Is Your Child Getting the Right Amount of Sleep?

Richard Rende, PhD  @richardrendephd
January 20, 2016
Portrait of mother embracing her daughter (13-15) outdoors --- Image by © Silke Woweries/Corbis

How can you know how much sleep your child needs? Sleep requirements change by age, and children can require different amounts of sleep.

New guidelines offered by the National Sleep Foundation, developed by a panel of experts, provide a very handy and authoritative description of sleep recommendations, as stratified by developmental stage.


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What is especially helpful is a designation of the range of “recommended hours” along with further ranges that “may be appropriate.” This offers wide brackets that nicely account for the notable individual differences in sleep requirements, and provide strong signaling when sleep levels are far outside that normative range. For example, for preschoolers (3 to 5 years old), the sweet zone of recommended daily sleep is 10 to 13 hours, and both 8 to 9 and 14 hours may be appropriate. Such a metric is easy to interpret and provides a parent with a very wide range to work with, rather than a singular number that reflects an average of the range.

Of course, parents should also be attuned to sleep quality in addition to where their child falls within this system. Some things to think about:

  • Does my child fall asleep easily?
  • Is my child’s sleep relatively undisturbed?
  • Does my child wake up easily at a regular time?
  • Is my child refreshed and ready to go after a night’s sleep?

These kinds of reflections can signal that your child is not getting optimal sleep, even if he or she is within the normative range. That range is there to help establish a zone to shoot for in terms of amount of sleep; the fine-tuning comes from your observations about quality.

We continue to see concerns expressed that many, if not most, youth don’t get sufficient sleep. There are many potential negative effects of sleep deprivation, including physical, cognitive, and emotional consequences. There are many steps to be taken if there are regular deviations from sleep norms, including understanding a child’s demands during the day and night (many children, even young children, are overscheduled and don’t have enough down time), re-examining a child’s pre-sleep behaviors and rituals (e.g., screen time right before sleep time is not recommended), and considering physical and emotional issues. But determining if your child is getting the right amount of sleep is the essential first step. 

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