Sleep Deprivation (Children)

How much sleep does my child need?

It depends on her age and other personal characteristics. According to the Nemours Foundation, which specializes in children’s health issues, a 3-month old will sleep an average of 15 hours a day. This gradually decreases as a child grows older, eventually gives up daily naps and sleeps progressively fewer hours at night. Here are Here are the guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Infants 4 to 12 months — 12 to 16 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps)
  • Children 1 to 2 years — 11 to 14 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps)
  • Children 3 to 5 years — 10 to 13 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps)
  • Children 6 to 12 years — 9 to 12 hours of sleep every 24 hours
  • Children 6 to 12 years — 9 to 12 hours of sleep every 24 hours

How can I tell if my child is sleep deprived?

A cranky disposition, low frustration point, a tendency to throw tantrums, hyperactivity, or a lack of affect (the “little zombie” look) — these could all signal that your child isn’t getting enough sleep. With some kids, though, the behavioral signs are subtler. If your child seems even-tempered but has trouble waking every morning, sleeps in whenever she has the chance, or falls asleep in the afternoon, she probably needs more z’s. Some kids fall asleep every time they get in the car or whenever they sit down to watch TV. Others can’t even wait for an appropriate venue: In a survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, 15 percent of kids reported falling asleep at school.

My child seems to get enough sleep but has trouble getting up in the morning. Why?

If your 9-year-old sleeps 10 hours at night but still hates to rise and shine, maybe she needs closer to 11 hours. Or maybe she gets the right quantity, but the quality of her sleep isn’t up to par. One possible cause is sleep apnea, which affects about 2 percent of children. This is a serious sleep disorder that can cause your child’s upper airway passages to become blocked repeatedly during the night, making it difficult for her to breathe. You might hear snoring or brief periods of quiet interspersed with snoring. Each time the airway is blocked, she wakes enough to shift position, interrupting her sleep. If you think your child might suffer from sleep apnea, talk to her pediatrician.

How does sleep deprivation affect my child?

In addition to irritability, fatigue and an inability to enjoy things, your youngster’s academic performance may be affected. Some studies suggest that kids who get poor grades sleep less than those who get A’s and B’s. At the very least, your child’s teacher might label her as lazy or a slow learner if she’s half asleep during class. Recent research also suggests that chronic lack of sleep puts children at risk for depression, anxiety disorders, and even obesity.

How can I get my night owl to bed earlier?

If your child doesn’t already have a bedtime routine, establish one. Choose a time close to the hour that she goes to sleep now. Bedtime should be relaxed, a way for the body to slow down and prepare to sleep. A bath, a story, some quiet time with you — these will all become signals for her that the day has ended. Once you have the routine down, move it up a few minutes every evening until she’s going to bed at a reasonable hour and waking easily in the morning.

An adolescent is likely to give you more grief about bedtime. At this stage, a child’s life is more complex, with more demands on her time: homework, a social life, after-school activities, perhaps a part-time job. She also wants to exert her independence — and bedtime is one area where she can do that. What’s more, some sleep researchers believe that a teen’s sleep schedule shifts later naturally, so there may be a biological reason for staying up late. Unfortunately, teenagers still have to get up for school. While you can’t change her biological tendencies, you can help her get some sleep. If she’s not tired at night, insist that she still get ready for bed at a regular time. Suggest she read a book rather than chat online or watch TV. Wake her at the same time every morning — even on Saturdays and Sundays — so that she’s more likely to be sleepy at night.

Also, make sure your child avoids caffeine late in the day, since it can interfere with sleep.

If my child doesn’t get enough sleep during the week, can she catch up on the weekend?

Research shows that many adolescents are racking up a 2-hour deficit every weeknight. That means 10 extra hours of sleep are needed by each weekend, which leaves very little time for other activities. Even if your child can catch up by sleeping in, it’s not a good idea. If she sleeps late on Saturday and Sunday, she’s probably not going to be tired Sunday evening, so she’ll start the week off on the wrong foot.


Frances L. Ilg, M.D., Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D, Sidney M. Baker, M.D., Child Behavior: The classic child care manual from the Gesell Institute of Human Development.

Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers, and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night’s Sleep, Jodi A. Mindell, Ph.D., HarperCollins.

All About Sleep. Nemours Foundation.

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