How Much Sleep Do Kids Really Need?

Medically reviewed by
 Dr. Dagmara Dimitriou

Dr. Dagmara Dimitriou

Dr. Dagmara Dimitriou is a Professor of Sleep Education and Research at University College London and leads Sleep Education and Research Laboratory-SERL, which focuses on research examining sleep and mental…

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Sometimes it seems that kids have an endless supply of energy, especially to the tired parents trying to keep up with them. But the secret that kids won’t tell you…

Last Updated On December 9th, 2021
How Much Sleep Do Kids Really Need?

Sometimes it seems that kids have an endless supply of energy, especially to the tired parents trying to keep up with them. But the secret that kids won’t tell you is this: even the rowdiest child needs to rest sometimes.

Actually, kids need to rest a lot. Sleep is essential in restoring kids’ energy levels to the optimal levels to  support their growth, brain development, and performance in school. However, an estimated one-third of kids between the ages of 6 and 17 aren’t getting enough sleep.

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This lack of sleep isn’t just an inconvenience; it’s a global concern. Insufficient sleep has been called a public health epidemic Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source for its adverse effects on adults and children alike. So how much sleep do kids really need, and how can we help them get it? We explore these questions and more in this article.

How Many Kids Need More Sleep

In a study published early in 2022, Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source researchers found that 36.4% of American kids aged between 6 and 12 weren’t getting enough sleep. For teens between 13 and 17, it was 31.9%.

One older study determined a higher – and more alarming number for teens, with nearly 70% of U.S. high school students getting insufficient sleep. In that study, young women, black students, and high school juniors and seniors showed the highest rates of sleep deprivation.

The Importance of Good Sleep

Sleep is essential. In both children and adults, sleep helps us Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source to maintain good attention, learning, memory, emotional regulation, and immune health, among other things.

Kids who get enough sleep are more likely to show enthusiasm for learning, care about their success in school, and complete their homework and other tasks. As one study put it, good sleep helps kids flourish.

It doesn’t take much to affect the balance of good sleep, either. Just one extra hour of sleep Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source can have a huge impact on a child’s well-being, significantly impacting alertness and neurobehavioral functioning.

That link between sleep and behavior is important. Sleep deprivation in kids often shows up as irritability and mood swings, a reduction in cognitive functioning, difficulty concentrating, lowered school performance, and poor impulse control.

Lack of sleep can also have severe effects on a kid’s health. Obesity is a common problem in both kids and adults who don’t get enough good, quality sleep. When sleep deprived, our bodies do not adequately regulate the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which tell our bodies to start and stop eating, respectively.

Sleep researcher and professor Dagmara Dimitriou adds, “Some research has now shown that children who are chronically sleep deprived tend to snack often and spend a large proportion of time on social media. This is of concern as their learning, emotional and cognitive functioning will not be at optimal developmental levels.”

In teen athletes, a chronic lack of sleep is also connected with a higher level of injuries. Adolescents who sleep less than eight hours per night on average are 1.7 times more likely to be injured on the field.

Even more concerning, early sleep deprivation can cause problems later in life. Young kids with disordered breathing, which can impact the quality and quantity of sleep, are more likely to develop neurobehavioral issues later on. Sleep-disordered breathing conditions, such as sleep apnea, are further correlated with obesity, metabolic syndrome, psychiatric disease, Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source and future risk of heart disease Verified Source Oxford Academic Research journal published by Oxford University. View source hypertension, and cancer.

A lack of sleep is also associated with a higher risk of self-harm Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source and other unsafe behaviors for teens.

How Much Sleep Do Kids Really Need by Age

As kids grow rapidly through the stages of development, their sleep needs also change. Across the board, all kids require more sleep than adults. However, the exact amount is highest at birth and steadily reduces over the years until they reach adulthood.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source the following guidelines for kids’ sleep at every stage of their growth.

Newborns and Infants: 0-12 Months

Newborn babies require 14 to 17 hours of sleep in 24 hours, while infants need 12 to 15 hours. Premature babies, often called preemies, need even more. In their earliest days, they may spend as much as 90% Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source of their time asleep.

Newborn sleep comes in short bursts of just two to four hours at a time. Humans also aren't born Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source with a circadian rhythm already intact. It develops after birth, so newborn sleeping patterns do not follow daylight schedules or possibly any discernible pattern at all, a fact that new parents know all too well.

Luckily, the duration of your child’s sleep segments should expand as your child grows. When it comes to infant sleep patterns, babies typically start sleeping more at night around six months of age.

Toddlers: 1-2 Years Old

Toddlers should be clocking 11 to 14 hours of sleep every day. While toddlers should be getting most of their sleep at night, the total hours account for nighttime slumber and daytime naps.

Pre-School Kids: 3-5 Years

Young kids who aren’t yet in school typically need 10 to 13 hours of sleep each day. Again, that time may include nap time during the day. Parents may need to note cultural and individual variations when considering naps for their children.

Elementary School: 5-12 Years

By the time kids start school, they should be getting a total of 9 to 12 hours of sleep daily. New schedules make naps less common for kids of this age, though kids up to age ten Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source can benefit from the practice. Bedtime resistance Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source is one of the biggest barriers to getting enough sleep for kids in this age group.

Teens: 13-17 Years Old

A common misconception about teens and sleep is the idea that they don’t need as much sleep as adults. This is a myth; teens generally need more sleep than their adult counterparts.

Unfortunately, teen sleep often suffers from an issue of scheduling that goes against their natural tendencies. For many teens, their biological rhythms' favor Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source going to bed late and, consequently, sleeping late into the morning. For this reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that middle and high school classes do not start before 8:30 am, helping to ensure that teens have the opportunity to get enough sleep.

Are These Guidelines Still Accurate in the Modern Era?

A recent study has Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source cast a shadow of speculation on these guidelines, noting that kids are getting less sleep now than in past generations. However, other experts have pushed back on the notion that sleep recommendations aren’t helpful, citing the many studies that prove kids’ need for good sleep.

After all, just because modern kids are getting less sleep doesn’t necessarily mean they need less. At the end of the day (no pun intended), these guidelines are just a starting point for kids and their parents. Every kid is different, and some may need more sleep than the recommended amounts.

How to Tell If Your Kid is Getting Enough Sleep

One of the best ways to determine if your kid is getting enough quality sleep is by observing how they wake up. Are they alarm-dependent, hitting the snooze button two or three (or more) times before they finally crawl out of bed? Or do they wake and get up with little trouble, either at the alarm or before it?

If every morning is a struggle, your child may not be getting enough sleep.

Given the strong correlation between good sleep and good behavior, many behavioral symptoms Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source point to a lack of good quality sleep as well:

  • They complain of tiredness throughout the day.
  • Taking daytime naps well beyond the typical napping age.
  • Weekends are often used for “catching up” on sleep.
  • They “crash” long before bedtime.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, hyperactivity can also be a symptom of poor sleep in children. Kids who are not well-rested will sometimes seem to have an overabundance of energy, rather than the weariness we might expect.

The links between inadequate sleep and ADHD Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are not yet fully understood, but they are often present together in children. A 2019 review noted Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source that many children with poor sleep showed ADHD-like symptoms.

Problems that Kids May Face with Sleep

Unfortunately, spending the right amount of time in bed doesn’t always mean that kids get good sleep. Common sleep issues in children Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source include:

It’s also possible for children to have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, subsequently losing sleep at night because of it.

While we often think of stress as an adults-only issue, kids also experience sleep-affecting stress and worry Verified Source Wiley Multinational publishing company specializing in academic and instructional materials. View source in their everyday life. Kids might be anxious about homework or family dynamics or their relationships at school, among other things. Big life changes like moving to a new town or their parents’ divorce can also cause stress in kids that might affect their sleep.

Finally, kids may lose sleep over simply feeling uncomfortable in their space. Whether it’s a lumpy mattress or a too-warm room, a kids’ sleep environment is essential to getting a good night’s rest.

When to See a Doctor

While many sleep issues can be resolved at home with good sleep hygiene practices, there are some signs that a larger problem or sleep disorder might be at play. Consult a pediatrician if you notice any of the following:

  • Anxiety around bedtime and the idea of going to sleep
  • Loud snoring
  • Waking up frequently throughout the night without a reasonable explanation.
  • Wetting the bed, especially past age seven or in combination with other symptoms like pain in urination or swelling of the feet and ankles
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness, despite getting the right amount of sleep in hours.

Your doctor will likely ask you questions about your kid’s overall health and well-being, as well as their sleep patterns. It can be helpful to keep a sleep diary for several days. In this sleep diary, record:

  • The time your child goes to bed
  • When they wake up in the morning or throughout the night
  • How long it takes them to fall asleep
  • Anything else you notice that might be helpful to your doctor in determining the issues at play

How to Help Your Kid Get Enough Sleep

When it comes to sleep hygiene, the recommendations for kids are similar to those for adults. Below are some tips to help your child get enough sleep.

Set an Earlier Bedtime

If the amount of time spent in bed is the culprit for your kid’s lack of sleep, set – and stick to – an earlier bedtime to help them sleep longer. Work your way into the new schedule over a matter of days, adjusting the start time in small increments each night rather than one big chunk of time all at once.

Keep Sleep Schedules Consistent

One of the cardinal rules of getting great sleep is sticking to a regular schedule. This trains your body and mind to know when it’s time for bed and when to get up. Stick to the same hours every day, even on weekends. Trust us, Monday mornings won’t be nearly as tricky if Saturday and Sunday follow the same rhythm.

Start and End Each Day with Routines

Bookmarking each day with a set routine helps you and your kids fall asleep easier and make mornings run more smoothly. Make preparing for the morning part of your nighttime routine:

  • Pack lunches
  • Set out outfits and backpacks
  • Mentally prepare for the next day

Together, these routines can help to signal that it’s time for sleep, ease stress, and conserve precious time and energy in the early hours of the day.

Just a note that this mostly applies to younger school-age children. Teenagers are largely independent and can often take charge of their own routines.

Gently Ease into Schedule Changes

It’s completely normal to change up your kid’s sleep schedule for more extended periods like summer break. But when it’s time to go back to school, start planning for the change well in advance. Take a couple of weeks to ease into the new schedule so that you and your kids are ready to go on the first day of the new year.

Turn Off Electronics an Hour Before Bedtime

In a tech-driven world, it’s not easy to completely shut down, but electronics can be a considerable deterrent to good sleep. Shutt off devices an hour before bedtime to stop the blue light and stimulation they provide, helping the brain settle in for rest.

Avoid Caffeine and Sugary Drinks, Especially in the Afternoon

Kids may not be chugging a cup of coffee at 3:00 pm to get through a budget meeting like adults do, but they do often have access to caffeinated or sugary beverages like soda. Limiting those drinks in general is beneficial to your kids’ health, especially in the afternoon when their lingering effects could prevent good sleep.

Get Plenty of Physical Activity

Our bodies are made to move, and getting enough physical activity is crucial for kids and adults alike to get a good night’s rest. For kids, play is an essential part of their activity. Sports offer an excellent outlet for kids’ energy, but there are plenty of other age-appropriate activities for kids to get exercise in as well.

Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment

Ensure that your kid’s sleep environment is comfortable and enjoyable is a part of good sleep hygiene. Have them pick up their room to eliminate clutter. Set the temperature to comfortably cool, somewhere between the mid-60s and the low 70s, and keep the room dark, using a nightlight only if you need to.

Make sure that you have a mattress for kids, pillows, and bedding that are soft and comfortable too.

Set a Good Example for Sleep

Too often, adults wear a lack of sleep like a badge of honor, a testament to their dedication to work or family. However, many of the sleep deprivation symptoms we see in kids (moodiness, daytime fatigue, lack of performance in school or work) are just as prevalent in adults.

One of the best things you can do to help your kids get good sleep is to model good sleep behavior, following the tips above, for yourself and your children.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much sleep does a child really need?

Children’s sleep needs fluctuate as they grow older, with older children requiring less sleep than younger children. According to the CDC, Verified Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The United States’ health protection agency that defends against dangers to health and safety. View source here’s how much your child should sleep by age range:

  • A newborn to 3-month-old infant: 14 to 17 hours of sleep a day (naps included)
  • Infants 4 to 12 month old: 12 to 16 hours of sleep a day (naps included)
  • One to two-year-old children: 11 to 14 hours of sleep a day (naps included)
  • Children 3 to 5 years old: 10 to 13hours of sleep a day (naps included)
  • Children 6 to 12 years old: 9 to 12 hours of sleep a day
  • Teenagers 13 to 18 years old: 8 to 10 hours of sleep a day

Is it good for kids to sleep 12 hours?

It depends on the child’s age. Newborn infants need far more than 12 hours of sleep. From 4 months to 12 years old, 12 hours of sleep is within the expected range. However, if you have a teenager, 12 hours of sleep would likely be considered excessive.

At what age should a child fall asleep on their own?

Parents can begin implementing a bedtime routine for their children as early as four months. Infants often begin sleeping through the night once they’re around six months old, so parents who’ve kept their child’s crib in their bedroom may want to move it to a separate room at this point.

By the toddler years, parents should be putting their kid to sleep in their own bed in a separate room. If a toddler clambers out of bed and refuses to fall asleep alone, parents can compromise by sitting near the child’s bed until the toddler falls asleep.

Is a 2 hour nap too long for a child?

A two-hour long nap is about right for babies but it’s a bit lengthy for some toddlers. Toddlers often nap for about an hour, though some may nap closer to two hours.

If your toddler doesn’t stir around the 2-hour mark, we recommend waking them up so they don’t have trouble falling asleep at night. Napping too close to bedtime can disrupt their sleep schedule, so it’s best to confine lengthy naps to earlier in the day.

Is 5 hours of sleep enough for a kid?

No, five hours of sleep isn’t even enough for an adult, let alone a growing child who needs far more sleep. However, the occasional night of too little rest shouldn’t mean much worse than a day of irritable moods for your child.

Still, if your child is consistently sleeping too little, you may want to speak with their pedestrian about ways to improve their sleep hygiene or about possible sleep disorders.

Putting Kids and Sleep to Bed: Last Words

Sleep needs change as kids grow, but it is always an essential part of their day and routine. Good sleep helps stimulate curiosity and learning, regulates emotions, and generally helps kids to thrive. If your kid isn’t currently getting the sleep they need, earlier bedtimes and good sleep hygiene practices can help them improve their slumber for better nights and days.


About the author

Carolyn Rousch is a new contributor to the Early Bird blog. Based in Tucson, Arizona, she is a freelance lifestyle writer and hobby photographer with a master's degree from Texas A&M University, where she studied data analytics. Carolyn is more of an early bird than a night owl, and she is passionate about learning and writing on topics that help people to embrace their best lives. Understanding and getting good sleep is, of course, always a great start.

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