How much sleep do children need?

by - Monday, May 06, 2013

Children sleep habits
Sleep is an essential aspect of children's healthy growth and development. Unfortunately it is not a skill we learn naturally: as parents we must ensure we teach our children how to experience good sleep habits from an early age to ensure their peak mental and physical development.

The main benefit of sleep for children is the release of the growth hormone which encourages normal bodily growth and development. Additionally there are psychological benefits: concentration is aided by the processing of the day's events and skills learned by the developing child and emotional well-being is assisted by the detoxifying nature of a good night's rest.

Lack of sleep is evidenced to have a negative effect on our physical and mental health - most notably among children and young adults - from lack of concentration to depression, decreased immunity and loss of creative intent. Late-night videogames, social media and peer influence are factors which place pressure on our sleep times, so it's important to know how much sleep our children should be getting at their various stages of life.

How much sleep is normal?

Of course it must be understood that some children naturally require more or less sleep than others, but here are some guidelines for the amount of sleep children of various ages should be aiming for:

Toddlers aged around three require roughly 12 hours of sleep a day. It may be difficult for such young children to fall or stay asleep at this young age, particularly when concerned about separation from mum or dad. This can be eased by establishing good sleep routines (see below) or by cuddling a favourite toy or blanket for reassurance.

Young children aged between four and six tend to need between 10 1/2 and 11 1/2 hours sleep each night. At this stage of development almost all children experience some difficulty sleeping, with problems ranging from bed-wetting to night terrors and fear of the dark. Again, a good bedtime routine should be maintained to minimise problems. Offer support and reassurance without over-dramatising the problem: you are your child's greatest role model, so if they see you are not overly anxious they will learn to be calmer about the situation.

Between the ages of six and ten children require around 10 hours of sleep a night. Reassuringly there should be fewer sleep issues at this age with sleep more akin to that of an adult and far reduced frequency of nightmares.

Tweens and teenagers need between 8 and 9 hours of sleep, though many get fewer hours of rest than this. It is vital to stress the importance of a good night's sleep in ways they may understand and observe. Try explaining that sleep promotes healthier skin (fewer zits to worry about) and aids concentration so they may do better in school which are persuasions more likely to make a teenager listen than their perception of an over-zealous parent!

Establishing (and maintaining) good sleep routines

Ideally we should begin establishing sleep routines from infancy and maintain such routines throughout childhood and beyond.

Try to keep routines quiet and peaceful after your evening meal, with some quiet play time and a bath followed by storytime for younger children or reading/peaceful television programmes for older children before bed.

Keep to the same time for bed each night whenever possible, and try to wake at roughly the same time each morning which "trains" the body to expect sleep and wakefulness to occur at these times. This is particularly important on school nights, though older children who have an established routine can be treated to a slightly later bedtime at weekends or school holidays.

With all the hormonal changes which occur during puberty, you may find your teenager would benefit from a little more sleep at certain points of development (particularly teenage boys!). Rather than nag your wilful teenager to go to bed earlier when they are grumpy or listless, allow them a little lie-in at weekends if it's possible, or encourage a short nap/quiet time during the day to promote restfulness and ensure their concentration levels do not dwindle.

Further resources about children and sleep habits

A complete overview of healthy sleep habits and sleep problems would require a tome the size of an encyclopaedia, so if you have concerns about your child's sleep here are some useful sites offering further advice on the subject:

Join the conversation

Do you have any useful tips for establishing sleep routines for children? Do you feel your children get enough sleep (or not, as may be the case)?

Please feel free to leave your own thoughts, comments and suggestions below.

Photo credit: peasap, via Flickr

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