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Kids’ Sleep: Why and How Much?

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One of the most important back-to-school tips you hear as a parent is to make sure you child is getting enough sleep. But why is sleep important and how much sleep is enough?

First, let’s look at why sleep is important.

  • This first reason is pretty obvious: kids who don’t sleep get cranky. Not good. This is problematic in general, but it’s especially an issue for children with special needs. Also, difficulty regulating their emotions can make it tough for kids to maintain healthy relationships with peers.
  • Children who don’t get enough sleep have a hard time focusing, concentrating, and following directions. (See why sleep comes up a lot at the start of the school year?) Plus, the difficulty in focusing can make kids clumsier, making them more prone to accidents and injuries.
  • Sleep keeps kids healthy in lots of different ways. Kids who aren’t getting enough sleep are more prone to obesity. This is in part because kids who don’t get enough sleep are, well, tired, and they’re less likely to be up and active. Major issues with sleep are connected with hypertension and heart problems. You know what else happens when your child doesn’t get enough sleep? They’re more likely to get sick. Goodness knows that daycare and school have enough germs floating around that your kid doesn’t need a self-induced weakened immune system to help them get sick.
  • Sleep promotes healthy growth and development. Growth hormone is released during deep sleep. Not getting enough sleep or not sleeping deeply enough can lead to deficiencies in growth hormone.

Now, this is all good to know, but how much sleep does a child need in order to benefit from it? The National Sleep Foundation suggests that newborns (0-3 months) get 10.5 to 18 hours of sleep daily. Their sleep patterns are irregular, and sleep will usually occur after one to three hours awake. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend getting the following amounts of sleep on a regular basis (which means there can be wiggle room for special occasions and events!):

  • 4-12 months: 12 to 16 hours of sleep a day, including naps.
  • 1 to 2 years: 11 to 14 hours of sleep daily, including naps.
  • 3 to 5 years: 10 to 13 hours a day, including naps. The National Sleep Foundation notes that naps will likely end after age five.
  • 6 to 12 years: 9 to 12 hours of sleep per day.
  • 13 to 18 years: 8 to 10 hours of sleep daily.

Some tips for ensuring a good night’s sleep:

  • First, be sure that there are enough hours between bedtime and wake-up time to get in enough Zzzzzs! My daughter gets up at the same time no matter when she goes to bed, so we have to set her bed time based on that.
  • Do your best to maintain a regular sleep schedule.
  • Create a bedtime routine with your little ones—and stick to it! Reading stories together is one of the most relaxing bedtime activities.
  • Bedrooms should be a screen-free zone. Screens (TVs, computers, phones, tablets, etc.) should be turned off no less than 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Keep bedrooms cool, quiet, and dark. Try to maintain the same environment when you travel, too.
  • No caffeine! Kids shouldn’t consume caffeine at all. Beverages are the worst culprits, so be aware of what your child is drinking.
  • Be mindful of your child’s sleep habits, including things like sleepwalking, nightmares, and night terrors. And while some snoring is normal, it can also be a symptom of a sleep problem, so check in with your child’s doctor if your kid is snoring more than three nights a week.

PS: We know parenting is exhausting, so check out the kid sleep tips above, and think about applying them to yourselves, too! As adults, we need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep ourselves, and things like a good sleeping environment, no screens at bedtime, and no caffeine will help us get our rest, too.

Sweet dreams!

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