Getting enough quality sleep is important for children of all ages. Sleep is needed to grow and develop. Since sleep recharges our brains, children that get good sleep have increased brain power, higher attention spans, and are more calm and alert during the day than children who do not get enough sleep.
Busy lifestyles of families may be stopping children from getting the sleep they need. We have family and social functions, school, and work. We may not be doing it intentionally, but naps are being missed and bedtimes are getting pushed back, cutting time out of what should be sleep time.
It’s important to know how much sleep your child needs and make sure he or she is getting enough. The amount of sleep varies by age and continues to change as children grow.
Newborns 1 to 4 weeks old need the most sleep and should be getting about 15-16 hours a day. They typically sleep in short periods of two to four hours. Since their biological clocks have not yet been developed, their sleep patterns do not relate to light and darkness.
By 1 to 4 months of age, the confusion with day and night begins to end. Sleep patterns may start becoming more regular, and periods of sleep may lengthen to 4-6 hours.
Babies that are age 4 to 12 months begin to develop sleep patterns a bit more adult-like, and helping them establish healthy sleep habits at this age is an important goal. It’s common for babies early in this age range to take three naps a day, and by age 6 months they usually only take two.
By ages 1 to 3 years old, children should be sleeping 12 to 14 hours a day. At this age, they are usually only taking one nap which ranges from one to three- and-a-half hours long. As they get older, naps gradually become shorter.
When children reach 7 to 12 years old, family and social activities begin to get in the way of sleep. The average length of sleep at this age is 9 hours, but really they should be getting 10 to 11 hours of sleep.
As children become teenagers, sleep is just as important to their health and growth as it was when they were younger, but social pressures and school activities such as sports and homework interfere with getting enough sleep. Children from ages 12 to 18 should be sleeping 8 to 9 hours.
Since it can be difficult for anyone to get the amount of sleep they need, sleep should be a priority to families. Figure out when everyone in your family needs to go to bed and wake up and be consistent with it. Staying on a regular sleep-wake routine will help your circadian rhythm, or body “clock” to stay on cycle. Children tend to do well with routines, so also have a bedtime routine and make sure you stick with it.
Also, make sure you are aware of any sleep problems your child may be facing, such as difficulty falling asleep, waking up at night, snoring, trouble breathing, or resisting going to bed. These problems can make children sleepy and cranky during the day, and it is not good for their health. Lack of sleep causes shorter attention spans, and babies who sleep less during the day may be more socially demanding and have a harder time entertaining themselves. Children do not just “grow out of” sleep problems. The problem needs to be fixed, so if you notice your child is having a problem you can talk to your doctor to figure out a solution.
Kristina Diaz, RRT is a Registered Respiratory Therapist and a health and wellness enthusiast and writer.