Sleep Tips for Children
Preschoolers (ages 3-5 years) generally need between 10 -13 hours of sleep per night, and school-age children (ages 6-13 years) need between 9 -11 hours of sleep per night.
Problems in the sleep/wake cycle happen when the child is not able to fall asleep until very late, sleeps late or sleeps at odd times. Lack of sleep or problems sleeping through the night can contribute to behavior problems, attention issues and learning difficulties. A regular sleep schedule helps children to regulate their sleep.
- Stick to the same bedtime and wake time every day, even on weekends. Children sleep better when they have the same bedtime and wake time every day. Staying up late during the weekend and then trying to catch up on sleep, by sleeping in, can throw off a child’s sleep schedule for several days.
- Beds are for sleeping. Try to use your bed only for sleeping. Lying on a bed and doing other activities (e.g., watching TV, using a tablet or computer) makes it hard for your brain to associate your bed with sleep.
- A child’s bedroom environment should be cool, quiet, and comfortable.
- Plan for a bedtime routine. A predictable series of events should lead up to bedtime. This can include brushing teeth, putting on pajamas and reading a story from a book.
- Before bedtime is a great time to relax by listening to soft, calming music or reading a story. Avoid activities that are excessively stimulating right before bedtime.
- Limit physical activity for the hour before bedtime. Vigorous physical activity is good for kids, but if it is right before bedtime, it can make it hard to fall asleep. Encourage your child to do a quiet activity (reading books, coloring, listening to quiet music, playing with quiet toys, taking a bath) an hour before bedtime.
- Limit screen time. The recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (2016) is for no more than 1 hour per day of screen time (TV, video, smart phone, tablet computer, etc.) for young children 2-5 years. For children 6 and up, the recommendation is to place limits on media time. Children who spend more time with screens are less physically active, and can have more difficulty with regulating their sleep.
- Turn off all screens one full hour before bedtime. The blue light that comes from all types of screens affects the brain’s ability to calm down and fall asleep. If your child’s bedtime is 9 p.m., all screens should be off at 8 p.m.
- If a child needs help relaxing, they can use techniques such as taking deep and slow breaths or thinking of positive images like being on a beach.
- Start the day off right with exercise. Exercising earlier in the day can help children feel more energetic and awake during the day, have an easier time focusing, and even help with falling and staying asleep later on that evening.
- Avoid caffeine. Avoid eating or drinking anything with caffeine (soda, chocolate, tea, coffee) in the late afternoon and throughout the evening. It can cause nighttime awakenings and shallow sleep even if it does not prevent your child from falling asleep.
- If a child is tossing and turning in bed, have them get out of bed and do something that isn’t too stimulating, such as reading a boring book (e.g., textbook). They can return to bed once they are sleepy again. If they are still awake after 20-30 minutes, they can repeat the process and get out of bed for another 20 minutes before returning to bed. Doing this prevents the bed from being associated with sleeplessness.
- Put kids to sleep drowsy, but awake. The ideal time for a child to go to bed is when they are drowsy, but still awake. Allowing them to fall asleep in places other than their bed teaches them to associate sleep with other places than their bed.
- Cuddle up with a stuffed animal or soft blanket. Giving a child a security object can be a good transition to help them feel safe when a parent is not there. Try to incorporate a doll, toy, or a blanket to comfort them when it is time for bed.
- Bedtime checkups should be short and sweet. The purpose is to let them know you are there and that they are all right. The briefer and less stimulating, the better.
- Maintain a sleep diary in order to track naps, bedtimes, wake times, and behaviors to find patterns and work on particular problems when things are not going well.