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Promoting Good Sleep for Your Child

In children, it is not always easy to address sleep problems, and sleep disorders often go undiagnosed. How can you know when sleep is a problem for your child? This sheet explains general guidelines for how much sleep children need. It also describes signs of a problem with sleep and tips for improving it.

Man reading book to child at bedtime.

How Much Sleep Does Your Child Need?

The chart below gives you a sense of how much sleep children need at different ages. But not all children have the same sleep needs. Some children need more sleep than average, some need less. The best way to know whether your child is getting enough sleep is to watch him or her during the day for signs of poor sleep.

Age

 

Average hours of sleep

(including naps)

0 to 2 months        

3 to 12 months         

1 to 2 years                

3 to 4 years                

5 to 8 years              

9 to 11 years            

12 to 16 years

16 or more hours

13.5 to 15 hours

13 to 14 hours

11 to 12 hours

10 to 11 hours

9.5 to 10 hours

8.5 to 9.5 hours

Signs of Poor Sleep

Signs of poor sleep can be confused with many other problems. If you’re concerned, be sure to talk with your child’s doctor. Common signs and symptoms of poor sleep in children include:

  • Hyperactivity

  • Irritability

  • Poor concentration or problems with memory

  • Learning problems

  • Difficulty waking up in the morning

  • Daytime sleepiness or falling asleep in school (more common in older children)

  • Sleeping longer on weekends than during the week

  • More injuries and accidents

Helping Your Child Get Better Sleep

Here are a few things you can do to help your child get good sleep:

  • Keep a sleep diary. Note how much sleep your child is getting, when he or she gets sleepy at night, and whether signs of sleep problems appear during the daytime.

  • Set a regular bedtime and stick to it. Watch for signs of sleepiness and get your child to bed before he or she is very sleepy. An overtired child may get a “second wind.” This makes it harder to get them into bed.

  • Encourage relaxing bedtime activities, such as reading or bathing.

  • Make bedtime a special time with your child. Keep the routine the same each night.

  • Avoid big meals close to bedtime. Avoid giving your child foods or drinks containing caffeine. If your child eats things like chocolate, avoid it within 6 hours of bedtime.

  • Keep the bedroom dark, quiet, and not too hot or too cold. Soothing music may help your child sleep.

  • Avoid emotional conversations close to bedtime.

  • Encourage plenty of exercise during the day. But avoid exercise within 2 hours of bedtime.

  • Cut down on activities if a busy schedule is affecting your child’s sleep.

  • Keep televisions, computers, and other electronic devices out of your child’s bedroom.

  • Take steps to help your child lose weight, if needed. Talk to your child’s doctor about this. Extra weight can increase the risk of sleep disorders, which can keep your child from getting good sleep.

Signs of Sleep Disorders

Have you taken steps to improve your child’s sleep but your child is still not sleeping well? Have you observed any of the following signs? If so, contact your child’s doctor. You may be referred to a sleep specialist for a sleep evaluation.

  • Chronic tiredness

  • Snoring

  • Hyperactivity

  • Periodic pauses in breathing while asleep

  • Waking in the night and having trouble getting back to sleep

  • Falling asleep suddenly during the day

  • Rhythmically kicking or moving the body during sleep

  • Ongoing problems sleeping well at night

  • Excessive sleepwalking

 

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