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How Long Should Kids Really Sleep?

Juan Espinoza, M.D.

While the study has been around for the last few years, The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) findings on the rate of sleep for children is more relevant now than ever. Many school districts around the country have begun looking at the possibility of starting elementary through high-school classes later so kids can get better rest and a New York Times article highlighted the need to get rid of  “pulling an all-nighter” for college students because it is detrimental to their health.


Before we go on, let’s get one thing straight — sleep is a fundamental, physical requirement for our overall well-being. In order for us to function in our daily life, we need to allow our bodies to rest and rejuvenate. Did you read that? I said, “need,” not want or can or should, but “need.”


Lack of sleep does more to your body and mind than simply making it hard to get up in the morning. Fixing it also goes beyond grabbing an extra cup of coffee or can of energy drink to get you going. Consistently missing out on the required amount of sleep needed for your age and body has been shown to increase the risk of depression, obesity, and diabetes in the general public. Interestingly enough, too much sleep — chronic oversleeping — may also contribute to the same ailments.


Good sleeping habits can begin early and subsequently encouraged through a child’s growth. As they incorporate them into their lives, kids can learn to take them into adulthood, adjusting as their bodies need. With the guidelines provided by the AASM, pediatricians like myself now have something we can point to as a basis to help parents support their children to a good night’s rest.


The recommendations are found to promote a child’s optimal health if they are adhered to on a regular basis. These numbers are:

Infants 4 months to 12 months
12 to 16 hours of sleep per a 24-hour period (including naps)

Children 1 to 2 years of age
11 to 14 hours of sleep per 24-hour period (including naps)

Children 3 to 5 years of age
10 to 13 hours of sleep per 24-hour period (including naps)

Children 6 to 12 years of age
9 to 12 hours of sleep per 24-hour period

Children 13 to 18 years of age
8 to 10 hours of sleep per 24-hour period (including naps)


Per the AASM, sleeping the recommended hours regularly results in better health including improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, quality of life, mental and physical well-being, and even emotional regulation. When the same age groups listed above, however, get too little these kids are more likely to have attention, behavior, and learning problems, as well as putting teenagers at more risk of self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts.


It should be noted that infants younger than 4 months old weren’t included in the study. This is due to the fact that there are variations in duration and patterns of sleep for children that young and not enough evidence as to the health benefits or detriments of rest for that age group.


Disclaimer and what now?

The reason you see a range of sleep hours recommended is that not all human beings need the same amount of rest. Genetics, environment, etc., all come into play with this, but per the study regular sleep somewhere in the numbers given will benefit children. This means that finding the right number of hours that work best for your own little one may take some time, but keeping these basic ranges in mind will help you know what their bodies truly need and they will tell you, no matter their age. You’ll be able to see their behavior and general well-being as a result of too little, too much or just right rest they’ve gotten. Once you get a sense of that magic number, you can enforce it on a continuing basis.


All of the information I’m sharing is based not on what I think is a good idea or even what the AASM hypothesizes. These numbers came out of 10 months of intensive scientific research, discussion, and evidentiary review. These ranges have been endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Sleep Research Society and the American Association of Sleep Technologies, and in my own practice, I have seen how getting children on a regular schedule for rest has benefited them tremendously.


Please know that it’s never too late to get your child’s sleeping in gear and I don’t want anyone to read this and worry, “Oh, no, I haven’t done that for my child.” You can start now, for both of you. After all, adults also need to regulate their sleep patterns and become more consistent in order to alleviate much of the problems that arise from the too little/too much sleep cycle. We grownups tend to overlook sleep — put it aside as a necessary evil in the midst of our very busy lives and chaotic “gotta get it done now” world. Our children learn from watching us, remember, and if we can model better slumber behavior, all of us will gain the optimal health and well-being we deserve.

Night Sky Night Sky