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Promoting Healthy Sleeping Habits in Children and Adolescents

What is sleep?

Sleep is a biological process that has two stages: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. While we sleep at night, we go through REM sleep and non-REM sleep multiple times.


Why is sleep important for children and adolescents?

Good sleeping habits are tied to a healthy immune system. Good sleep can clear one’s mind after a busy day. Sleeping well also can lead to good mental health overall.


How much sleep should we get?

The amount of sleep needed at night changes with age (see Table 1). As children get older, they need fewer hours of sleep. Newborns need around 14-17 hours of sleep. Preschoolers require 10 to 13 hours of sleep. Adolescents need fewer hours of sleep and have later bed and wake times.


Table 1: Recommended hours of sleep by age

  Hours (Range)
Newborn (0-3 months)* 14-17
Infants (4-12 months)* 12-16
Toddlers (1-2 years)* 11-14
Preschoolers (3-5 years)* 10-13
School Age (6-12 years)* 9-12
Adolescence (13-18 years)* 8-10
Young Adults (18-25) 7-9
Adults (24-64)* 7-9
Older Adults (65 years and older)* 7-8

Note: *includes naps. Source: Hirshkowitz et al. (2015).


Hints for creating healthy sleeping habits


Creating a bedtime ritual.

Parents should create a bedtime ritual for their children. This could include the child taking a bath and changing into pajamas. The parent also can read a short calming story or poem to the child. Going to bed around the same time each night is important at any age.


Relax before bedtime.

Children have busy lives with school, sports, and home-work. These activities can increase stress and sleeping problems. Learning how to relax and unwind at night can help children fall and stay asleep. This can include teaching children not to focus on worries and “bad thoughts” just before bed.


Avoid caffeine and large meals before bedtime.

Parents should teach their kids healthy drinking and eating habits before bed. Drinking caffeine and energy drinks and eating before bed can lead to sleeping problems. Also, drinking liquid (even water) before bed can disrupt sleep.


Creating a healthy sleeping space.

Children can be taught how to create a healthy sleeping space. This includes having a regular space for relaxing and falling asleep. Having a door for the bedroom can block out noises and light. Keeping the room cool, dimly lit, and quiet can improve sleeping. There are also sleeping products, such as weighted blankets, that can help children fall and stay asleep.


Limit screen time before bed.

Children should limit the use of cell phones, computers, and video games before bed. Children who use these devices a lot before bed sleep poorly. For instance, texting before bedtime can distract the natural process of winding down at night. The blue light created by the screens can lower melatonin levels. This can make it harder to fall asleep.


Parents are wonderful role models.

Children also learn good sleeping habits by observing their parents. Also, many of the suggestions mentioned above also work well with adults.


You CAN do it.

Teaching children healthy sleeping habits can be hard for many parents. It can take time to make these changes. Seeking the support of friends and family can help during this process. Finally, it’s important to remember that you 
can do this.

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