According to the National Sleep Foundation:
- Children ages 3 to 5 should get 11–13 hours of sleep per night.
- Children ages 5 to 10 require slightly less at 10–11 hours of sleep per night.
On top of the number of hours, each individual has his or her own sleep pattern, meaning some might be naturally early risers, while others will struggle to get to sleep before a certain hour.
Sleep is categorized into two different types, each fulfilling a different purpose.
- Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM): This is quiet sleep, which is when the blood supply to the muscles increases and tissue growth and repair happens.
- Rapid Eye Movement (REM): Also known as active sleep. In this state, our minds are active, but our bodies are still. This is when dreams occur and breathing and heart rate become irregular.
When children reach puberty and adolescence, their bodies’ sleep cycles actually shift in time. While they need 8.5–9.25 hours of sleep, teens typically can’t get to sleep until 11pm or later. This mixed with the setup of school days means less sleep than necessary across the board.
In any case, a lack of sleep is bad news. Some tips on encouraging a sleep-friendly environment are:
- Create a routine: Having a set bedtime routine signals to the brain that it’s time for sleep and allows for endorphins to be released.
- Unplug 2 hours before bedtime: Studies have shown that children who disconnect from technology before bed get an average of one hour of sleep more than their plugged-in counterparts.
- Have a snack: A light snack like yogurt or crackers can help keep bellies feeling full without overeating. Herbal teas like chamomile or lavender also promote a relaxed disposition.
- Encourage independence: Children have active imaginations and at ages where they are still deciphering real from pretend, they may develop fears. To remind them that we still need to sleep, try a “monster spray” for their use or set a stuffed animal to guard their door.
It’s important to know our children’s sleep patterns. If things seem a little off, don’t hesitate to keep a sleep journal indicating when they go to bed, when they fall asleep, and for how long they sleep. This could give insight or be helpful when consulting a doctor.
For a quick double check, the National Health Service has this great webpage with a chart of average hours of sleep required for optimal health at a range of ages.
Karina Ruiz has four years of experience working with children for non-profit after-school programming for K–12 and four years of nanny work. She is currently a volunteer intern and attends California State University, Monterey Bay.