Good Sleep Habits for Kids

Children need a lot of sleep. A study by the National Sleep Foundation found that most American kids aren’t getting enough sleep, even though most parents think they are. Lack of sleep in younger kids can lead to obesity, behavioral problems, and even long-term health issues, according to a Harvard study.

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How much sleep do kids need?

  • Newborns need 14-17 hours of sleep. Unfortunately for parents, new babies don’t sleep on a convenient schedule. Even if they sleep enough, they may wake parents up so frequently that parents feel sleep-deprived.
  • Babies up to one year need 12-15 hours. They will usually settle into the family sleep schedule during this time, but they still need naps and may still wake up before their parents want to get up.
  • Toddlers need 11-14 hours of sleep. They may give up their second nap of the day.
  • Preschool children need 10-13 hours. They often still need a nap to get enough sleep during the day.
  • Schoolchildren need 9-11 hours of sleep. Busy family schedules may interfere with kids’ sleep needs.
  • Teens need 8-10 hours of sleep. Teens may choose a different sleep schedule from the rest of the family.

Parents’ frustration about kids’ sleep tends to center around the disconnect between a child’s sleep schedule and the parents’ preferred sleep schedule. That 4:00 a.m. feeding can lead to fatigue. But sometimes kids have trouble getting as much sleep as they need.

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Poor sleep can be caused by sleep apnea. This is usually thought of as a condition affecting adults, but children can suffer from it, too. Check with your pediatrician, especially if your child snores.

But, just as for adults, kids’ sleep habits are often the problem.

Develop good sleep habits

Everyone sleeps better when there’s a regular bedtime and wake up time. Since schoolkids need 9-10 hours of sleep and often need to rise at 7:00 or earlier, bedtime for schoolkids should be no later than 9:00.

So many families have lots of evening activities now that it can be hard to establish a firm bedtime. If your child shows signs of too little sleep, make bedtime a priority.

Try to get kids out of the habit of sleeping in and staying up late on weekends. This interferes with setting a sleep routine.

A bedtime routine can help, too. Send kids to bed half an hour before bedtime to read, or read stories aloud. Have a routine of showering, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, and brushing hair. Different families have different routines. Anything you do regularly right before bed can help your child’s brain recognize that it’s time to sleep.

Make sure your child’s bedroom is quiet, dark, and not too warm. Remove electronic devices, including cell phones, from the room before bedtime.

Healthy habits

General healthy habits can improve sleep quality, too. Regular exercise and limited screen time help kids sleep well. Making the right food and drink choices keep your kids’ body from having to concentrate on digestion or on processing stimulants at bedtime.

  • Help your child avoid caffeine in sodas, especially after lunchtime.
  • Serve dinner early enough that a heavy meal won’t interfere with sleep. Three hours before bedtime is just right.
  • Avoid sugar and protein in snacks after dinner. Fruit and vegetables make great TV or game time snacks. 

It can be hard to focus on good sleep habits. Often your family isn’t together at home until close to that healthy bedtime. Then you want to spend time together, and often that means nachos or ice cream in front of the TV… and heading for bed late, without time for a good bedtime routine.

Try making small changes first. As the whole family feels more rested and energetic, it’ll be easier to prioritize sleep.