Sleep and Children

LAST UPDATED: February 13, 2020

A good night’s sleep is essential to children’s health, development, and performance in school. Children’s sleep needs depend on their age group. Babies need the most sleep and spend about half of their sleep time dreaming. Teens need at least 8–10 hours.

Children AND their parents benefit from a consistent bedtime routine as it provides children with structure and a sense of order that is both reassuring and predictable. Establishing a regular and relaxing bedtime routine helps children to calm down and become quiet in preparation for sleep. Parents benefit as it helps to transition children to bed, leaving parents with some time to themselves. Parents whose children have a consistent bedtime get to bed earlier themselves.

Inadequate sleep in children leads to moodiness, behavioral problems, and problems learning in school. In the 2014 Sleep in America Survey, setting boundaries around electronics use, enforcing sleep related-rules and setting a good example helped children get more sleep.

These rules specifically address:

  • Child(ren)’s bedtime
  • Caffeine consumption
  • How late children watch television
  • Use of smart phones in the evening

The result? Consistent routines and enforcement of the rules help children get more hours of sleep and better quality sleep. Instill healthy sleep habits at an early age. Consistent bedtimes and a quiet, comfortable sleep haven are the most fundamental habits all children should know. Regulated sleep and age-appropriate bedtimes are also very important for academic success.

Bedtime routine for children

  • Use the backward planning techniques in Effective Sleep Strategies to establish bedtime routines for children. Determine the amount of sleep needed based on your child(ren)’s age and start a routine.
  • Set a fixed bedtime and stick with it. Backwards plan and include time needed to wind down.
  • Use relaxing and soothing activities to transition and prepare children for sleep. Be prepared to help your child(ren) to calm down. Use age appropriate activities that have significance for your child(ren) or your family.
  • Determine what bedtime routine and activities work best for your child(ren) by experimenting with different activities. For example, try a shower if a bath is too busy, or consider puzzles, drawing, reading, or listening to music if playing with toys is too lively. To wind down successfully from an active day, move activities around. For example, instead of a bath right before bed, try a bath after dinner, then quiet time, before bedtime.
Sleep duration guidelines
Source: How Much Sleep Do I Need? Retrieved December 21, 2017 from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Age group Age Required Sleep
Newborns 0–3 months 14–17 hours
Infants 4–11 months 12–15 hours
Toddlers 1–2 years 11–14 hours
Preschoolers 3–5 years 10–13 hours
School Age Children 6–13 years 9–11 hours
Teens 14–17 years 8–10 hours
Younger adults 18-25 years 7–9 hours
Adults 26-64 years 7–9 hours
Older Adults 65+ years 7–8 hours

Teens and sleep

Teens have unique challenges for getting adequate sleep during the school week and need 9 or more hours of sleep every 24 hours. However, most get less than 9 hours because of the choices they make and biologic factors. Not only do teens have multiple social and extracurricular activities or work, but their circadian rhythm shifts, making it more difficult for them to go to sleep until later at night and making it more difficult for them to awaken early in the morning. But they still need 9 hours or more hours of sleep each night. Given early school start times, teens accumulate a sleep debt.

While many teens appear zombie-like in the morning, they are not lazy, but sleep deprived. It is difficult for them to be alert in the morning.

What can parents do?

The solution for teens is the same for adults: develop a sleep schedule and stick to it. In one study, the difference between getting grades of A and B or D and F was 33 minutes of sleep.

  • Consider planned naps to help make teens more alert and efficient. Naps should not be very long (30 min or less).
  • Stick to consistent bed and wake time—even on weekends—as it will help to synchronize the brain to be able to fall asleep and awaken at the appropriate times.
  • Avoid placing TVs and computers in the bedroom.
  • Place phones on silent or remove them from the bedroom.
  • Keep the sleeping environment quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature.
  • Encourage teens to create a relaxing wind-down routine to cue sleepiness (such as taking a shower, reading a book, or journaling).
  • Follow all the previously mentioned sleep habits.
  • Strictly enforce of bed-wake times (including weekends), use of electronics in the bedroom, and caffeine use.
  • Re-examine your teen’s extracurricular activities. Are they really essential?
  • If your teen goes to school early, works late or has late activities, consider transporting him or her yourself; do not allow your teen to drive drowsy.
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