Kids and Sleep: Why They Need Their Zzzzz's - Nemours Blog


Kids and Sleep: Why They Need Their Zzzzz’s

Kids and Sleep, Powered by Nemours Children's Health System

How many hours of sleep did you get last night? Can you remember the last time you or your child slept at least seven hours? In this fast-paced and work-driven society, sleep often takes a backseat to other priorities. But research shows that sleep is one of the pillars that allows people to thrive emotionally, mentally, and physically. Without enough sleep, our health can decline.

What Is Sleep?

Sleep is defined as a time for physical and mental rest. During sleep, consciousness and ability to make decisions takes a partial or total break and bodily functions slow down. The body uses this time to physically restore and allow the brain to “clean up” and carry out important functions. Because sleep is so important for good health, not getting enough has been shown to increase the risk and incidence of:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • high blood pressure
  • elevated cholesterol
  • inflammation
  • emotional reactivity

Lack of sleep has also been shown to impair glucose tolerance, reduce attention and memory, and cause daytime fatigue and sleepiness, which can lead to accidents and injuries.

Sleep and Healthy Weight

Numerous studies have also shown a relationship between increased sleep time and maintaining a healthy weight. For example, research shows that reduced time spent sleeping can cause people to eat more amounts of fat and sugar, more calories from snacks, and more total calories. It’s believed that sleeping less than the recommended amount can cause daytime sleepiness, which can lead to less impulse control and, ultimately, to more unhealthy choices. Although there have been mixed findings, there is also a thought that inadequate sleep increases the hormone that makes us feel hunger and decreases the hormone that helps us feel full.

Kids and Sleep-How Much Do They Need?

To help optimize health, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends the following amount of sleep hours:

Life stage


Recommended hours of sleep

Newborns 0-2 mo 12-18
Infants 3-11 mo 14-15
Toddlers 1-3 y 12-14
Preschoolers >3-5 y 11-13
School-aged children 6-11 y 10-11
Young teens 12-14 y 8.5-9.5
Older teens 15-17 y 8.5-9.5
Adults > or equal to 18 y 7-9


Overall, there is more than enough research showcasing the importance of sleep for good health and arguments for making sleep a daily priority. Nowadays, the main factors that impact how much sleep we get are:

  • caffeine consumption
  • electronic media exposure
  • exposure to bright lights during dark night hours
  • inconsistent sleep patterns

Improve Your “Sleep Hygiene”

Here are tips on improving “sleep hygiene,” which refers to behaviors that affect sleep duration and quality:

  • set consistent bedtimes and wake times
  • exercise regularly
  • eliminate or decrease the number of caffeine-containing beverages, especially after noon
  • avoid watching TV, playing video games, or listening to intense music too close to bedtime
  • turn off electronic screens 1 to 2 hours before bedtime
  • encourage hot baths, soothing beverages such as herbal tea, meditation, massage, deep breathing and reading soothing content before bedtime
  • reduce loud noises close to bedtime
  • set comfortable temperature and bedding at bedtime
  • use pleasant scents such as lavender or chamomile at bedtime

Start by implementing one to two of the tips listed above and keep track of the positive effects they can have on you and your family’s health. If a child sees no improvement in sleep quality after making healthy lifestyle changes, he or she may have a sleep disorder requiring the attention of a sleep specialist. If you believe this may be the case, refer to a pediatrician for guidance.

Golem D, Martin-Biggers J, Koenings M, Davis K, Byrd-Bredbenner C. An Integrative Review of Sleep for Nutrition Professionals. Adv Nutr 2014; 5(6): 742-759.
Sofia Gomez-Rubio, RD, LDN

Sofia Gomez-Rubio, RD, LDN is a clinical pediatric dietitian at Nemours Children's Hospital in Wilmington, Del.