How can I help my child sleep better?

Why is good sleep important?

A good night's sleep is important for everyone, young and old. In children, poor sleep causes mood changes, impulsivity and attention problems, and poor school performance. Sleep deprivation is also linked to obesity. Young people now get less sleep than they did 25-50 years ago, even though the human biological need for sleep hasn't changed in that period.

How much sleep does my child need?

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends the following:

  • Ages 4-12 months: 12-16 hours (including naps)
  • Ages 1-2 years: 11-14 hours (including naps)
  • Ages 3-5 years: 10-13 hours (including naps)
  • Ages 6-12 years: 9-12 hours
  • Ages 13-18 years: 8-10 hours

If my child is sleep-deprived, then why does she have a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep?

This is true of humans of all ages: even adults who are sleep deprived can have trouble falling asleep (or staying asleep). At certain times of day, it's harder to fall asleep than others. For example:

  • People of all ages find that it's very hard to fall asleep in the hour or two before one's usual bedtime.
  • Travelers who are "jet lagged" find that it's hard to stay up later, or go to bed earlier, while traveling.
  • Parents who work night shifts find that it's hard to fall asleep during the day, no matter how tired they are.
  • Teenagers, who are often sleep-deprived, tend to stay up late playing Nintendo and Facebooking. The next morning, it practically takes a tractor to drag them out of bed! However, despite getting poor sleep the previous night, teens have trouble falling asleep the next night and repeat the cycle.

What can I do to help my child sleep better?

Reducing screen time can make an enormous improvement. Children who watch TV or use the computer in the 90 minutes before bedtime take a lot longer to fall asleep (Pediatrics 2013;131(2):276-282). A TV in your child's bedroom usually causes more problems than anything, so we recommend getting rid of it.