How Much Sleep Do Children Really Need?

There's a lot of controversy over kids' bedtimes. Should we let them cry until they (finally, hopefully) doze off? Should we let them sleep in our bed? Most children need more sleep than you think-and more than most kids get. David Walsh, Ph.D., author of Smart Parenting, Smarter Kids: The One Brain Book You Need to Help Kids Grow Brighter, Healthier, and Happier, shares how many hours of sleep babies to teens should average.

A newborn doesn't have much of a sleep pattern because he isn't aware of any difference between day and night. He might wake up at two in the morning ready to go with his eyes wide open while yours are tiny slits. Most babies begin to settle into a regular schedule between three and six months. At that point they develop a sleep/wake cycle in tune with their circadian rhythms, which are affected by the turn of daylight and dark.

Most children need more sleep than you think and more than most get. The National Sleep Foundation's Sleep in America study provides a "wake-up" call, if you'll par­don the pun.

  • Babies from three to eleven months need fourteen to fifteen hours of sleep, but they average only 12.7.
  • Toddlers one to three years old should get twelve to fourteen hours of sleep, but most get 11.7 hours.
  • Preschoolers ages three to five need eleven to thirteen hours of sleep. Yet the average for this group is 10.4 hours.
  • First through fifth graders ought to have ten to eleven hours each night. American average for this age group: 9.5 hours.
  • Preteens need nine hours but only average eight.
  • The biggest sleep deficit is for teenagers. They average six to seven hours in spite of the fact that they should be getting between nine and ten.

Sleep needs vary from child to child, but this study underscores the fact that our kids' brains and bodies need more sleep. Some children fall asleep quickly and early while others just hate going to bed. Some kids wake up bright-eyed while others have to be dragged from underneath their covers. While sleep needs are individual, an adequate amount is critical for our kids' emotional and physical health as well as their performance in school.

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