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How much sleep does a child need?

Everybody knows that getting a baby to sleep can be tough. But as kids get older, they often face new challenges when it comes to getting enough sleep. Busy schedules, anxiety over school or social issues and overstimulation from electronic devices can all play a part in sleep troubles for school-age kids and teens.

In my role as a pediatrician, I often talk to parents who wonder how to help their kids wind down after a busy day and get to bed early enough so they’re rested for the next day.

Adequate sleep is key for kids’ health. Kids who don’t get enough sleep can be at risk for:

  • Falling asleep (and behind) in school
  • Problems with memory, concentration and problem solving
  • Behavior or mood problems such as hyperactivity or irritability

Research also shows children and teens who don’t get recommended levels of sleep tend to weigh more than those who do. How much sleep we get can have significant efforts on hormones that can affect our appetite and weight, since too little sleep increases the hormone that makes us feel hungry.

What’s the right amount of sleep?

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends the following:

  • 4-12 months old: 12-16 hours of sleep (including naps)
  • 1-2 years old: 11-14 hours of sleep (including naps)
  • 3-5 years old: 10-13 hours of sleep (including naps)
  • 6-12 years old: 9-12 hours of sleep
  • 13-18 years old: 8-10 hours of sleep

Remember, these numbers are actual hours of quality sleep. Kids might take as little as five or as many as 30 minutes to fall asleep, so plan accordingly.

A good way to approach bedtime is to simply count backwards from the time the child needs to wake up for school — and build in a little cushion.

Sleep tricks

It’s important for kids of all ages to avoid screen time for an hour before bed, as the glow from cell phone, tablet or TV screens can suppress melatonin, our natural sleep-inducing hormone.

For infants, toddlers and young children, try the routine of “Brush, book, bed.” A ritual of brushing teeth, followed by reading a book or two with a parent is a relaxing and reassuring way to end the day.

Older children benefit from a predictable bedtime (don’t diverge too much on weekends). Fitting in at least 60 minutes of physical activity during the daytime may help school-age kids fall asleep and get good quality sleep at night. School-age kids may be faced with lots of extracurricular activities they can choose — now is the time to model and teach them that they can’t do everything, as having too much on your plate (or on your mind) can keep you up at night.

Teens may need to be reminded to avoid screen time before bed, and skip caffeine and sugary snacks/drinks past mid-afternoon. Although teens’ bedtime routines may differ from younger kids, encourage them to include a healthy ritual — a cup of herbal tea, reading a book or some light stretching.

Like other habits, establishing good sleep patterns in childhood will serve kids well as they grow and develop into healthy adults. And as always, if you have questions or concerns about your child’s sleep, be sure to talk to your pediatrician.