Sleep Needs in Children and Adolescents

Research supports the need for children to get adequate sleep if they are to be
healthy. An insufficient quantity or quality of sleep causes negative effects on
your child’s physical and mental health, ability to learn and behavioral and
academic success. Numerous studies have shown the negative effects of sleep
restriction. and the positive effects of sleep extension have also been well

Toddlers need about 12-14 hours of sleep; preschoolers 11-13 hours; and school
aged  children 10-11 hours.

Sufficient sleep allows your child to think more clearly and complete more complex task easier than when they are drowsy or fatigued. When your child is sleepy he is more irritable and less prone to succeed in performance related activities at home and at school.

Adolescents as a group are at high risk for sleep deprivation and the serious
consequences of sleepiness. Some of the most troubling risks include the
decreased attention patterns that effect cognitive and school performance as
well as the potential risks from a delayed response while driving. Drowsiness
and fatigue are principal causes of traffic accidents each year and other
unintentional injuries. Young drivers are especially prone to fall-asleep

Adolescents require as much sleep as they did prior to adolescence.
In general adolescents require 8.5 to 9.25 hours each night. They
also prefer to go to bed later and wake up later than they did when they were
younger, Unfortunately, this conflicts with school schedules and places them at
a higher risk for difficulty falling asleep even when they try to arrange their
schedule to allow them to go to bed earlier. They also have to wake for school
when their body is telling them they need to sleep in longer. This phase delay
on top of other behavioral and schedule issues that cause them to stay up later
increases their sleep debt. Average sleep durations in early adolescence is 8
hours and later adolescence is 7 hours. Neither of these are adequate. Only
about 15% of adolescents report they sleep 8.5 hours or more each night. They
also have an extreme variability between weekday and weekend sleep schedules.
This further disrupts the quality and quantity of their sleep.

All children are different and sleep needs vary but most children do not get
adequate sleep. The best way to tell if your child is getting adequate sleep is
to look for signs of insufficient sleep. Is he difficult to wake in the morning?
Does he wake on his own? Does he sleep in on weekends and vacations? Is he extra
tired on Monday mornings? Does he show daytime sleepiness or become irritable
and short tempered when he is tired? Does he look rested? These are just some of
the clues to determine if your child is getting adequate sleep.

You should also look for healthy sleep practices. Regular bedtimes and bedtime
routines should be followed at all ages. Caffeine should be avoided and bedtime
electronics should be left out of the hours prior to going to bed. Try to fade
the intensity of light your child is exposed to and avoid vigorous exercise
during the 2-3 hours before bedtime. For the preschool and older child
it often helps to take a hot bath or wear extra clothes one hour before bed.
This warms up the body surface and helps them to relax. During the ensuing hour
before bed allow his surface temperature to drop by wearing light weight
pajamas. He should start to feel “cold” and want to get in bed between the
covers to warm up.  Once in bed he will begin to feel “warm and toasty”.
This encourages and prepares your child to fall asleep.

Your goal is a pattern of healthy sleep habits and a consistent sleep schedule that
is tailored to your child’s age and developmental level. Sleep environments must
be dark, cool, quiet and relaxed. For the younger child set a daily sleep
schedule and a consistent routine and follow through with it. For the older
child keep televisions and computers out of the bedroom and try to keep a
consistent schedule on weekends and weekdays.