Every parent knows that children need sufficient sleep to stay healthy and do well in school. But exactly how many hours of sleep do children of different ages need per day?
The latest recommendations from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine:
Babies 4 months to 12 months: 12 to 16 hours Children 1 to 2 years old: 11 to 14 hours Children 3 to 5 years old: 10 to 13 hours Children 6 to 12 years old: nine to 12 hours Teenagers 13 to 18 years old: eight to 10 hours
“Sleep is essential to good health, and it starts in childhood,” said Dr. Shalini Paruthi, moderator of the Pediatric Consensus Panel of 13 sleep experts and a fellow of the academy. “These recommendations [are] kind of a first step to help people to understand that they need to prioritize sleep.”
The consensus is the result of a 10-month effort by the panel. The researchers reviewed 864 studies and looked at how sleep duration is related to seven categories: general health, cardiovascular health, metabolic health, mental health, immunologic function, developmental health and human performance.
“This is the first time we went through such a scientifically rigorous method to arrive to those recommendations,” Paruthi said.
According to the academy’s consensus statement, sleeping the recommended hours over a 24-hour period is associated with improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health. It can also lead to better performance at school and better relationships at home, said Paruthi.
Sleeping less or more than what is recommended, on the other hand, is related to adverse health outcomes such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes and mental health problems, according to the academy.
One of the striking findings, said Paruthi, is that “in teenagers sleeping less or more than the recommended hours, we saw more feelings of hopelessness, suicidal thoughts and suicidal attempts. We also saw more tobacco use, alcohol use and illicit drug use.” She added that drowsy teenage drivers have a higher risk of getting into car accidents.
A 2014 technical report (PDF) by the American Academy of Pediatrics calls a lack of sleep among adolescents “a public health issue.” It recommended that schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to ensure that students get enough sleep. So far, 18 percent of schools in the United States follow the guideline.
Paruthi said there’s more to it than schools starting too early.
“Kids are really busy these days,” she said. “Extracurricular activities, sports, clubs. … There is a lot of social media. There is a lot of distractions … being on their computers, on their phones. And certainly, there is homework.”
Children aren’t the only ones who are sleep-deprived. According to a recent CDC study, a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep. Paruthi considers developing good sleep habits in childhood “a starting point” and hopes that these habits can be carried through adulthood.
She also emphasized the importance of parents prioritizing sleep and providing sleep guidance that is age-appropriate.
If you are concerned that your child sleeps too little or too much, Paruthi suggested consulting with doctors about sleep disorders. She said it might just be a normal variation within the recommended range.
Most of the studies the panel evaluated were only cross-sectional, so no cause-and-effect conclusions can be drawn. “We can’t say sleeping less than eight hours cause this child to commit suicide,” said Paruthi.
The consensus statement and evidence supporting the recommendations will be published in the June issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.