During sleep, your child’s brain is processing and consolidating all he or she has learned during the day and restoring energy supplies to be ready for all the challenges and adventures of the next day. Children who get enough sleep will feel great during the day, do better in school and tend to have fewer behavioral problems. You can support your child’s good health by making sure your child regularly gets sufficient quality sleep.
How much sleep does my child need?
Although there is no one-size-fits-all number, there are some guidelines. Toddlers and preschoolers need about 11 to 12 hours of sleep, school-age children at least 10 hours and teens about nine to 10 hours per day.
What’s the best way to establish a good sleep routine?
Every child can benefit from a bedtime routine. Use these tips to help your child fall asleep more easily:
- Stick to a regular bedtime and give your child a heads-up when bedtime is approaching.
- Create a calming, familiar bedtime routine. Dim the lights, sing a lullaby and read a book together. Keep it simple to be effective.
- Let your baby or young child learn to settle and soothe him or herself to sleep. This is one of the best gifts you can give your child to help encourage lifelong good sleep.
- Eliminate screens. Turn off all screens (TVs, tablets, phones and laptops) before you start your winding-down routine. Studies have shown that the bright light from screens suppress melatonin, the hormone that our bodies make to help us sleep. Keep all screens and chargers out of your child’s bedroom to provide the right environment for restful sleep.
- Encourage teens to set and maintain a bedtime so that they can get the sleep needed at their age.
How do I know if my daughter is getting enough sleep?
Children need a fairly predictable amount of sleep to be happy and function well. You’ll tell if your daughter is getting enough sleep based on how she behaves during the day. She may not act sleepy. It may seem like she’s not listening, or is on an emotional roller coaster – happy and wound-up one moment, then upset and cranky the next. She may also be hyperactive and defiant. Try making sure she gets more sleep on a regular basis and see if her behavior and demeanor improves. If her behavior is very disruptive, check with your daughter’s doctor to see if there are any underlying causes for her behavior.&pagebreaking&What sleep disorders could stop my son from sleeping well?
Several things may disrupt his sleep. Children may have nightmares or night terrors. Although these may both be equally upsetting for parents to witness, they are not the same thing. If your son is experiencing a nightmare, you will be able to gently wake and comfort him so he can go back to sleep. Providing a nightlight or leaving his bedroom door open can help ease any worry he has about going back to sleep. A child experiencing a night terror that takes place during the deepest stage of sleep remains asleep and cannot be woken – the only thing to do is to wait it out.
If your child walks in his sleep, make sure his surroundings are safe, doors and windows are locked securely, and there are no sharp edges or obstacles in his room and in the house that could hurt him if he wanders. If you find your son sleepwalking, gently guide him back to bed.
Children, like adults, can also have obstructive sleep apnea. A cold may cause your son to snore, but if he doesn’t have a cold and is snoring a lot, he might have sleep apnea. Daytime symptoms may include sluggishness, irritability and difficulty getting up in the morning. The lack of quality sleep may also cause your son to be hyperactive and unable to concentrate.
Bedwetting is still quite common for children under age 5 and can disrupt sleep. If your son is over 5 and still wetting the bed, check in with your son’s doctor.
In fact, if any of these issues that disrupt your child’s sleep are persistent and you are concerned, speak to your child’s doctor.
How do I handle my daughter’s sleep schedule during summer or other vacations?
During the long summer vacation that might include traveling to a different time zone, visiting friends or relatives who may have different nap and bedtimes, it’s OK to be flexible about your daughter’s usual bedtime routine and shift sleep times to enjoy those long summer days and activities. The most important thing is that your daughter gets enough sleep. If she is heading off to summer camp, make sure she takes her favorite stuffed animal or blanket with her if she needs those to get to sleep. As the start of school or preschool approaches, start easing back into her usual sleep routine.
Paul Protter, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Sunnyvale Center. Advice is not intended to take the place of an exam or diagnosis by a physician.