One night without enough sleep makes kids temporarily irritable and cranky. But lack of sleep over an extended time has a serious, long-lasting impact on their emotional and physical health.
Knowing how much sleep your child needs is crucial. However, making sure they actually get the required hours is often a challenge.
There are many reasons children occasionally can’t sleep. But if your child regularly struggles to fall asleep or can’t sleep through the night, an underlying medical condition may be to blame. That’s when the team at THINK Neurology for Kids can help.
Sleep recommendations for kids
While your child sleeps, their body takes care of essential maintenance. Their brain eliminates wastes and encodes memories while their body repairs damaged cells. The endocrine system releases essential hormones, including the growth hormones needed for development.
Lack of sleep affects your child's ability to learn and grow and leads to problems like weight gain, high blood pressure, and depression. For all these reasons, they need enough sleep to stay healthy.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend these sleep guidelines:
- Infants (4-11 months): 12-16 hours (including naps)
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours (including naps)
- Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours (including naps)
- Grade schoolers (6-12 years): 9-12 hours
- Teens (13-18 years): 8-10 hours
Newborn sleep requirements aren't on this list because sleep fluctuations in the first few months are normal. Their circadian rhythm (natural sleep-wake cycle) takes time to develop, and frequent feedings mean they get their total sleep in short spurts.
Importance of naps
Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers need naps to recharge their energy and give their developing minds and bodies time to rest. Naps improve their attention, behavior, and mood throughout the day.
Infants and toddlers generally need two naps during the day. By the time they reach 18 months, most children only need one nap. Children get all the sleep they need at night and can give up napping during the preschool years.
How to help your child sleep
As all parents know, it's not always easy to get your child to sleep at night. If you need help with bedtime, the first step is making sure you set a time that fits their sleep needs.
For example, if your toddler needs to get up at 7:00 in the morning, they should be in bed by 8:00 pm to get a minimum of 11 hours. If your child needs 14 hours of sleep or a nap each afternoon, you need to increase or decrease their bedtime accordingly.
You may find your child can't fall asleep because you're putting them to bed too early.
Once you have the best bedtime, the next step is creating a specific routine. A bedtime routine, like a bath followed by reading a story, lets your child know it's time to sleep and gives them time to wind down, so they're ready for bed.
Here are two additional tips for improving sleep in children and teens:
Limit screen time before bed
The blue light emitted from computers, TVs, and handheld electronics interfere with the body's natural sleep-wake cycle. Blue light delays the release of melatonin, the hormone that triggers sleep and helps regulate circadian rhythms–turning off electronics about an hour before bedtime supports your child’s natural sleep cycle.
Turn off all lights
Bright light also affects melatonin cycles, making it crucial to turn off the lights. If your child wants or needs a night light, consider getting a light that gives off a dim red, orange, or yellow light.
When to seek help for sleep problems
Sleep is so essential that you shouldn't wait to seek help. If your child doesn't get enough sleep despite a steady bedtime routine, we can do an evaluation and determine if an underlying medical condition is to blame.
In many cases, children have difficulty sleeping because they're stressed, anxious, or depressed. Sleep challenges are common in children with developmental disorders like ADHD and autism.
Certain medical conditions also interfere with sleep. For example, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injuries are closely associated with difficulty sleeping.
If your child can’t sleep, call THINK Neurology for Kids or schedule an appointment online today.