Sleep, oh, beautiful sleep… the lengths I’ve gone to just to eek out an hour or two more! My first born isn’t a naturally good sleeper so I have to work at how many hours of sleep our family gets per night.
In this post, we’ll talk about:
why sleep is so important for kids
how many hours of sleep your child needs each night
how to end sleep resistance
and simple ways to maximize everyone’s sleep
Before we dive in, we’re going to share a chart of ideal sleep and wake times for kids. DON’T FRET IF YOUR CHILD DOESN'T FALL WITHIN THE “IDEAL”. Children are all biochemically unique and each child will have his/her own pattern. The point is to work towards the “ideal” without losing our minds
Why sleep is so important for kids
We all know that sleep is important, but you may not realize just how vital it is to your child’s health and development. When kids aren’t well-rested, this can show up as tantrums, whininess, aggressive behavior, or bullying. It also negatively affects their memory.
During sleep, the brain organizes and catalogues the information of the day as memories. In one study conducted by neuro-scientists, preschoolers played a memory game, then played again to test retention.
Those who napped before the second round retained all of the information, but the group that was kept awake without a nap didn’t perform as well. (Source).
Without adequate sleep, we feel less focused, less motivated and more scatter-brained (I know you know the feeling!)
Sleep supports the immune system
During times of stress or growth, we tend to sleep more. This is because the body uses this time to make repairs. Our bodies release cytokines that fight infections during sleep. If we’re not allowing time for these nightly repairs to take place, we’re more prone to falling ill. This study found that white blood cell counts dropped by 20% for sleep-deprived rats. That’s huge!
Rest promotes growth
A good portion of children’s lives are spent sleeping—about 40% to be exact. That’s good, too, because growth hormone is primarily secreted during sleep. (So, YES, children really do grow in their sleep!) It’s interesting to note that, in studies, kids grow more in the summer, when they don’t have to wake up early to catch a bus or go to school. (Source.)
If kids aren’t getting good shut-eye, their growth may be affected so it’s vital we teach our children how to sleep!
The two sleep cycles, REM and non-REM, both play a part in development. During the non-REM cycle, blood supply to the muscles is increased, energy stores are refilled, tissues grow, and systems repair. Their bodies then switch over to REM, or active sleep, where they dream.
Babies spend about 50% of their time in non-REM sleep since they’re growing so rapidly, but this stage declines as the child ages.
Best bedtime for children
The best bedtime for children will vary for each family, depending on schedules and when the child needs to (or typically) wakes up. The following sleep chart can help you determine what’s the best bedtime for your child by age.
How many hours of sleep do kids need?
This is the million dollar question, am I right?! No matter what various charts said by various experts, my son was always on the low side. (Sigh!) So, don’t get too caught up with comparing your child to others. However, it’s good to see guidelines so that you can shoot for ideals. Here are National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations for total hours of sleep by age. (You’ll notice a big variation in their ranges since children’s sleep needs can differ pretty substantially!)
Newborn to 2 months: 10.5–18 hours of sleep
3–12 months: 9.5–14 hours of sleep
1–3 years: 12–14 hours of sleep
3–5 years: 11–13 hours of sleep
5–12 years: 10–11 hours of sleep
13–18 years: 9 hours of sleep
Pretty amazing that even 18 year olds need 9 hours of sleep per night?! How many are truly getting the zzz’s they need in our fast-paced, 24-7 lifestyle?
How many hours of sleep do you need?
All this talk about bedtime might have you thinking, what about me?! How much sleep do adults—and more specifically, exhausted parents—need?
We all know sleep deprivation is not good. Have you ever seen those videos of sleep-deprived test subjects driving like they’re drunk when they’re actually just sleep-deprived? In fact, nearly 7,000 people die in the U.S. from falling asleep while driving, making it the second highest cause of fatal car accidents behind drunk driving.
What can I do if my child isn’t getting enough sleep?
Bedtime routines help your child get the shut-eye they need, but even the best efforts will be met with resistance sometimes. Common stalling techniques include:
If their needs are met and they’re just trying to delay sleep, then here are some solutions to try…
Get kids to stay in bed (for real)
Stuffed animals, blankets, and other security items can be helpful for little ones. This study showed that stuffed animals helped to reduce nighttime fears.
Background noise, like a humming fan, can help cover little noises that might wake them up.
Set a timer and give them a light back scratch, the soft touch can really set in the sleepy eyes
Use an “anti-monster spray” with calming essential oils. Bergamot, lavender, vetiver, and ylang ylang are a few kid-safe choices.
If they’ve already had their needs met, and they just can’t seem to stay in bed, return them to bed and assure them that everything is ok.
If your child is waking up with bad dreams, have them imagine their fear as something silly instead—like that monster has silly purple hair and stars as eyes.
Give them something to look forward to in the morning, like a yummy breakfast, special show or fun play-date.
Explain how they need their rest to grow strong, this works especially well with boys. Talk about how they literally grow bigger and stronger while sleeping and they don’t want to short-change their bodies.
Go through a list of their friends one-by-one and tell them how they are all sleeping, peer pressure works!
Some things not to do…
Reward your child for staying in bed. Giving stickers and other small prizes for doing something they are supposed to do for basic self-care can set up a bad precedent.
Don’t lock their door to keep them in. This can make them afraid and also poses a fire hazard.
Don’t use the bedroom for time-outs or punishment. Use the space to play with your child, read, and spend quality time together. This way they’ll associate that space with good memories, which makes for an easier time sleeping.
If all else fails, you can try a more non-conventional way to get your kids to sleep: Let them be involved with choosing how and when they go to bed. See how one mom successfully uses this strategy here.