Making sure your child gets the right amount of sleep is an essential part of helping them grow up healthy and strong. Kids who regularly get an adequate amount of sleep have improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health. Not getting enough sleep can lead to an increase in injuries, hypertension, obesity and depression.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the following amount of sleep on a regular basis, every day:
- Infants 4 months to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours (including naps)
- Children 1 to 2 years old should sleep 11 to 14 hours (including naps)
- Children ages 3 to 5 should sleep 10 to 13 hours (including naps)
- Children ages 6 to 12 should sleep 9 to 12 hours
- Teenagers ages 13 to 18 should sleep 8 to 10 hours
Additionally, the AAP recommends infants sleep in the same bedroom as their parents for the first six months, but on a separate surface, such as a crib or bassinet. Parents are encouraged to create a safe sleep environment by placing infants on their back on a firm sleep surface with a tight-fitting sheet. Parents should also keep sleep areas bare, avoiding use of soft bedding, including crib bumpers, blankets, pillows and toys.
Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
If your child is having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, the pediatric experts at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital agree that the best place to start may be with establishing a nightly bedtime routine.
“Having excellent sleep hygiene is very important,” says Bobbi Hopkins, M.D., medical director of the Sleep Center at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital. “Consistency and persistence are the keys to making bedtime and sleep a success.”
Help your child mentally prepare for sleep by following these tips:
- Start the routine at the same time every night.
- Reduce indoor lights to encourage the release of melatonin, which will help your child feel sleepy sooner. Start this around 6 p.m. or when it starts to get dark outside. Think of it as pretending to have no electricity.
- Stop using electronics (TV, tablet, computer, phone, etc.) at least one hour before bed.
- Many children find a warm bath before bedtime soothing.
- Prepare a quiet activity such as reading a book or singing a soft song. Be sure to keep the activity short. For example, no more than two short books.
- Do not allow bargaining (such as “one more hug”). Though it may be difficult, stick by the rules you have set so your child can be at their best the next day.
- Caregivers should be consistent. Any change in the routine can disturb your child’s ability to rest.
- If your child wakes up during the night and comes to you, walk them back to their room with as little interaction as possible to help them settle back into sleep easier.
- Set a wake up time for when your child is allowed to leave their room. If they wake up earlier, staying in their room will help them fall back asleep instead of getting up to go play or watch TV.
Along with setting a consistent routine, make sure your child’s room is a relaxing environment. It’s better for children play and do homework in another room. Having a TV, homework desk or lots of toys in the bedroom can send mixed messages to the brain about whether it is time to play or sleep.
Teens and Sleep
Good sleep patterns are especially important for teenagers. They are often sleep deprived because they are biologically wired to stay up all night and sleep through the day. Tired teens have an increased risk for car accidents and poor grades. Help your teen be at their best by limiting the use of electronics before bed and setting a bedtime to make sure they can get about 8-10 hours of sleep. If possible, bedtime should not be earlier than 10 p.m.
When Should My Child See a Doctor?
Children who lack sleep may not exhibit daytime sleepiness, but instead may be hyperactive, inattentive, have behavior difficulties, or struggle in school. Obesity, depression, anxiety, and headaches are just a few of the disorders that may be related to sleep problems. Inability to fall asleep, difficulty sleeping through the night, snoring, daytime sleepiness, or hyperactivity should prompt a visit with your physician.
Your child’s health care provider may recommend a visit with a sleep specialist or a sleep study to help determine the exact cause of your child’s sleep troubles. Learn more about the Sleep Center at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.