Sleep isn’t always easy for kids - and they’ll most likely let the whole household know when their slumber is sliding. But what constitutes ‘normal’ sleep, and how do you know if your child is getting enough?
Worrying about your child getting enough sleep is likely a common concern for lots of parents, especially when you're aware of the impact a bad run of sleep has on all who don't sleep. The amount of sleep a child requires changes as they get older – but good sleep hygiene stays relatively the same, and may help you all achieve healthy sleep.
In this article
What does a "normal" sleep cycle look like for kids?
A normal night’s sleep is made up of light and deep sleep. Just as adults do, children cycle through rapid eye movement (REM; light sleep) and non-REM sleep (deep sleep) throughout the night. The difference is, children are often reported as restless sleepers because they have proportionally more REM sleep than adults, meaning they are in a lighter zone for more of the night.1
Once asleep, children tend to be in a deeper sleep for the first couple of hours, before transitioning into REM sleep, waking up briefly, and returning to non-REM sleep. This pattern is repeated in cycles throughout the night.1
How many hours of sleep should my child be getting?
When we talk about kids between 3-18 years of age, the ideal amount of sleep is sometimes disputed. It’s important to recognise that even if a child is sleeping less than the average, if they appear to be happy and healthy then they’re probably getting enough sleep for them.1
This is a guide to your child’s recommended sleep according to age.2
Recommended sleep hours per 24-hour period
Infants: 4 to 12 months
12 to 16 hours (including naps)
Toddlers: 1 to 2 years
11 to 14 hours (including naps)
Pre-schoolers: 3 to 5 years
10 to 13 hours (including naps)
Grade-schoolers: 6 to 12 years
9 to 11 hours
Teens: 13 to 18 years
8 to 10 hours
Evidence-based tips for better sleep
Also known as good sleep hygiene, these tips have been laid out by The Sleep Foundation3 and are a great guide for establishing a routine – and setting the scene for good sleep.
- Establish a sleep pattern and make it regular.
Bedtime shouldn't vary by more than an hour - whether your child has an early start the next morning or not and the same goes for their getting up time.
- Keep things consistent.
A before-bed routine is great. It will help your child wind down and prepare for bed. Quiet activities such as reading a book or being read to or having a bath or shower are good sleep scene-setters. And, in the half hour before bed, avoid active games, playing outside, TV, internet or mobile phone social networking, and computer games.
- Create a comfortable space.
Your child’s sleeping space should be comfortable and as dark as possible. A fun night light can create comfort, and help your child see the bedroom as a nice place to be. That’s why avoiding this space for punishment also helps.
- Avoid in-bed entertainment.
This includes TV, computers, phones, and anything else that could distract your child. Keeping these items out of the bedroom will help.
- Steer away from sugar and fatty food before bed.
Sugary or fatty foods have been linked with more restless sleep. So, avoid snacks in that category before bedtime, as well as large meals. Caffeine is hidden in chocolate and soda, so these should be avoided well before bedtime as well.
- Make time for exercise and time outside.
Daily exercise is an important part of staying healthy and it also promotes sleep. Time spent in bright daylight does the same. With outdoor exercise achieving both these things – it’s important to get outside with your children when you can. Steer clear of upbeat activity in the hour before sleep though.
Recognising sleep issues
When a child isn’t getting enough healthy sleep they may experience difficulties with4:
- Regulating their emotions
- Creative thinking
You could notice they are4:
- Falling asleep during the day
- Being hyperactive (especially younger children)
- Having trouble paying attention
- Struggling with school work
- Cranky, whiny, irritable, or moody
- Having behavior problems
Resources we rally behind.
The Sleep Health Foundation has a range of helpful fact sheets for children with particular sleep problems. These include tips on sleep issues for children with ADHD or autism as well as more general topics such as bedwetting childhood snoring and behavioural problems with settling to sleep.3
You could also check out Raising Children’s extensive resources, which explore common childhood sleep issues for specific age groups.
- See your GP. Always see your GP if you suspect sleep issues, they will be able to refer you to a sleep psychologist or specialist if needed.
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When to seek support
Healthy sleep requires adequate duration, appropriate timing, good quality, regularity, and the absence of sleep disturbances or disorders.3 If your child isn’t getting healthy sleep, work with your GP. If your child is unwell and uncomfortable, their sleep may suffer. Sleep problems such as frequent nightmares, snoring or sleep apnoea are worth talking to your GP about. And any sort of ill health that is affecting your child’s sleep should always be addressed.
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This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.