Need for Sleep in Children

Understanding the Need for Sleep in Children

5 August 2022
Posted by: Chelsea

Need for Sleep in Children: Almost all parents understand in principle that kids need sleep. However, understanding the need for sleep in children and how much they require, is important.

Understanding the need for sleep in children

All children need what might be termed a “healthy amount” of sleep. Need for sleep in children is the quantity that constitutes may vary slightly depending upon the child and certainly, it will change in both its duration and distribution as they age.

Children need sleep for three reasons:

  • to support their cognitive development. A number of processes in the brain are conducted when our bodies sleep, including things such as our memory’s organisation and retention capabilities;
  • for the healthy development and growth of their body. Our immune systems develop while we’re asleep and growth hormone is produced in children – things that are essential for their physical health and development;
  • to simply rest and recharge their batteries! They will expend a lot of energy during the day and need some downtime to recover to get ready for the next day’s exploits.

If children do not get sufficient sleep, all these areas may suffer.

How much sleep is enough?

There is no firm answer to this because every child is slightly different. Some, even from the earliest ages, may need more or less than others of the same age.

As a rough guide to help you understand need for sleep in children, by age group:

  • newly born babies – roughly 15 hours in every 24;
  • at 3-6 months, roughly 12-14 hours in every 24. The distribution of that 14 hours may vary considerably in perhaps blocks of 2 to 4-hour slots. At around 6 months, you might expect or at least hope 6 hours of that will be overnight;
  • toddlers require about 12-14 hours in every 24 hours too. In theory, about 10-11 of that should be overnight and that will be supplemented by an hour or so as a nap during the day;
  • at 3-5 years, kids typically need 10-12 hours of sleep per day with most of that overnight and many might still need a nap during the day;
  • from the early school years into their teens, children still need ideally 8-10 hours of sleep per night.

Non-conforming sleep patterns

At one time, children not sleeping through in line with ‘standards’ was seen as a problem demanding a trip to the doctor.

Views have changed though and there is now more recognition of the huge variations that exist between individual children.

If your child is seemingly happy, healthy, alert and showing no ill effects, then sleeping a little less or more than these guidelines is unlikely to be cause for concern.

Contact your doctor if your child:

  • seems to be regularly having difficulty waking up after a lengthy night’s sleep and appears tired and listless during the day:
  • is constantly falling asleep during the day (excluding babies and very young toddlers where dozing may be normal):
  • suddenly changes sleep patterns (sleeping for much longer or much shorter) than usual;
  • has their night’s sleep constantly disturbed by nightmares, wheezing, coughing, stomach pains, snoring or any other factor.

Children refusing to sleep

It is very common for parents and caregivers to find that children around 3 suddenly start constantly getting up after they have been put into bed and settled at night. If it becomes the norm, it can be exhausting for parents and may have loss-of-sleep implications for the child too.

There are many possible reasons why this is happening and it’s often a case of children trying to exercise more control over what’s happening to them and when. It is rarely cause for concern and often passes, particularly if helpful corrective steps are taken.

There is plenty of good advice available on this subject and your doctor or a child development specialist might also be able to help.

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