The Surprising Stats On How Much Sleep Kids Need
This article will get into the details behind the sleep recommendation for kids of all ages
The amount of sleep your child needs depends on their age; toddlers and preschool-aged children need a bit more than those in elementary and middle school.
Adequate sleep is crucial for the overall health of our kiddos, as sleep is when their brains develop the most and their muscles and tissues see the most growth.
A perfect evening to help your child sleep involves sticking to a routine, having a healthy dinner, engaging in quiet play or reading, and tucking them in with a weighted blanket to help them get the snoozes they need to thrive.
Did you know?
Infants sleep for up to 15 hours of the day, and half of that time is spent in REM sleep - the stage of sleep where we dream the most. Although babies do smile or laugh in their sleep, no one can be sure whether or not they’re dreaming - it’s one of life’s mysteries!
Most parents are aware that their kids need more sleep than adults do, but the recommendations vary based on their age - and it may be more than you’d think! Children need so many hours because of their rapidly developing brains, which need extra time spent asleep to consolidate and store all the new memories and skills that were learned during the day.
This article will get into the details behind the sleep recommendation for kids of all ages, why our little ones need so much sleep, and how we can best support their healthy sleeping habits.
What Are The Current Guidelines?
Some of the top organizations in the sleep world include the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the National Sleep Foundation, and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). There are also some impartial organizations dedicated to providing quality sleep information, like The Sleep Council in the U.K.
While they are all mostly on the same page in terms of kiddos and their sleep needs, there are a few differences in the recommendations from these groups:
We’ve got unanimous votes for the 1-2-year-old toddlers; these youngins have just barely left infanthood and still require quite a bit of snoozing. By the time a toddler turns 2, they’ve spent more of their lives asleep than awake! Ahh, the life.
As they start to reach the preschool age, the 3-5-year old crowd still need their fair share of sleep, with all of the organizations agreeing that 10 hours should be their minimum. Recommendations for our elementary-aged kiddos (aged 6-12) vary the most, with anywhere in the 9-12 hour range being adequate. As they start to get closer to their middle school and preteen years, it’s likely that about 9 hours of sleep would suffice.
What About Naps?
Naps count! All of the organizations do put that “per 24-hours” qualifier in their sleep recommendations; this means that your little 2-year-old’s 2-hour afternoon nap can count towards her 11-14 hours of sleep needed that night. It’s unlikely that a child this young could reach that many hours on her own at night; it’s also unlikely that she would be able to stay awake all day without a nap or two.
All of the playing and learning that toddlers do during the day tires them out, and a napless toddler is definitely a cranky toddler. We’ve all seen a little tot’s ability to fall asleep anywhere and in any position when they’re tuckered out - their bodies tend to know when it’s time to sleep!
However, it is recommended that children should nap less and less as they get older. Infants may nap up to 6 times per day, whereas the 12-18-month-olds may start dwindling to 2 naps per day. Typically, around age 2, the morning nap will be phased out in favor of an afternoon nap; by age 5, you may not have any more napping going on.
If your older child is in constant need of naps during the day, take a look at their nighttime sleep habits and make sure they’re getting the recommended hours.
Why Kids Need More Sleep: The Science
If you’re a parent or a school teacher, you know the effects that a night of poor sleep has on kids and their behavior - it’s not pretty! While (some) adults can get by on a lack of sleep, our children are not so able to fight through the fatigue.
Toddlers and preschool-aged children are going through rapid growth spurts and brain development, night after night. When they sleep, the new skills they learned that day are locked into their memory banks, which can lead to improved cognition as they grow. One study found that afternoon naps taken during the day at preschool led to those children remembering significantly more about what they learned than kids who didn’t nap.
Sleep also helps children grow, as they produce the majority of their growth hormone during their deepest of dozes. If a child is not cycling through all the stages of sleep each night, the amount of growth hormone released will be reduced. Growth hormone is necessary for muscle and tissue development; children who lack adequate production of it can be stunted in growth, as well as have problems with developing their hearts and lungs.
Children who get the right amount of sleep tend to be more well behaved and have better emotional awareness and regulation. A Canadian study found that children under age 3 who slept less than 10 hours per night (reminder: they need about 10-13 hours) were more likely to develop ADHD or have language and reading problems.
A large study of over 11,000 children found that irregular sleeping up until age 3 led to negative impacts on their skills in reading, math, and spatial awareness - and they still lagged developmentally by age 7!
The importance of sleep on our kids’ brains and overall development cannot be emphasized enough. If your child is a problem sleeper, don’t worry - there’s plenty you can do to help them!
How Can You Support Kids’ Sleep?
Children respond very well to routines, especially if they begin at the toddler age. Routines enable young kids to anticipate what’s coming next, so they can begin to wind down for sleep if they know that’s what comes after bathtime.
Avoiding stimulating play for a couple of hours before bed can be helpful, so choosing activities like reading and quiet play are best - and that doesn’t mean quiet play with a smartphone game! The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently tightened its recommendations for kids and screen time. No screens at all are recommended for toddlers under age 2, and just 1 hour per day of high-quality educational programming for the 2-5-year-olds.
Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash
Not only are these recommendations good for our kid’s sleep habits, but the reduction in screen time can benefit their brain growth as well. Put away the phones, turn off the TV, and have family reading time, instead!
You can also support your child’s sleep by providing a healthy dinner. Limiting high-sugar foods and desserts will enable them to wind down easier before bed. A meal that is a mix of healthy fats, protein, and veggies can ensure their bellies are full through the night.
Lastly, incorporating a weighted blanket into your child’s bedtime routine can be a huge help. Not only does the extra weight provide a feeling of safety and comfort, but it can help boost up levels of melatonin to prepare them for sleep. If you have an extra-active or restless sleeper on your hands, the kids weighted blanket can work wonders to calm them down before bed - and keep them calm until morning.