Do you need less sleep as you get older? Sure. As your ability to tolerate stimulation increases, and your growth slows down, your sleep need decreases, too.
But the amount of sleep your child needs may be faaaar above what he’s actually getting.
Which is a problem. You know, sleep debt and all that.
But you’re here, ready to take the first step. And the first step to making sure your child gets the sleep he needs is to know how much sleep he needs, right?
So once you’ve left need-to-nap-becasue-awake-time-limit-is-too-short land, and you’ve entered the world of 12 hours of sleep or less per day...
… Here's how much sleep your kids will need.
Some background first:
Below you’ll find numbers that I’ve pulled from the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations based on the studies they have done, as well as some things you should keep in mind for your child based on her age range.
But remember: just because your child is getting within the “recommended range”, or within the “may be appropriate” range does NOT necessarily mean that your child is getting the sleep that she needs.
The ranges - both “recommended” and “may be appropriate” - are averages, and our goal is to meet our children’s needs, which, likely, will fall within the averages, but are not necessarily determined by the averages.
That is to say: if your child is technically “getting enough” according to the numbers (a 5 year old getting 10 hours of sleep), but actually isn’t getting enough for his own body (he often rubs his eyes/acts tired, falls asleep in the car, etc.), then that means he needs more sleep.
So let’s talk some numbers.
Your Preschooler (3-5 years)
NSF (National Sleep Foundation) recommended range: 10-13 hours
NSF “may be appropriate” range (higher): 14 hours
NSF “may be appropriate” range (lower): 8-9 hours
At this age, your toddler will no longer need a proper nap every day, but will benefit from some down time (rest time, quiet time, etc.) so that he gets the opportunity to be in a low-stimulus environment to regroup and have a brain break before diving into the rest of the day.
If your child is in school at this age, and the school does not offer rest time, first: CALL THEM. And tell them you want it. Many schools across the country have, in the last couple of decades, removed preschoolers’ nap time, and it is detrimental to their growth, development and learning experiences. The more parents that ask for it, the more likely they’ll be to add it back in.
If your child has a long bus ride home, he may doze on the bus, which is less than ideal, as this may cause him to not be tired enough wehn bedtime comes, causing him to be even more exhausted the next day. Not good.
Do what you can to enable your child to get the sleep he needs, or give rest time at home if he gets home early enough.
Based on what I’ve seen, children this age do still need at least 12 hours of consecutive (meaning without any wakes) nighttime sleep every single night (yes, including Shabbos), so keep that in mind as you’re building an ideal day.
Your School-aged child (6-13 years)
NSF recommended range: 9-11 hours
NSF “may be appropriate” range (higher): 12 hours
NSF “may be appropriate” range (lower): 7-8 hours
During this age range, I generally see children’s sleep needs decrease, but, unfortunately, their bedtimes often accelerate far beyond what they are capable of, or, alternatively, are left stagnating together with the baby… leaving mommy wondering why he’s not falling asleep!
How will you know when your child is read for a later bedtime? It’ll be a combination of art and science:
First, be aware of the averages. Most children are ready for a slightly later bedtime around 6-8 years of age.
Second, keep an eye out for patterns. If your child is overall a good sleeper, yet out of the blue is protesting or just not falling asleep consistently for two weeks, it may be time to push things a little later.
Try 30 minutes, hold it for 2-4 weeks, and see how it goes. If you’re finding that your child is difficult to awaken in the morning, is grouchy and irritable in the afternoon, or is bombed when he comes home from school, that means that it was too late.
Be open to experimentation, be curious, and TRACK IT so that you don’t have to hold all that information in your brain.
During this period of time, you’re likely going from about 11.5 hours of nighttime sleep, to about 9 hours and 15 minutes of nighttime sleep
Your Teen (14-17 years)
NSF recommended range: 8-10 hours
NSF “may be appropriate” range (higher): 11 hours
NSF “may be appropriate” range (lower): 7 hours
Studies have shown that the average teen needs about 9 hours and 15 minutes of sleep a night, every single night.
But teens rarely get that amount of sleep. During the teen years, your child’s sleep gets tricky.
And that’s because, as much as you really didn’t have that much control over your kids sleep before the teenage years (all you could control was setting things up for success!), once your kid hits the teen years, even that is out of your control.
Ideally, it shouldn’t be a problem: in an ideal world, we would have set our kids up for success during their younger years, taught them to know and notice their own body’s cues, and, culturally, we would respect our need to meet our bodies’ needs.
In real life, though, during your child’s teenage years, she’ll likely face nearly-institutionalized sleep deprivation. From yeshiva bachurim’s late hours and de rigueur late-night school activities for high-school girls, to, l’havdil, camp and slumber parties, the teenage years are a time that it is very difficult for even the most strong minded individual to get the sleep she needs.
Add to the mix our teens’ slightly later circadian cycles, and you end up with a sleep-deprived mess.
The best thing you can do for your teen is start BEFORE your child hits this stage. Educate, make your child aware, model, and, of course, use the early childhood years to build a strong-loving relationship with your child so that you have what to fall back on once she’s a teen.
So, regardless of your child’s age, what will you do now to ensure that you’re setting your children up for long-term restedness?
Tell me in the comments below!