Babies, children, and teens need significantly more sleep than adults to support their rapid mental and physical development. Most parents know that growing kids need good sleep, but many don't know just how many hours kids require, and what the impact can be of missing as little as 30 to 60 minutes of sleep time.
One of the reasons it's so hard to know when our kids are getting insufficient sleep is that drowsy children don't necessarily slow down the way we do—they wind up. In fact, sleepiness can look like symptoms of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Children often act as if they're not tired, resisting bedtime and becoming hyper as the evening goes on. All this can happen because the child is overtired.
There are some underlying psychiatric conditions, such as attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), that can cause sleep loss in children. Researchers and clinicians are also finding that sleep apnea—which most people tend to think of as an adult sleep disorder—is relatively common in children as well. A person who has sleep apnea wakes up many times every hour, very briefly, as they struggle to breathe. Most people do not know they are experiencing these events unless they are told or have a test to confirm sleep apnea. Children who snore may be at risk for or currently suffering from sleep apnea, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended that pediatricians ask about and screen for this sleep disorder in children at routine well visits.
If you suspect your child isn't sleeping enough, it's important to talk to your pediatrician. If there is an underlying sleep disorder or another medical condition at play, your doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist to discuss various treatments options. In many cases, though, sleep deprivation in children can be helped with changes to the environment and habits surrounding bedtime. Research shows that an early bedtime (between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. works best for babies and kids through school age) and a consistent, soothing, wind-down routine with no screen time—such as TVs, tablets, and the like—will lead to better sleep.
While every child is slightly different in terms of how much sleep they need, most require the following to be fully rested: