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Bedtime Routines for Young Children

Sleep is as necessary to your child’s overall health as is proper nutrition and plenty of exercise. Sleep gives the body a chance to rest. It is a time in which the events we experience during waking hours are integrated into our memories as well as a time for our bodies to make repairs from daily wear and tear.

Children who do not sleep well do not learn as well and have a higher rate of behavior problems. Additionally, they may experience more illness as their immune system is not as effective.

How Much Sleep is Enough?

So, how much sleep is enough for your child? Well, it depends on your child. Some kids need more sleep than others. Boys Town Pediatrics recommends that:

  • Kids 5-12 years of age get between 10 and 11 hours of sleep each night.
  • Teens 13-14 years of age get between 8 and 9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Teens 15 and older get around 8 hours of sleep each night.

You will know when your child is not getting enough sleep if he or she is tired or cranky, has difficulty following directions, is unable to concentrate on school work, or is abnormally clumsy when participating in activities in which he or she normally excels.

Tips for Helping Your Child Sleep

The best way to help your child get enough sleep is to develop a regular sleep routine and a consistent schedule for bedtime and waking. Stick to this schedule during the week and on weekends.

Other ways to make sure your child gets the amount of sleep appropriate for his or her age include:

  • Spending 20-30 minutes before bedtime relaxing. Have your child take a warm bath or read during this time.
  • Not keeping a television in your child’s bedroom. Watching television before going to bed can make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Keeping caffeine to a minimum (i.e., soda, chocolate, coffee).
  • Monitoring your child’s television viewing. Scary or disturbing programs can interfere with his or her ability to fall asleep.
  • Not exercising before bedtime.
  • Designating your child’s bed a “sleep only” area. Reading, doing homework, playing games and talking on the phone should be done in a separate location.

When to Call a Doctor about Your Child’s Sleep Problems

If your child is having trouble sleeping, there may be an underlying cause. It is possible that a more serious condition is the cause for your child’s lack of sleep. Such problems include depression, substance abuse or sleep apnea. If you suspect that your child is suffering from something more serious than simply not being able to go to sleep, schedule a visit with his or her physician. It’s likely that a doctor will be able to get to the bottom of your child’s sleep problems.

 
  • Bedtime Routines for Young Children

    Connie J. Schnoes, Ph.D..​
    ​Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health

    I would say the main reason children resist bedtime is because the fun of the day is over and they don't get to play anymore. The toys are up, they have to go in their room, be by themselves, be in the quiet, and there is no stimulation.

    What can parents do to make bedtime less stressful?

    They can build a routine so the kid gets used to this is what we do, this is how it works, and you end up in bed so that it's hopefully a pleasant, fun interaction where they're getting their pajamas on, reading a story, saying some prayers together, whatever works for that family. The other thing that is really important to do is to teach them to fall asleep by themselves. We don't think about that as parents in a conscious way, but we really do learn how to fall asleep and children need to learn how to do that by themselves.

    How much sleep should children get every night?

    For toddlers and younger children, you're thinking about it in a 24 hour period, not just at night. For younger children who are still napping, 10 hours over night and probably a couple hour nap during the day. By the time a child is 5 or 6 years old, they still need 11 hours a night on average. As they get older and approach middle-elementary, like 10 years of age, we are looking at 10 hours of sleep. So it's still a lot of sleep for children and that would be all at night because they are not napping anymore. 

    How does lack of sleep impact children?

    The most obvious way that parents would see is that their behavior is more disruptive and over-active. Adults get tired and slow down. Little kids wind up and get more active. Things that are less obvious is the impact on their health and their learning. Our brains are so busy while we are sleeping and if we don't get enough sleep then it's really not doing the job it needs to do.

    When should parent seek help for bedtime issues?

    If they have tried everything they know and have read and been encouraged to do and are still spending an excessive time, more than a half hour, then getting help can bring a lot of relief both to the parent and the child.​​​

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