Sleep: How Much Do Kids Need?

One spring, a new dog came to live in my home—a welcome addition to my family. That autumn, I noticed change in his “bedtime routine.” He was putting himself to bed earlier than he had in the spring and summer seasons. Some nights, I’d watch perplexed as he padded off around 6PM and settled himself on the bed he uses at night. Any amount of coaxing to hang out in the living room was met with a stare that implied “Really, you’ve got to be kidding!” and a “Harrumph!” He was done for the day and within an hour, there were some serious Zzzzzzzz’s coming from that part of the house! Wasn’t there enough fun and entertainment with his human companions in the evening? Was he bored or even sad? When spring came, the trend reversed as he gradually stayed up later and had fun with the family. What to make of these seasonal changes? I think he was paying attention to his body clock and just doing what it told him to do: go about his daily business of being a dog during the day and go to bed when it’s dark. Oh, to have that life!

The quantity and the quality of our children’s sleep are becoming an increasingly recognized component of essential growth, development, and overall life functioning. Over the years, I have seen many children, adolescents (especially), and their parents experience the negative effects of poor sleep—irritability, poor concentration, daytime sleepiness, problems falling asleep, impulsive behavior, or behavior often thought as “misbehavior.” When we brainstorm for solutions and try a couple new strategies, family members are often happier, more productive, and pleasant.

How much sleep should kids get every night? The National Sleep Foundation lists sleep recommendations and tips for children ages birth–12 years. For example, children ages 3–5 years generally need 11–13 hours, while those 5-12 years old need 10-11 hours. If you have an 8PM bedtime for your 9 year old, you can expect he’ll sleep until 6 or 7AM. You may be surprised to learn that adolescents need between 8.5 and 9.25 hours per night! This is the age group I am usually the most concerned about, because their biological rhythms are naturally changing to stay up and sleep in later, homework loads can be intense, and after school activities often go late into the evening. Most high school start times are too early for this changing body clock and the pressures to accomplish a lot in a little amount of time often lead to tremendous stress.

Curious about the sleep your child is obtaining? How about your own patterns? The best place to start is to keep track for a week or so and you’ll get a great idea of what is happening. Here’s an example of a simple chart:

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Bedtime routine started
In bed
Wake time

Jot down notes on quality of sleep, any nighttime waking that felt disruptive, and anything you think may have contributed positively or negative to that night’s sleep.

In the next post, I’ll review strategies for promoting a good night’s sleep. In the meantime, consider what your body is telling you about your need for sleep. I know I’ll be paying attention this week!

*Information contained on this website is not intended as, and is not, a substitute for professional advice. All decisions about clinical care should be made in consultation with a child’s treating physician and/or mental health professional.