We’ve all had the friend with the newborn who sleeps through the night the day after coming home from the hospital. Or the co-worker who insists that getting her seven-year-old to go to bed - and stay in bed - is never a struggle. Far more rare, of course, is the neighbor who claims his teenager isn’t hard to get up in the mornings.
For many parents, one of the most challenging aspects of parenting is getting your children to go to bed, stay in bed and then get up on time. With both parents working in most families, these kinds of struggles can become more emotional and challenging. And the differences in sleep patterns between one child and a sibling can lead to even more complications. Throughout it all, many parents are concerned that their children aren’t getting enough sleep - and there remains the nagging certainty that all of this should be a lot simpler.
The truth is that the amount of sleep children need varies throughout their lives. And not all children need the same amount.
“Children develop at different rates. So one four-year-old may not require the same amount of sleep as another four-year-old,” explains Brian Kang, M.D., a board certified pediatric pulmonologist and the medical director of the Sleep Physiology and Neurodiagnostics Lab at Dell Children’s Medical Center.
How much sleep do kids need?
For all of us, sleep habits are shaped in many ways by the reality of the working day.
“Unfortunately, if you look at the amount of sleep we all require, it’s influenced by society,” says Dr. Kang. “So for kids, a lot of it is determined by school start times.” The other major determining factor in children’s sleep schedules is age. “A one-month-old usually needs approximately 16 hours of sleep,” he states. “By three months, it’s closer to 14 hours and by one year, it’s approximately 13 hours.”
The number continues to drop slowly until age six, where it holds constant at about 11 hours. For all children, the number of hours of sleep they need is a combination of sleep during the night and naps, though Dr. Kang notes that parents should attempt to consolidate naps into one long nap for young children.
Beginning in adolescence, children tend to want to go to bed later. “There’s a shift in their circadian rhythm,” reveals Dr. Kang. “But school start times, combined with the natural tendency to go to bed later, combined with all of the activities that are piled on them, [make it] a lot harder for kids to obtain the range of sleep they need.”
Many families count on catching up on sleep over the weekend. “To some degree it works, but you don’t completely compensate for the lack of sleep during the weekdays,” maintains Dr. Kang. “It’s not a complete reversal of sleep deprivation and the effects of sleep deprivation.”
Dangers of sleep deprivation
So what are the effects of too little sleep on kids and teens?
“It predominantly affects them in terms of their daytime behavior. It can make them sleepy so they have a hard time staying awake in school.