Studies tell us that many adults and some teens are sleep deprived, which can have disastrous results regarding cognitive and physical health. But what amount of sleep is actually appropriate for kids of all ages? Take a look at this breakdown to see where your kids fall on the sleep spectrum, and some ideas for how your kids could catch more zzzs.
Wee ones [0-18 months]
Other than warming our hearts, infants and very young children spend more time sleeping than doing anything else. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends children 4 months to 12 months get between 12 and 16 hours in each 24-hour period — more than half the day. Before 4 months, there's a wide range of normal so the general advice is to let them do what it seems like their little bodies want to do, since sleep is integral to all the work of growing their bodies and developing brains.
Very young children aren't supposed to sleep through the night, or even for more than a few hours at a time for the first several months of life. Waking is usually a sign of another biological need, such as food or a diaper change. During the night, the simplest way to get them back to sleep is simply to take care of their needs quickly and quietly — without turning on the light if possible — and get them back to bed.
Studies show that having a nightly bedtime routine is associated with better sleep in children of all ages. For babies, that routine can be as simple as a few minutes of rocking and sharing a favorite lullaby.
Tots [18 months to 3 years]
When your baby gets a little bigger, routines are still very important, but they'll want to have more power over things in their life. At this age they're starting to test boundaries, so giving them control over small choices around sleep — like what book to read, which side of the bed to put their head on or which stuffed animal to to snuggle. This helps them feel like they have some authority while avoiding power struggles — which we all learn eventually that no one really wins.
At this age, kids should be sleeping between 11 and 14 hours a day, including two naps a day at the start of this period, dropping to one nap a day as they turn 2.
Night terrors start appearing in some children around this age. Kids may wake up screaming, unable to properly communicate. Experts recommend doing your best to quietly soothe your child, keep them in bed and help them get back to sleep. Usually children don't wake up fully during night terrors or remember them in the morning. They can be frightening for parent and child, but are generally normal. If they're frequent or are causing daytime sleepiness, talk to your pediatrician.
Preschoolers [3 to 5 years old]
We all know it when we see it — tantrums, emotions running high and hyperactivity. It’s what a lack of sleep looks like in a preschooler. When they don’t get the recommended 10 to 13 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, that’s when these “fun” times can rear their ugly heads. While we make our best attempts at getting those squirrly littles safe and sound asleep at a decent time, there are often many hurdles to jump through: the bathroom breaks, the unquenchable I’m- going-to-die-if-I-don’t-get-a-drink thirst, and the “just one more thing” pleas.
We get it. We’re all tired from a full day’s worth of adulting, but throwing in the towel here may have some drawbacks because it’s not only about preventing a bad day. A lot of functions important to growth, health, memory and cognitive development happen during sleep. Nerve cells are rewired, muscles are restored and human growth hormone is released.
Basically, kids need their sleep so they can grow and learn at an optimal rate. If your kid is dealing with some serious FOMO during bedtime that keeps them springing out a bed for just one more thing here are a few things to try:
Prep the brain by turning off screens about one hour before bedtime.
Create a calm environment. As bedtime nears, dim the lights and choose relaxing activities, such as reading or talking.
Stick to a consistent sleep schedule throughout the entire week. Yes, even on weekends, as much as possible.
Involve them in planning their bedtime routine. Whatever relaxing activities you choose to make part of their bedtime ritual, be sure to explain the rules, e.g. number of books, time limits, etc.
Big kids [6 to 9 years old]
These are some big years for big kids. They’re becoming more immersed in the large world around them, which means they’re also experiencing more learning, social and emotional challenges than ever before. All the more reason getting the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s recommended nine to 12 hours of sleep a day is important.
According to AASM when kids are able to regularly get this amount of good quality sleep their attention, behavior, learning and memory operate at optimal levels. And like everyone else, their quality of life as well as overall mental and physical health are enhanced. Good, ample sleep is like setting the stage for their success.
So how do you know when your kids aren’t hitting their sleep sweet spot? Here are some signs to look out for from the Cleveland Clinic:
You need to awaken your child three to four times before they actually get out of bed.
Your child tells you they're tired during the day.
They need catch-up sleep on weekends.
They fall asleep during the day.
If these sound familiar, work toward getting back on track. Start bedtime earlier by about 15 minutes per day until you hit the right amount of sleep per night for your child. Also, be sure to stick to a similar schedule on the weekends, staying within the same wakeup and bedtime by 30 to 45 minutes. If you haven’t already, this may be a good time to start using an alarm clock. And finally, consider a relaxing bedtime routine, which can be helpful for anyone at any age really.
Tweeners [10 to 12 years old]
This can be a busy time for kids this age, as school activities pick up and homework gets to be more of an actual thing. But parents should not let up on insisting on nice, early bedtimes because while they might seem a little bit old to do the traditional “tuck-in”, their growing bodies and brains still desperately need that good, quality sleep.
According to the sleepfoundation.org, tweeners require 9-11 hours of sleep per night. And while grumpiness and grogginess will certainly follow a night of inadequate sleep, that’s the least of the worries. According to experts, children who do not get enough sleep on a regular basis are at a much higher risk of developing anxiety and depression. And what are kids this age often doing later at night anyway when they should be in bed? They might be sitting on their phones, which can not only contribute to depression and anxiety due to excessive social media, but the screens emit a blue light that stimulates the brain, making it even more difficult for children to fall asleep. Having them put the phones up in the kitchen and tucking them in like they’re little can do wonders for kiddos this age.
Inadequate sleep can also hit children physically in terms of weight gain. Studies show that when kids don’t get enough sleep, it disrupts their hormone levels, which regulates appetite and food intake. This can lead to overeating and a craving for sugar and bad carbs. Moral of the story? Tuck them in. You read that right.
Teens [13 to 18 years old]
It’s a common stereotype assigned to teenagers in movies and TV shows. They emerge from a messy bedroom, yawning and running fingers through disheveled hair — oblivious to what’s going on in the world. Hilarity ensues when mom or dad crack wise about the teen sleeping all day.
The truth is teenagers do need more sleep than the average adult. But despite what Hollywood implies, most teenagers are not getting enough of it.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has recommended that teenagers aged 13 to 18 years should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours. However, in a 2015 survey, the Centers for Disease Control found seven out of 10 teenagers were not getting the minimum eight hours of sleep a night.
If the lack of sleep only meant a few extra yawns at the breakfast table, it would be no big deal. However, doctors say teens who don’t get enough sleep have a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, injuries, poor mental health, and problems with attention and behavior.
Parents can do their part to help their teen sleep better, including setting up a media curfew. Require your teen to get off SnapChat, TikTok and all social media and electronics no later than 9 p.m. The brain needs time to unwind and settle into a good night’s sleep. And while teens are more likely than other age groups to have active social lives outside the family, encourage your teen to get the same amount of sleep every night. While it might feel good to “catch up on your sleep” on the weekends, in the long run, getting a solid eight to 10 hours a night is better for your teen’s mental and physical health.