Sleep and exercise might be opposite activities, but they’re the same in one important way: getting the recommended amount leads to proven benefits for adults and kids alike. According to experts, when children sleep the recommended hours on a regular basis, it’s associated with improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health.
How many hours of sleep are recommended?
In 2016, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) released official consensus recommendations for the amount of sleep needed to promote optimal health in children and teenagers to avoid the health risks of insufficient sleep. For optimal health, children should get the following number of hours of sleep per 24 hours:
- Infants four* to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours (including naps)
- Children one to two years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours (including naps)
- Children three to five years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours (including naps)
- Children six to 12 years of age should sleep nine to 12 hours
- Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep eight to 10 hours
*Recommendations for infants younger than four months are not included due to the wide range of normal variation in duration and patterns of sleep and insufficient evidence for associations with health outcomes.
The recommendations follow a 10-month project conducted by a Pediatric Consensus Panel of 13 of the nation’s foremost sleep experts. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Sleep Research Society and the American Association of Sleep Technologists all endorsed these recommendations. Before determining any guidance, the expert panel reviewed 864 published scientific articles examining the connection between sleep duration and children’s health, evaluated the research using a formal grading system, and decided on the final recommendations after multiple rounds of voting.
The panel found that sleeping fewer than the recommended hours:
- is associated with attention, behavior and learning problems;
- increases the risk of accidents, injuries, hypertension, obesity, diabetes and depression; and
- is associated with an increased risk of self-harm, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts in teenagers.
How to improve your child’s sleep
The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that sleep problems affect 25 to 50 percent of children and 40 percent of adolescents. Understanding your child’s sleep needs is the first step toward helping them get better sleep. With a focus on sleep hygiene, age-appropriate routines, and any possible sleep disorders, you can make sure your child gets the recommended sleep for optimal health. With all that you do to help your child grow up strong and healthy, be sure good sleep habits are an integral part.
Below are recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics. There are a number of excellent resources that are relevant for children of all ages (and adults), as well as more age-specific suggestions.
- Make sufficient sleep a family priority. You’re a role model for your child, so it’s important to set a good example around sleep. When you prioritize sleep, you show it’s part of living a healthy lifestyle, like eating healthy and exercising regularly.
- Be active during the day. Make sure you and your kids have interesting and varied daily activities, including physical activity and fresh air. See Energy Out: Daily Physical Activity Recommendations for more information.
- Create a sleep-supportive and safe bedroom and home environment. Dim the lights before bedtime and control the temperature in the home.
- Shut down the electronics. Turn off computers, TV screens, video games, and other devices an hour before bed, as they emit blue light. Create a Family Media Use Plan and set boundaries about use before bedtime.
Very young babies rarely sleep through the night because they don’t have a circadian rhythm yet. If they don’t fall back asleep naturally, try soothing them by talking or with touch without picking them up. If they continue to cry, they may be hungry or need their diaper changed. Quickly and quietly fix the problem, using only a nightlight, and calmly leave the room. Other recommendations include the following:
- Don’t put your baby to bed with a bottle of juice, milk, or formula. Water is okay. Anything other than water in the bottle can cause baby bottle tooth decay. Feed or nurse your baby, and then put them down to sleep.
- Wait to start giving solids before about six months of age. Starting solid food sooner will not help your baby sleep through the night. If you give your baby solids before their system can digest them, they may sleep worse because of a tummy ache.
- Learn about safe sleeping sites. Babies under 12 months of age are at risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. See Suitable Sleeping Sites for more information, specifically for babies under 12 months of age.
Young toddlers have a sleep schedule supplemented by two naps a day. Sometimes, toddler sleep problems can compound by separation anxiety and a fear of missing out, which translates to stalling techniques and stubbornness at bedtime. Try to reduce these complaints by giving them control over minor choices like which pajamas to wear or which book to read. Try to be patient and firm yet loving because power struggles will likely elicit a stronger response from them.
- Create a daily routine. What happens during the day helps with bedtime. Try to have the same time each day for waking up, meals, naps, and play. The routine helps your child feel secure and comfortable.
- Have a bedtime routine. One good routine might be brush, book, bed. You also could incorporate singing a lullaby or taking a bath and picking a stuffed animal or security blanket for the night.
- Refrain from filling up your child’s bed with toys. Keep your child’s bed a place to sleep rather than a place to play. One or two things—a favorite doll or bear, a security blanket—are okay and can help ease separation anxiety.
Between academic, social, and extracurricular obligations, school-age children often have busy schedules that make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep.
- Keep a consistent schedule. Try to follow a routine schedule and have a wind-down period before bed wherever possible.
- Do homework in another room. To strengthen the association between the bedroom and sleep, have them do homework or other activities in another room where possible.
Teenagers naturally have a later circadian rhythm, where school start times may be problematic. (See the AAP policy statement, School Start Times for Adolescents, for more information.) Work together with your teenager to find a healthy sleep schedule that recognizes the increased demands on their time and lifestyle.
- Be a good role model. Teenagers appear to imitate their parents to a certain extent when it comes to sleeping, so one of the best things you can do to help them develop a healthy sleep pattern is to keep one yourself.
- Avoid overscheduling. In addition to homework, many children today have scheduled evening activities (i.e., sports games, music lessons, appointments, etc.) that pose challenges to getting a good night’s sleep. Take time to wind down and also give your teenager the necessary downtime.
- Shut down the electronics: This merits a repeat, given how much time teenagers spend on electronics. Turn off computers, TV screens, video games, and other devices an hour before bed and don’t allow your teenager to have their cell phone in their room.
Some common sleep challenges among children are:
- difficulty falling asleep
- waking up in the middle of the night (not including babies)
- stalling and resisting going to bed
- loud or heavy breathing while sleeping
In addition to these issues, you may also want to talk to your child’s teacher or childcare provider about their alertness during the day, as sleep problems may show up during the daytime. A child getting less than the recommended hours of sleep may need help paying attention or zoning out.
If you think your child has sleep problems, talk to your child’s doctor at Welia Health. Most sleep problems among children are easily treated with behavior modifications.