Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital.

How much sleep does an infant, child or teenager need? That’s one of the questions I never tire of hearing. So this week, let me keep everyone awake with a few tips on this topic.

The amount of sleep a child needs depends on the age of the child. While there are guidelines that I can share with you, every child is different. Your child may need more or less sleep each day than what is recommended.   

Why is Sleep Important for Children?

Getting adequate sleep is critical to a child’s physical and mental wellbeing.  Children who get enough sleep are less susceptible to infections and perform better in school and on the athletic field. They are also better behaved than those who lack adequate sleep.

  • Newborns, for example, will sleep up to 18 hours a day, waking up for periods of feeding. Older infants may need about 14 hours with eight-to-nine of those occurring at night. The rest can happen during two-to-three daytime naps lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. 
  • Toddlers require about 11-14 hours of sleep. Most of this happens at night. A bedtime routine can help: try a bath, brushing teeth, reading a story and perhaps some soft music. One-to-two-hour naps or at least some quiet time during the day can help the evening sleep routine go more smoothly. 
  • Preschoolers need about 10-12 hours per night. The daytime nap is no longer a requirement to make that happen. School-age children need 10-11 hours of sleep each night. Homework, after school sports and activities, and computer and TV time can shorten the amount of sleep. Too little sleep can create some irritability or a decline in school performance. Turning off electronics 30 to 60 minutes before bed can help make bedtime easier for this age group. 
  • Finally, teens need about nine hours of sleep per night. This is easier said than done. Some schools are starting later in the morning to help children get an adequate amount of sleep time.  

The bottom line is this: the more you can establish a bedtime routine at any age, the healthier your child will be.

Hopefully tips like these will help you and your child to rest more easily and get plenty of sleep. 

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

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