Children have very different sleep needs from adults. Throughout childhood and adolescence, the need for sleep remains higher than for adults. Children spend more time in deep sleep and more time in REM sleep than adults. These two sleep stages are considered by scientists to play important roles in physical and neurological development.
The National Sleep Foundation provides guidelines for sleep for children at each phase of their development:
Newborns sleep on and off throughout the day and night, and need somewhere in the range of 14-17 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.
Through the remainder of their first year of life, infant children typically need 12-15 hours of sleep. This total sleep is typically spread out among nighttime rest and multiple daytime naps.
Children up to the age of 3 generally require between 11-14 hours of sleep. As with infants, this is usually a combination of overnight rest and daytime napping.
Young children ages 3-5 need 10-13 hours of nightly sleep. Naps become less frequent but can still be used to supplement nightly rest.
- 6-13 years.
School-age children generally need 9-11 hours of sleep each night.
- 14-17 years.
Adolescents need between 8-10 hours of sleep a night.
Sleep plays a critical part in fostering biological, intellectual, emotional, and social development throughout childhood and adolescence. Sleep problems in children can interfere with cognitive and intellectual development. Research indicates insufficient sleep can have a negative effect on language development in children, as well as memory and learning.
Poor sleep, including forms of sleep-disrupted breathing, is associated in children with lower cognitive and intellectual abilities and lower academic performance. Sleep-disordered breathing includes snoring, mouth breathing, sleep apnea, and any sign of impaired breath during sleep. As many as 25 percent of children in the United States may exhibit some form of sleep-disordered breathing by the age of 6.
Sleep also has a significant impact on children’s mental and physical health. Children who sleep poorly are at greater risk for behavioral problems and psychological distress in childhood and adolescence. Research indicates that young children with sleep problems are more likely to develop psychiatric problems. The same research also shows that children with psychiatric problems are more likely to have difficulty with sleep — an indication that the relationship between sleep and mental health operates in both directions in childhood.
From infancy onward, sleep quality can affect a child’s risk of developing obesity. According to research, lack of sufficient sleep in infancy and early childhood increases the risk of being overweight in older childhood. Children who get sufficient sleep are less likely to be obese, and consume fewer calories throughout the day. Sleep patterns during childhood and adolescence can affect weight and other aspects of physical health in adulthood, according to research. Helping children develop strong sleep habits is an important investment in their short- and long-term health.
Children are vulnerable to many of the same hazards to sleep as adults are, including environmental stimuli. Moderating temperature, managing noise, protecting darkness, and minimizing sources of stimulation in kids’ bedrooms can help children fall asleep more easily, and can improve the quality and duration of their nightly rest. Keeping electronic and digital devices out of children’s bedrooms is one way to protect the quality of their sleep environment.
Among adolescents, social media has become an increasing threat to sleep. Social media use in teenagers is linked to poor sleep, and to greater risk for anxiety and depression. Engaging in social media in the evenings before bed appears to be particularly disruptive to teens’ sleep, according to research.
Girl sleeping photo available from Shutterstock