sleep a priority when you can, with the understanding that there are times for exceptions.

A good method for kids who are in school is to count backwards from the time they wake up. If your child’s day starts at 6 a.m., and they’re age 4, they need to go to sleep by 8 p.m. If you have a toddler or infant, you can use the same trick, but remember to add in your child’s nap time, too.

Teenagers seem to have a more difficult time getting the right amount of sleep during the school year when their early wake-up times don’t coincide with natural sleep cycles. Still, you can encourage adolescents to try a slightly earlier bedtime. Good sleep hygiene helps keep kids on track, even in the summer months. A bath or shower, reading books, and quiet songs are great ways to wind down, with the same bedtime every night. Turn off all screens (TV, smart phone, tablet) at least an hour before bedtime and don’t let your children go to sleep with lit screens.

The Effects of Getting Too Few ZZZs

There are many good reasons to help your kids to bed on time and help them get the right amount of sleep. For starters, kids act differently than adults do when they’re tired. Children often become disagreeable, hyper and show changes in behavior. An increase in activity may lead you to believe your child isn’t tired, but look a little closer. If kids aren’t getting enough rest, hyperactivity can often be a sign of overtiredness.

Research shows a number of ways that lack of sleep touches aspects of kids’ lives. Academic performance, memory and motivation in school are negatively affected by getting less than the recommended hours of sleep. Generally, lack of sleep is associated with misbehavior and noncompliance. There’s also some evidence that children who sleep the least have the highest risk for obesity.

When to Call Your Doctor

If your child is having difficulty sleeping consistently, consider talking to your pediatrician, who may refer you to a sleep specialist if there are concerns about frequent snoring (kids with sleep apnea have an increased risk for ADHD), or to a psychologist if the concerns seem more behaviorally based. Either way, speak up if your child has ongoing sleep difficulties.

Sleep is an extremely important part of childhood wellness. Help your kids get the sleep they need — the outcomes are well worth it!

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Find out more about sleep in children from Nemours’

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Meghan Tuohy Walls, PsyD

Meghan Tuohy Walls, PsyD, is a psychologist at Nemours Children's Hospital and Nemours Pediatrics, Jessup St. in Wilmington, Del.