How Proper Sleep Impacts Your Child’s Health and Wellbeing

As parents and adults, most of us know that our bodies need at least 8 hours of sleep each night (though we may frequently “get by” on 6 hours of shuteye or less). When it comes to our children, however, many parents simply don’t know — and frequently underestimate — their child’s sleep requirements. Exactly how much sleep does a child need, and what are the ramifications if he or she doesn’t get it?

Guidelines recently released by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (and endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics), indicate the following recommended sleep amounts for pediatric populations:

* Infants: 4 to 12 months: 12 to 16 hours (including naps)

* Toddlers: 1 to 2 years: 11 to 14 hours (including naps)

* Preschoolers: 3 to 5 years: 10 to 13 hours (including naps)

* Gradeschoolers: 6 to 12 years: 9 to 12 hours

* Teenagers: 13 to 18 years: 8 to 10 hours

As parents, we can help our children get the recommended amount of rest by establishing and enforcing a strict bedtime routine. This routine could begin with a bath or shower, followed by reading or another low-key, non-electronic activity, and then bedtime.

For younger children, we recommend a 7 to 7:30 p.m. bedtime. Around third grade, bedtime should move to around 7:40 to 8 p.m., and then 8:30 to 9 p.m. in middle school. When your child is in high school, bedtime should be no later than 10 p.m. (which, admittedly, may be hard to enforce). Remember that these are only rough guidelines, and your child’s sleep routine may need adjustments depending on their wake-up time and individual needs.

The benefits of good sleep habits are legion. A recent Kaiser Permanente study featured in Pediatrics indicates that, when it comes to early adolescents, longer sleep duration is associated with lower metabolic risk scores, lower systolic blood pressure, lower cholesterol and lower fat mass. Increased sleep is also associated with greater cognitive functioning and, according to a separate American Academy of Pediatrics study, can even speed a young athlete’s recovery from a concussion.

But what if your children don’t get the proper amount of sleep?

There are various potential health consequences of concern. The most significant health effect can be obesity, according to a 2018 study by Lee Stoner, Ph.D. Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the most at-risk groups when it comes to sleep deprivation is teenagers. A recent JAMA Pediatrics study indicates that teens who get fewer hours of sleep are more at risk for suicidal behavior, drunken driving, unsafe sexual activity, drug abuse and other risk-taking behaviors.

The takeaway from all of this research is that we as parents need to help our children develop good sleeping habits because their sleep routine plays such an integral role in their overall health, happiness and academic success.