How Much Sleep Do Your Kids Need? (New Research!)


Are Your Kids Getting The Sleep They Need?

Sleep hygiene, which includes practices like providing a cool and quiet sleeping environment or reading before bed time to help kids unwind, is increasingly popular among parents looking to ensure their children get a good night’s rest.

But are these practices all they’re cracked up to be?

University of British Columbia sleep expert and nursing professor Wendy Hall recently led a review of the latest studies to find out.

“Good sleep hygiene gives children the best chances of getting adequate, healthy sleep every day. And healthy sleep is critical in promoting children’s growth and development,” said Hall.


“Research tells us that kids who don’t get enough sleep on a consistent basis are more likely to have problems at school and develop more slowly than their peers who are getting enough sleep.”



 New Sleep Guidelines for Children

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends the following amounts of sleep, based on age group:

Infants need 12-16 hours of sleep.
  • 4 to 12 months — 12 to 16 hours
  • 1 to 2 years — 11 to 14 hours
  • 3 to 5 years — 10 to 13 hours
  • 6 to 12 years — 9 to 12 hours
  • 13 to 18 years — 8 to 10 hours

The UBC review aimed at systematically analyzing the evidence for sleep hygiene across different countries and cultures, and honed in on 44 studies from 16 countries.

The focus was on four age groups in particular: infants and toddlers (four months to two years), preschoolers (three to five years), school-age children (six to 12 years) and adolescents (13 to 18 years).

These studies involved close to 300,000 kids in North America, Europe and Asia.


Sleep guidelines for children – credit: University of British Columbia


“We found good-to-strong endorsement of certain sleep hygiene practices for younger kids and school-age kids: regular bedtimes, reading before bed, having a quiet bedroom, and self-soothing — where you give them opportunities to go to sleep and go back to sleep on their own, if they wake up in the middle of the night,” said Hall.


Older Kids


Teens should sleep 8-10 hours nightly, and limit bedtime technology.


Even for older kids, keeping a regular bedtime was important. The review found papers that showed that adolescents whose parents set strict guidelines about their sleep slept better than kids whose parents didn’t set any guidelines.

Hall and co-author Elizabeth Nethery, a nursing PhD student at UBC, also found extensive evidence for limiting technology use just before bedtime, or during the night when kids are supposed to be sleeping.


Limit technology at night.


Studies in Japan, New Zealand and the United States showed that the more exposure kids had to electronic media around bedtime, the less sleep they had.

“One big problem with school-age children is it can take them a long time to get to sleep, so avoiding activities like playing video games or watching exciting movies before bedtime was important,” said Hall.


Kids’ Sleep Routines

Many of the studies also highlighted the importance of routines in general.

A study in New Zealand showed family dinner time was critical to helping adolescents sleep.

Having a family dinner has a positive influence on sleep.

Information provided by Chinese studies and one Korean study linked school-age children’s and adolescents’ short sleep duration to long commute times between home and school and large amounts of evening homework.

With more children coping with longer commutes and growing amounts of school work, Hall says this is an important area for future study in North America.


Total Daily Caffeine Intake


Surprisingly, there wasn’t a lot of evidence linking caffeine use before bedtime to poor sleep; it appeared to be the total intake during the day that matters.

Kids get most of their caffeine from sodas, but it’s also found in coffee, tea, chocolate, coffee ice cream or frozen yogurt, as well as pain relievers and other over-the-counter medicines. Even iced tea can contain as much sugar and caffeine as soda.


Kids get most of their caffeine from sodas.


Here’s how some sources of caffeine compare:

Item Size Amount of Caffeine
Jolt soft drink 12 oz. 71.2 mg
Mountain Dew 12 oz. 55 mg
Coca-Cola 12 oz. 34 mg
Diet Coke 12 oz. 45 mg
Pepsi 12 oz. 38 mg
brewed coffee (drip method) 5 oz. 115 mg*
iced tea 12 oz. 70 mg*
dark chocolate 1 oz. 20 mg*
milk chocolate 1 oz. 6 mg*
cocoa beverage 5 oz. 4 mg*
chocolate milk beverage 8 oz. 5 mg*
cold relief medicine 1 tablet 30 mg*
*average amount of caffeine

Sources: U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Soft Drink Association


While Hall said more studies are needed to examine the effect of certain sleep hygiene factors on sleep quality, she would still strongly recommend that parents set bedtimes, even for older kids, and things like sitting down for a family dinner, establishing certain rituals like reading before bed, and limiting screen time as much as possible.

“Sleep education can form part of school programming,” added Hall. “There was a project in a Montreal school where everyone was involved in designing and implementing a sleep intervention — the principal, teachers, parents, kids, and even the Parent Advisory Council. The intervention was effective, because everyone was on board and involved from the outset.”


Bedtime Routines

Whether you have an infant, toddler, kindergartner, or preteen, a good bedtime routine can be the difference between good sleep habits and a lot of sleepless nights.

There are dozens of parenting sleep books about kids and sleep problems, from Dr. Ferber’s “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems” book to Elizabeth Pantley’s “No-Cry Sleep Solution“.

And while any of the books can help you get your baby sleeping better, even though they all use different methods, it’s important to notice that most of these parenting experts stress the key of a good bedtime routine for a good night’s sleep.

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics, in their “Guide to Your Child’s Sleep” book states:


“It’s almost impossible to overstress the importance of a calm, orderly bedtime routine.”



Make it a Habit

A bedtime routine includes all of the things that you do with your baby or older child just before and up to the time that you put him to bed, such as taking a bath, the last diaper change, putting on pajamas, saying prayers, and reading a bedtime story, etc.

The goal of a good bedtime routine is for your child to fall asleep on his own, without being rocked, watching TV, or with you lying down next to him. This way, if he does wake up later, he should be able to comfort himself and fall back asleep without needing any extra help.

On the other hand, if he associates falling asleep with being rocked, for example, if he does later wake up in the middle of the night, he likely won’t be able to go back to sleep unless you rock him back to sleep.


Do’s and Don’t For Kids’ Bedtime



There’s no absolute right way to set up a bedtime routine. Some kids like to hear a bedtime story, others may want to talk about their day, and some may just want to say their prayers and go to sleep.

As long as your child falls asleep easily and sleeps all night, then your bedtime routine is likely working well.


Bedtime Tips to Follow


Start early.


It’s much easier to begin a good bedtime routine when your baby is young than to try and change poor sleep routines when you have a toddler or preschooler who still isn’t sleeping well.


Make your bedtime routine age-appropriate.

Your child’s bedtime routine will change over time.

For example, while it is expected for a newborn or younger infant to fall asleep nursing or drinking a bottle of formula, you can try and start putting your baby down while he is drowsy but still awake once he is four or five months old.


Keep your bedtime routine fairly short.

A good bedtime routine will probably last about 15 to 20 minutes, or a little longer if you include a bath.


Use a security object as a part of your bedtime routine.

A security object, like a stuffed animal or blanket, can be an important part of a good bedtime routine, especially for toddlers and preschoolers.

These types of items usually aren’t safe in the crib for younger infants, though.


Be consistent in your bedtime routine.

Your bedtime routine may change over time, as your child gets older, but it should be fairly consistent from day to day, starting at the same time and going in the same order.

For example, a toddler’s bedtime routine might start at 8 p.m. and include a bath, putting on pajamas, reading a few bedtime stories, getting in bed and a final goodnight.


Offer some choices in your bedtime routine.

Your child can’t choose when to go to bed, but you can let him have some power in his bedtime routine by letting him have a choice over which pajamas to wear and which books to read, etc.


A little crying can be okay.

Some kids, no matter what you do, will cry for a few minutes as they settle down for sleep or when they wake up in the middle of the night.

Some kids will cry for a few minutes a little as they settle. 

This can be okay if they quickly settle down and you are comfortable letting them cry for a few minutes.

But keep in mind that even the Ferber Method doesn’t advocate simply letting kids cry all night.


Use a night light.

Hatch Baby Rest Night Light

Few kids like to sleep in the dark, which makes a night light useful.

I love the Hatch Baby Rest Night Light.  It combines a nightlight, sound machine, and time-to-rise alert in one easy-to-use device that you can control from your phone

It’s perfect for a baby’s room, and grows with your child.


Include dental hygiene

Dental hygiene is an important bedtime habit.

Whether you’re cleaning your baby’s gums or reminding your older child to brush and floss his teeth, proper dental hygiene is a good habit that you can include in your child’s bedtime routine each night.


Remind your kids to use the bathroom one last time before going to bed.

This is especially important for younger kids who still have issues with bedwetting.


Just like there are a lot of right ways to have a good bedtime routine, there are some wrong ways and things you should avoid.


Don’t drag out your bedtime routine.

If you are not careful, your child will drag out your bedtime routine much longer with repeated calls for drinks, snacks, or to use the bathroom.

Try to stick to your original bedtime, every night.


Avoid stimulating activities just before your bedtime routine.


Especially if your child has trouble falling asleep, you should usually stop stimulating activities 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime, such as playing video games, watching TV, or talking on the phone.


Avoid caffeine before bed.


Keep in mind that in addition to soda and tea, caffeine can be a hidden ingredient in other foods, including coffee-flavored ice cream and chocolate, etc.


Avoid poor sleep associations.

This includes things like rubbing your child’s back until he falls asleep, having music playing or keeping the TV on since if your child learns to associate falling asleep with something like that, he will need help if he later wakes up.

And no, simply keeping the TV or music on all night doesn’t work. If your child wakes up, he will still cry out for you and need your help to go back to sleep.

I recommend the LittleHippo Mella Sleep Trainer Clock, which uses colors and facial expressions to teach your kids when it’s time for bed and time to wake up.

Half an hour before it’s time to wake up, Mella will glow yellow, signaling it’s almost time to start the day, and when Mella turns green, it’s time to wake up!


Don’t assume that your child will simply outgrow poor sleep habits.

Unfortunately, if nothing is done, many children who have sleep problems as infants and toddlers continue to sleep poorly even once they start school.

The sooner you fix your child’s poor sleep habits, including starting a good bedtime routine, the better.

And remember that if your kids aren’t sleeping through, neither will you.

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