Children need different amounts of sleep at different stages in their development. However, approximately 1 in 4 kids has trouble falling and staying asleep, which can lead to behavioral and health issues—from crankiness and trouble paying attention to high blood pressure and even depression.
If your child struggles with sleep, Dr. Pilar Bradshaw says there are two main reasons.
“One is anxiety. It’s keeps us amped up day and night, so people who are anxious commonly do not sleep well and wake frequently,” she says. “The other reason that kids don’t sleep well is because they have a busy brain. Kids with ADHD or kids who are just mile-a-minute thinkers are often waking up throughout the night because their brain is cranking 24/7.”
How much sleep do kids need?
Sleep is essential to a growing body and brain. Hormones, crucial to proper growth and development, are released mostly during sleep. In addition, the sleeping brain learns and consolidates memory, so adequate sleep is critical for kids and teenagers to learn well in school.
The number of hours of sleep a child needs changes as they grow. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends:
- Pre-schoolers (3-5 yrs): 10-13 hours, including naps
- Grade-schoolers (6-12 yrs): 9-12 hours
- Teens (13-18 yrs): 8-10 hours
How to help a troubled sleeper
Making just a few changes throughout the day can help your child sleep better and longer at night. Dr. Bradshaw recommends:
- Creating and sticking to regular routines, including wake up times and bedtime.
- Strive to get 30-60 minutes of physical activity each day.
- Turn off all screens two hours before bedtime.
“The blue light emitted from screens messes up our body’s own sense of day and night by disrupting melatonin production,” says Dr. Bradshaw. “It fools the brain into thinking that it is daytime and makes us feel more alert when we should be feeling sleepy.”
Dr. Bradshaw encourages before bed activities that calm your child’s brain. “Have them take a warm bath or shower to bring the blood flow to the skin and away from their busy, worried brain. They can drink something warm, like caffeine-free tea or hot cocoa, and then try some quiet reading time. It’s important to make sure lights are out at a reasonable hour.”
The key to a successful bedtime routine is consistency. If you’ve tried these tips, but your child or teen is still struggling to sleep, talk with your pediatrician. Most sleep problems can be solved.