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How Much Sleep Your Child Really Needs

March 15, 2021

You know that not getting enough sleep at night makes your child grouchy the next day. But did you know it can also negatively impact his or her health?

It’s true! And beyond health, a chronic lack of sleep or even an occasional bad night can also impact your child’s performance at school or in sports. 

Think about it—when you don’t get enough sleep, your productivity suffers the next day. The same is true for kids. In fact, getting quality sleep is even more important for children as they grow and develop.

Dr. Stevens Melton
Stevens Melton, MD

“Sleep is critical for growth and development,” says Stevens Melton, MD, pediatrician with West Tennessee Medical Group. “As we sleep, our brains restore and process information. Without that essential sleep, it’s more difficult for our brains and bodies to function optimally.”

How Not Getting Enough Sleep Impacts the Body
One-third of Americans don’t get the sleep they need, and children are no different. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that even the youngest kids are affected—25 percent of kids younger than age 5 don’t get enough sleep.

While that lack of sleep definitely leads to bad moods, it also leads to many other problems. Children who don’t get enough sleep are at a higher risk of developing many different medical conditions including allergies, anxiety or depression, high blood pressure, diabetes and even suicidal thoughts.

In addition to health problems, chronic sleep issues in kids can also lead to poor academic performance and attention/behavioral problems.

How Much Sleep Kids Need
So, how much sleep do your kids actually need? Well, as with adults, that will vary somewhat from person to person.

But the AAP and American Academy of Sleep Medicine do offer some recommendations for how much sleep children should get, based largely on their age:

  • 4 to 12 months old—12 to 16 hours (including naps)
  • 1 to 2 years old—11 to 14 hours (including naps)
  • 3 to 5 years old—10 to 13 hours (including naps)
  • 6 to 12 years old—nine to 12 hours
  • 13 to 18 years old—eight to 10 hours

What makes for “quality” sleep? There are two main types of sleep you need for optimal restoration: REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. Both are crucial.

REM sleep first occurs about an hour and a half after you first fall asleep and then happens again roughly every 90 minutes as you sleep. This is the period of sleep where dreams occur. REM sleep is vital for providing energy for the brain and body the next day.

NREM sleep has four stages, which include the phase between being awake and asleep (stage 1), when you first fall asleep (stage 2), and when you’re sleeping the deepest (stages 3 and 4). Because your bodily functions, including your blood pressure and heart rate, slow during this type of sleep, it’s when your body restores and prepares to take on a new day.

Helping Your Kids Get the Sleep They Need
OK, so you know your kids need to get plenty of sleep, but how can you make sure they do? It’s all about establishing good habits

You’ve probably heard the phrase “sleep hygiene.” This refers to a set of best practices for getting quality sleep. Helping your child establish good sleep hygiene habits early in life can set him or her up for good sleep throughout life.

Start here:

  • Stick to a consistent bedtime and wake-time. This one’s important! While it can be tempting to let the kids sleep in on the weekends, consistency is key. Over time, the body and mind learn when it’s time to go to bed and when it’s time to wake up.
  • Keep your kids active during the day. The AAP recommends that kids and teens get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. That exercise has an added benefit: Kids who are active will be more likely to fall asleep and stay asleep. Just ensure the physical activity curtails at least a couple of hours before bedtime.
  • Keep electronics out of the bedroom. Electronic devices, including phones and tablets, emit blue light that can make it harder for the body to wind down for sleep. Make it a rule to put down the devices at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Make the bedroom cool and dark. If your child is afraid of the dark, you may need to keep a small light on. But in general, keeping the bedroom at 68 degrees or cooler and dark is best for quality sleep.
  • Establish a bedtime routine. This is another habit that can help teach your child’s body when it’s time to wind down. Your routine may include a nightly bath, a bedtime snack, toothbrushing, or reading together—whatever sets your child up for success.

When your child needs medical care, logically, you want the best. That’s why Ayers Children’s Medical Center offers comprehensive, compassionate medical care specially tailored for the needs of children.