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How to Establish Good Sleep Habits for your Children

sleep, sleep habits, sleep difficulties, good night's sleep

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences

We all know how great a good night’s sleep feels — and this goes for your children as well. Sleep is important to children’s overall well-being and essential to their growth and good health. A good night’s sleep allows children to wake up feeling refreshed physically and mentally. Consistent and quality sleep helps children stay alert and focused during the day. It can increase their ability to concentrate, to remember what they learn, to problem solve and to enjoy normal physical activity. On the flip side, children who do not get enough sleep are likely to be moody, irritable, easily frustrated, and act more angry or sad in social interactions.

During sleep, muscles and skin are repaired and grow, memories are organized, and growth- and appetite-regulating hormones are released. Getting adequate sleep also helps protect against illness. Consistent and quality sleep allows adults and children to feel mentally and physically refreshed and more prepared to engage in daily activities.

If bedtime is a struggle, you are not alone! The proportion of school-age children with sleep difficulties ranges from 20 percent to 43 percent. Sleep-related problems or struggles at bedtime often lead to sleep-deprived children and frustrated parents. Parents and other adult caregivers play an important role ensuring that children get adequate sleep and develop good sleep habits — this guide provides information about normal sleep patterns for children of all ages, tips for promoting good sleep habits and information to address sleep-related problems.

Preschoolers (4 to 5 years)

  • The need for sleep continues to decrease as your child gets older. Preschoolers need 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night.
  • Children usually require just an afternoon nap (usually after lunch) that lasts one or two hours.
  • As children’s imaginations develop, nighttime fears or nightmares may become more common.
  • Do quiet activities before bedtime, such as reading stories or listening to soft music to help your child transition to sleep time.

School-age children (5 years and older)

  • Adjust your child’s bedtime according to his age and sleep needs, but maintain a consistent routine and schedule. School-age children need about 10 hours of sleep each night. 

Adolescents

  • Adolescents need less sleep than school-age children — about nine hours every night.
  • When a child reaches adolescence, the brain’s sleep cycle (circadian rhythms) shifts. Think of circadian rhythms as the body’s clock or internal indicator of when it’s time to sleep and wake up. As a result of the shift in circadian rhythms, adolescents typically go to sleep and wake up later than younger children.
  • It is important to be aware of sleep deprivation in adolescents. Signs include:
    • Naps that last longer than 45 minutes;
    • Sleeping later (two or more hours) on the weekends;
    • Difficulty waking up in the morning;
    • Trouble staying awake during the day; and
    • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Lack of sleep can change adolescents’ metabolism and put them at an increased risk for obesity. Insufficient sleep can also make driving more dangerous. Teen drivers are one of the highest-risk groups for driving accidents due to drowsiness.

Source: University of Missouri Extension

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