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The secret to knowing how much sleep kids need

By: Dr. Stacy Meyer

“Mommy I’m tired” is a phrase rarely heard in my household but not for the reason you may be thinking.  It’s not because I am a guru of sleep and my children are never overly tired, it’s because children rarely display or report their true level of fatigue in such a clear cut manner.  As an adult, we generally know when we are tired and will notice signs such as difficulty awakening, falling asleep during the day, requiring that extra cup of coffee, etc.

In children, it may not be that simple.  Did you know that in addition to the above signs in children, they may display hyperactivity, poor behavior such as defiance and anger, and difficulty concentrating?  Sometimes these latter signs are the only signs for children.  At my house, we know BusyBee is tired when he gets “crazy” and clumsy with his play ultimately leading to injury if not stopped.  With Sprout, sleep deprivation is shown in anger and increased emotional outbursts. Since school has started this year, we have been noticing more of these signs as the week progresses. We have also noticed that on the weekends, Sprout will sleep in past his typical weekday wake up time.  This “sleeping in” on weekends is a sure sign that he is not getting enough sleep during the week.

So how much sleep does your child need? Well just like with adults, this varies from child to child.  Sprout is what I would call a “long sleeper” (he gets that from his mother) vs. BusyBee who functions normally on much less sleep than his brother at that age.  Here are some basic sleep guidelines for children based on age but remember this varies and you should look for your own kid’s signs to tweak your schedule!

6-12 months  14 hours/day

1-3 years      11-12 hours/day

4-5 years      11-12 hours/day

School age     10-11 hours/day

Teens           8-10 hours/day

*for younger children these sleep times are often divided into overnight and naps

For children who are long sleepers, this means really making sleep a priority during the school week.  This can be difficult especially in the teen years with busy schedules but the increased benefits of improved school performance (studies have shown that increasing sleep by as little as an hour may improve neurobehavioral test scores!) and decreased mood outbursts (something I am pretty sure parents of all teens could use) will be well worth it in the end!

So how can you help your children get more sleep?  For starters make a schedule and stick to it!  This means a regular sleep routine, a regular bedtime and a regular awakening time. If you know that your schedule needs adjusting by all the signs above, start to move back your sleep time by 15-30 minutes/day for a smoother transition.  You can also ensure more restful sleep and improved time to fall asleep by limiting stimulation such as screen time, bright lights and exercise an hour before bedtime.

If you feel that your child is getting more than typical hours of sleep and continues to show signs of fatigue, if may be time to speak to your pediatrician. Increased sleep needs can be the first signs of some illnesses or hormonal deficiencies.  You should also speak with your doctor if your child shows increased sleep needs and snores at night as this may be a sign of sleep apnea.  For more information on other possible sleep disturbances see my blog on “Nightmares, Night Terrors and Sleepwalking.”

Sadeh A, Gruber R, and Raviv A. Sleep, Neurobehavioral Functioning and Behavior Problems in School-age Children.  Child development. April 2002 Vol 73 p 405-417.

 

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