How many hours of sleep do kids actually need?

Based on what is known about how the body works, studies have shown there is an average amount of sleep that is recommended for optimal health and wellbeing. However, the amount of sleep may be different for each person based on genetic and environmental factors. In 2016, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine put forth a consensus statement regarding sleep requirements in children (Paruthi et al., 2016)

  • Infants 4 to 12 months - 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis
  • Children 1 to 2 years - 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis
  • Children 3 to 5 years - 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis
  • Children 6 to 12 years - 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis
  • Teenagers 13 to 18 years - 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis

"Sleep is essential for a healthy life, and it is important to promote healthy sleep habits in early childhood," said Dr. Shalini Paruthi, fellow of the AASM.

What are some common symptoms parents will notice if their child isn't getting enough sleep at night? What happens to their body when they don't get enough sleep?

For children, it is difficult for them to recognize when they are tired and often are unable to clearly verbalize that they are not getting enough sleep.

    Symptoms that are often seen when they aren't getting enough sleep at night include:

  • decreased concentration/difficulties with learning
  • increased behavior concerns
  • difficulty with emotional regulation
  • decreased memory
  • irritability and anxiety
  • inattention and hyperactivity

Insufficient sleep can also increase the risk of accidents, injuries, hypertension, obesity, diabetes and depression.

How can parents help keep kids on a sleep schedule?

Once you know about how many hours they need, subtract it from the time that they need to wake up. For example, if your child requires 10 hours of sleep and they wake up at 6 a.m. daily for school, the optimal bedtime would be 8 p.m. Next, discuss with them (depending on age) acceptable bedtimes and wake up times and create a bedtime routine that can be done every night. It is important to have a consistent routine. Children, especially, thrive with routine and knowing their expectations.

What are the advantages of a routine sleep schedule?

Having a routine can greatly improve health. Studies have shown that consistent routines during early childhood lead to better cognitive performance, reduced behavior problems, decreased anxiety, and can even improve gastrointestinal concerns as our digestive systems become activated in advance of regular mealtimes in order to process food more efficiently.

What if kids aren't sleeping well?

First, you need to determine the issue. This will require some detective work. Filling out a two-week sleep diary would be extremely helpful for both you and ultimately your child's pediatrician if you have additional concerns.

    Here is a list of things to look at when your child isn't sleeping well.

  • Bedtime routine and schedule
  • Electronic use around bedtime
  • Environment
  • Medications
  • Caffeine intake (tea/ sodas/energy drinks/ coffee)
  • Snoring/abnormal behaviors/extreme restlessness or leg movements during sleep

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Visit the Pediatric Sleep Disorders section for more questions about your child’s sleep habits.

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