children sleeping

Let Them Sleep: Sleep is the Foundation for Physical, Emotional, and Mental Health in Children

Are they eating enough vegetables? Drinking their milk? Getting fresh air and exercise? Reading enough words? After a busy day of nourishing our children’s bodies and minds, if they don’t get enough sleep, many of our efforts could be erased.

Prioritizing sleep is the cornerstone of creating a healthy environment for children and teens. From infancy to adulthood, sleep allows our bodies to grow, recharge, and heal. It’s important for parents to know how much sleep children need at each age, encourage good sleep habits, and create an environment that enables them to get those much-needed hours of sleep.

How much sleep does my child need?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:

  • Infants under 1 year: 12-16 hours
  • Children 1-2 years old: 11-14 hours
  • Children 3-5 years old: 10-13 hours
  • Children 6-12 years old: 9-12 hours
  • Teenagers 13-18 years old: 8-10 hours

While individual needs varies from child to child, sleep deprivation can occur if children frequently miss crucial hours of sleep. Studies show that significant numbers of children and teens do not get enough sleep.

Why is sleep so important?

According to Texas Children’s Hospital, “Sleep is the time for restoration and for children’s bodies to recharge and retain the information they have learned throughout the day. During deep non-REM sleep, the body’s energy is restored, growth and repair occurs and important brain development hormones are released.” 

The CDC advises that getting enough sleep is important to prevent Type 2 Diabetes, Obesity, Injuries, Attention or Behavior Problems, and Poor Mental Health.

Recent Links Found Between Mental Health and Sleep

A 2022 study conducted by The Lancet found differences in brain regions responsible for memory, intelligence, and well-being in children who routinely got less than the recommended amount of sleep. According to the Washington Post,Greater mental health problems — such as depression, anxiety and impulsive behavior — were linked to insufficient sleep, as were difficulties with memory, problem-solving and decision-making.”

These mental health issues were also found to have long-lasting implications of at least two years. Sleep Deprivation in children can also lead to unhealthy sleep habits into adulthood.

How Do I Help My Children Get Enough Sleep?

Obstacles to sufficient sleep abound for children of all ages. Family schedules, parent work requirements, overstimulating environments, and early school start times can all pose challenges to healthy sleep habits for children and teens.

Experts recommend that parents do their best to help children obtain enough sleep by doing the following:

  • Establish a routine including regular bedtimes and sleep hygiene
  • Create a calming sleep environment with a dark, quiet space that is a comfortable temperature, with all electronic devices are removed.
  • Make sure kids are active during the day and avoid large meals and caffeine to ensure their bodies are ready for sleep.
  • Model good behavior: YES, parents need sleep too! Kids should see us practicing healthy sleep habits as well.

What if My Child has Trouble Sleeping?

If your child still struggles to sleep, despite the efforts above, a trip to your pediatrician would be in order. Doctors advise against giving children any medications or sleep supplements like melatonin prior to speaking with your pediatrician.


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