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Sleep Patterns in Children

Why is sleep important?

Sleep is very important, especially for children. Children who get enough sleep are less likely to have behavior problems and moodiness. They often develop better memory, concentration, and longer attention spans. With plenty of sleep, they may also recover from illness faster.

How much sleep does my child need?

How much sleep your child needs is based on age.

  • Toddlers: Toddlers and preschoolers sleep an average of 12 hours a day and take one nap. Naps may stop by the end of the third year. Sleep problems are common, especially when going to bed and falling asleep. They may have nightmares and night terrors. Bedtime rituals, such as a bath and story and favorite stuffed animal or blanket are helpful to ease insecurity and relax a young child.
  • School-aged children: School-aged children require less sleep as they get older. Their need decreases to 10 hours a day. The child's age, activity level, and health strongly influences the amount of sleep needed. Bedtime rituals and later bedtimes can help reduce any resistance to bedtime. Common fears at night are darkness, strange noises, intruders, or imagined ideas. They may have nightmares and night terrors.
  • Teenagers: Most teens and preteens need about 9 hours of sleep at night to be alert during the day. Teenagers get sleepy later than preteens and often have trouble falling asleep. They often complain of being tired after school, and like to sleep-in on the weekends. Puberty brings changes to their sleep-wake cycle. Many teens feel like staying up late and waking up late and then trying to catch up with sleep on the weekends. If they do this, they will be constantly sleep deprived. Lack of sleep can cause moodiness as well as problems with attention and memory. It also puts them at risk for falling asleep while driving.

How can I help my child develop good sleeping habits?

Some children may seem anything but sleepy at bedtime. However, their "bouncing around the room" behavior may actually be caused by lack of sleep. To help your child sleep:

  • Give your kids 30 minute warning before bedtime so they can wind down and finish activities they are doing.
  • Start a bedtime ritual. For example, a bath followed by reading a book together. This will help your child's body and mind get ready for sleep each night. Try not to make the rituals too long and complicated.
  • Make sure to start the bedtime routine early enough so that you can tuck in your child and talk to him or her. Children often like to have this "private" time to talk to their parents and you need to plan for this time so it does not take time away from sleep time.
  • If your child has trouble getting to sleep, try playing calming music in their room or letting them read in bed or listen to recorded books.
  • Try to keep a standard time for bed. If your child goes to bed really late on weekends and sleeps late in the morning, it will be hard for him or her to switch back to going to bed early on weekdays for school.

Remember that every child is different and some need more sleep than others. If your child seems tired during the day, moody, or "hyper," he or she may not be getting enough sleep.

Developed by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2006-04-19
Last reviewed: 2005-11-01
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.
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