Sleep for Children

The consequences of pervasive sleep deprivation and undiagnosed sleeping disorders are collectively one of America’s biggest problems. Over 70 million Americans have sleep problems. Sleep apnea, a type of sleep disorder, alone is now known to affect about 30 million Americans.

The consequences of sleep deprivation are serious. Falling asleep while driving is a leading cause of death and disability. Some of the other consequences include: tiredness, lack of focus, irritability, frustration, impulsive and emotional behavior, feelings of anxiety, negativity, depression, and a sense of feeling overwhelmed. Children experience these same consequences, though sometimes they manifest themselves in different ways. When adults are tired, they can either be grumpy or have low energy, but kids can become hyper, disagreeable, and have extremes in behavior.

Whether children are having trouble falling asleep, waking up early, or even having nightmares, many children often go through their days sleep deprived. Getting the right amount of sleep helps both children and adults feel more energized, more focused, better equipped to handle stressful situations, and more calm.

Joining me today to discuss how to make sure your child is getting the right amount of sleep is Tonya Fullwood of the National Center for Children and Families. We’ll discuss the issue of children and sleep and give tips on what adults and children can do to ensure a good night’s sleep.

Signs your child is or is not getting enough sleep

Not getting enough sleep robs our children of the opportunity to restore themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. Some warning signs that your child is not getting enough sleep includes:

  • Frequent awakenings during the night
  • Talking during sleep
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Waking up crying
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Nightmares or bedwetting
  • Teeth grinding or clenching
  • Early waking

Your child is getting the right amount of sleep if they:

  • Can fall asleep within 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Can wake up easily at the time they need to get up, and don’t need you to keep bugging them to get up.
  • Are awake and alert all day, and don’t need a nap during the day. Check with your child’s teacher and make sure your child is able to stay awake and alert during school.

Some Do’s and Don’ts about Children and Sleep

Don’t place your infant child on his or her stomach to sleep.
Babies should be put to sleep on their backs. Studies show that doing this can lower the risk of dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). It is recommended that you avoid placing your young children to sleep on a water bed, sofa, pillow, soft mattress or other soft surfaces.

Do make a simple, regular bedtime routine.
Your bedtime routine should not last too long and should take place primarily in the room where the child will sleep. It may include a few simple, quiet activities, such as a light snack, bath, cuddling, saying goodnight, and a story or lullaby. The kinds of activities in the routine will depend on the child’s age.

Don’t compromise with your child about bedtime.
Is your child complaining because his or her bedtime is earlier than friends’ bedtimes, and saying that everyone else gets to stay up later? Let them know that every child is different and that this is their bedtime. Tell your kid that you’re keeping their bedtime at the right time for them because its healthy and they’ll feel better during the day if they sleep well at night.

Do Let Your Child Nap
Napping will NOT cause your child to sleep less. For young children, nap and nighttime sleep are both necessary and independent of each other. Children who nap well are usually less cranky and sleep better at night. Although children differ, after six months of age, naps of 1/2 to two hours duration are expected and are generally discontinued between ages 2-5 years. Daytime sleepiness or the need for a nap after this age should be investigated further.

Don’t fill up your child’s bed with toys.
It’s most likely best to keep your child’s bed a place to sleep, instead of a place to play. Too many toys in the bed can be distracting. One or two transitional objects, such as a favorite doll, a security blanket, or a special book, are okay, and can help with separation issues. Babies under 4-6 months should have an empty crib to prevent suffocation.

Steps that you as a parent can take to ensure your child gets enough sleep

Most children’s sleep requirements fall within a predictable range of hours based on their age. Infants and toddlers age 0-3 need lots of sleep as well as naps. Preschoolers typically need up 12 hours a night, while a school aged child may need between 10 and 12. Generally a 12 year old needs 10 hours. However, each child is a unique individual with distinct sleep needs. To help ensure that your child gets the correct amount of sleep for his or her needs, some steps you can take include:

  • Stick to a bedtime, alerting your child both half an hour and 10 minutes beforehand.
  • Include a winding-down period in the routine.
  • Allow your child to choose which pajamas to wear, stuffed animal to take to bed, etc.
  • Consider playing soft, soothing music.
  • Don’t give your baby or toddler a bottle (of breast milk, formula, or any sugar-containing drink) to aid sleep. This can cause a serious dental problem called “baby bottle tooth decay” because the fluids tend to pool in the child’s mouth.
  • Tuck your child into bed snugly for a feeling of security.
  • Encourage your older kid or teen to set and maintain a bedtime that allows for the full hours of sleep needed at this age.


Sleep is vital for your child, essential for health and growth. Children who get enough sleep are more likely to function better, and are less prone to behavioral problems and moodiness. There is no one sure way to raise a child who is a good sleeper, but every parent should be encouraged to know that most children have the capacity to sleep well. As a parent, start early to help your child develop good sleep habits for life!