Why sleep is so vital for children

Studies have shown that when children routinely don’t get enough sleep, this will negatively impact many areas of their lives – including school performance and behaviour.

When children are not getting enough sleep you might notice the following changes in them. They are clumsier and more accident-prone, have slower reaction times, process what is being said to them more slowly, are less coordinated and prone to getting sick more frequently.


When a child is not getting enough sleep, their performance and achievement tends to decrease. Just to put it into context, studies have shown that a deficit of just one hour of sleep each night is equivalent to losing two years of cognitive maturation and development.

Lack of sleep also affects personal memory. One piece of research showed that tired children remember fewer positive events but more negative ones due to the effects on different areas of the brain. Not only this, lack of sleep in children negatively affects their interactions with others, natural weight, ability to focus, emotional stability and quality of sleep when they do go to bed.

Lack of sleep affects children far more than adults because of the tremendous amount of development that occurs in their growing brains – all of which happens mainly during sleep.


Toddlers: 11-12 hours

Babies between the ages of 21 to 36 months usually need one nap a day, which may range from one to three and a half hours long. As a natural routine, they typically go to bed between 7 – 9 pm and wake up between 6 – 8 am.

3 – 6 Years: 10 – 12 hours

Children at this age would naturally need to go to bed between 7 – 9 pm and wake up around 6 – 8 am. At age 3, most children are still napping in the afternoons, while at age 5, most are not. Naps also gradually become shorter. New sleep problems do not usually develop after age 3.

7 – 12 Years: 10 – 11 hours

Between these ages, with social, school and family activities, bedtimes gradually become later and later, with most 12-years-olds going to bed at about 9 pm. There is still a wide range of ‘natural body clock’ bedtimes that range from 7:30 – 10 pm, as well as total sleep times, from 9 to 12 hours, although the average is only about 9 hours.

12 – 18 Years: 8 – 9 hours

Sleep needs remain just as vital to health and wellbeing for teenagers as when they were younger. It turns out that many teenagers actually may need more sleep than in their younger years. However, for many teenagers social pressures and screens often work against getting the proper amount and quality of sleep, so it’s best to discuss these things with your teen and agree on a strategy for the school week before the new school term starts.


Beware of caffeine!

Caffeine is a stimulant, meaning that it increases activity in parts of the brain. It reduces both sleep time and the depth of sleep, as well as causing tension and anxiety in some people. A soda at lunch can affect your child at bedtime because of the amount of time it takes caffeine to be processed by the body.

When a younger child consumes a can of soda, it is like an adult drinking four cups of coffee! Caffeine is not only found in soda and coffee, but also in chocolate, so it’s better to avoid these things.

Busy daily schedules

Is there too much packed into your child’s day? This can cause stress, which can definitely work against getting a restful sleep. Be flexible and prepared to cancel something if your child is getting stressed by their schedule.

Exercising during the day

Studies show that physical activity during the day promotes healthy sleep. However, exercise too close to bedtime can have the opposite effect and over-stimulate a child.

Watching TV and screens in the evening

Because of the over-stimulation effect of the light from TVs, computers and other screens, watching these things before bedtime has been linked with delays in falling asleep, frequent waking and anxiety. Children tend to wake up more during the night and sleep less deeply when they fall asleep in front of a TV.

Studies show that a television in a child’s bedroom is a powerful predictor of sleep disturbance. The best way to deal with this is to avoid letting a TV get into your child’s room in the first place!


Children need and like consistency. Bedtime rituals, including brushing teeth, reading stories and stroking their hair all signal your child’s body and mind to prepare for sleep. But the most important part of the ritual is probably getting to bed at the same time every night – including at the weekends.

Bath time

For many families, baths provide a fun transition between the day’s activities and sleep and help give the body time to unwind.

Evening snacking

Did you know that hunger can wake a child up at night. A high protein and/or wholegrain carbohydrate snack lasts longer than a candy and fruit lasts longer than sugar, which causes a spike in energy followed by a crash. There is nothing left so your child gets hungry. Sugar has also been associated with nightmares in some children.

Winding down for calm evenings

If you are calm yourself, it will help your child be calm. A child who is not calm will have trouble falling and staying asleep.

Your child’s sleep environment

The optimal sleep environment is a dark, cool and comfortable room, with a good flow of air. If children need a night light, make sure it is not one that flashes, and is a small, soft, dim light that is placed away from their bed.

Morning wake up time

Wake up time – getting up about the same time every morning – including weekends helps set the body’s biological clock so you awaken naturally. If your child is up late, a longer nap or earlier bedtime are better solutions than waking significantly later. Breakfast – a healthy breakfast, free from tension, sets the tone for the day and translates into a better night’s sleep.


It is important to listen to your children. They may tell you in words or they may tell you by their actions that they are not getting enough sleep. If this is the case, discuss it with them and explain the ways that sleep benefits and helps them to grow and do well at school. When children understand the reasons why sleep is important, they are far more likely to cooperate.

At any age, help your child to identify any emotions or stresses that may have built up over the day or the week that may interfere with a good night’s sleep. As with all parenting issues, you know your child best, so be guided by your intuition and see what works best for each individual child, remembering that children’s sensitivities differ.

Remember, a good night’s sleep doesn’t just begin at bed time – it is affected by everything that happens during the day too!

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