It is not a secret that our sleeping intervals wary throughout our lives. Furthermore, in different phases of childhood development, we require much more sleep than small children. After all, children – whether they are babies or adolescents – need to replenish their energy wells in order to promote their physical and cognitive development.
So, if we are discussing the sleeping quotas and necessities of children, can shaving-off 30 minutes to one hour, here and there, make a discernable impact? Additionally, does this sort of deprivation affect children during all stages of development equally and can they have positive effects? How many hours of sleep do kids need?
Most parents take pride in their ability to recognize their children’s wants and needs according to their behavior. It is only natural that they know exactly when their child is tired, but it’s not exactly that predictable, especially if you deal with smaller children. It is an accepted truism that kids get moody, drowsy and irritable when they are sleepy. They may even throw tantrums. However, hyperactive behavior and inability to hold a thought for longer than a second can also be a sign of tiredness.
In fact, if your child begins to wind up and behave as if they have an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (the dreaded ADHD, for short), it actually means that they are beyond tired. This occurs due to a ‘confused’ chemical process which actually serves its natural function. If they stay awake and get overtired, their fast metabolism begins to pump cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline through their veins.
It only seems that your child doesn’t need rest, but the whiplash they can get later on is dreadful. In some cases, of course, it is ADHD (circa 11% of children have this condition in some shape or form), and this disorder is renowned for causing sleep loss in children.
Furthermore, the reason why your child cannot sleep properly can also be due to a ‘mechanical’ issue such as sleep apnea. Another accepted truism which is far from factual is that only adults can suffer from sleep apnea – which essentially occurs when your soft palate relaxes and ‘leans into’ your airways, thus obstructing them. This disorder, unfortunately, also impacts children, and it causes them to wake up numerous times throughout the night in order to gasp for breath. They can do it unconsciously, for a few seconds, but it happens and it can cause terrible sleeping disorders.
If you suspect that your child doesn’t get enough sleep due to any of the aforementioned reasons, you have to speak to their dedicated pediatrician. Behavioral changes coupled with alteration of the sleeping environment and schedule usually does the trick, but not always. If you need a roughly estimated time window for when you should encourage your children to wind down and consider getting ready for bed, it should be 7 PM for babies and small children, 9-10 PM for older children and 11 PM for adolescents.
In all of the cases, the children should not be allowed to sleep in beyond 8 AM, unless exceptional circumstances call for it. Of course, we are also very well aware of the fact that the proposed ‘ideal’ suggestion never works with adolescents and those beyond, but it is given for the sake of reference to what is considered healthy.
Now, within the suggested time window, the sleeping pattern will vary drastically according to the needs of the age. Baby girls and boys typically sleep 14 to 18 hours throughout a 24-hour day, with irregular breaks in between.
This usually lasts until they reach the age of four to five months, and then they begin sleeping for 12 to 15 hours a day. Toddler boys and girls (eleven-month to thirty-month olds) tend to sleep around 10 to 14 hours a day. Preschoolers and school-aged kids hit the sack for roughly 10 hours, give or take depending on the individual.
Once they hit the teenage years and puberty, kids typically sleep 8 hours a night, 7 at the very least, and no more than 11 hours when exceptionally tired. Once they pass the age of 18, young adults sleep 6 hours a night at the very least, but it is recommended that they keep their habits within 7-9 hour intervals. Keep in mind that these are rough estimates based on representative sleeping habits of a global population of youngsters, and there are always extreme examples that veer way beyond any side of the spectrum.
You see, at the end of the day, there is no schoolbook or guideline that can tell you with the utmost validity what is the right time and interval for the sleep of kids. If your child has what would be called an aberrant sleeping pattern (for example, your teenager typically sleeps 5-6 hours a night), it is perfectly normal for them as long as the physical and mental examination shows that everything is green.
While there was a widely-reported study that kids who sleep an hour or so less than what is typical of their age have better grades, you should by no means encourage your child to try this if their body requires more sleep by nature (some parents have actually resorted to this). Furthermore, it seems that the sleeping interval of children according to widely accepted estimates is around 40 minutes longer than what it turns out to be in practice.
It appears that sleeping intervals among youngsters are declining precipitously over the last century, and it is quite possible that it is due to the proliferation of night-lights, TV screens, and blue-light-emitting tablets and smartphones. This is why you should place a strict ‘no-screens after 8 PM’ rule in your household.
While you can be vigilant and look for symptoms such as irritability, drowsiness, hyperactivity, and others, you cannot be on guard all the time. Instead, after accruing relevant information on the subject, you can have a reasonable sit-down with your child and chat about the importance of sleep hygiene.
Now that you have the rough estimate of appropriate sleeping intervals based on age, you can share this with your child and ask them to be as consistent as possible. After all, until they reach the college years, kids are by and large good at adopting responsibility.