Sleep Guidelines for Children and Youth

Many childhood difficulties can be related to a lack of adequate sleep.  For issues such as anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression and oppositional defiant disorder a trained therapist will assess the amount of sleep your child is getting. For most children, no amount of preparation will overcome the grumps and sluggishness that come with not getting enough sleep.  As a parent you can help your child get the appropriate amount of sleep to start the day renewed.

“Enough” sleep means that your child is already opening his eyes before you go in to wake him.  Or, for older children, it means the alarm going off is a reminder to get moving, not a jolt out of dreamland.  One way to know if you or child is getting enough sleep is the ability to wake on their own.

Sleep Recommendations
From 6 months old through age 5, children generally need about 11 hours of sleep at night.
After age 5, typically a child’s sleep decreases by 15 minutes each year, so that by age 17, a teen needs about 8¼ hours of sleep.
Using these guidelines can help you work your way back to what is the ideal time for your child to go to bed.  It’s best to keep to the routine and schedule even on the weekends, as many kids lose the rhythm of the routine with even one night’s break.

Enforcing a bedtime with preteens requires a family discussion about the importance of a good night’s sleep for a quality day.  It also means working out healthy limits on television and telephone time.  By the time your child is a teen, the best tactic is to encourage her to get a full 8 hours sleep, help her to plan how to do so, but set an outside limit of 7 hours.  If she doesn’t get 8, it becomes her responsibility to have a positive attitude in the morning, or else lose privileges that keep her up past a healthy bedtime.

Toddlers and grade school children require much more involvement on your part. First, develop a bedtime routine and stick with it.  This time should include laying out the next day’s clothes, packing the backpack, picking out toys to take to daycare, etc.  In addition to a bath, it’s the time for a healthy snack (one that’s free of caffeine, excess sugar, food dyes and additives), such as some popcorn and apple juice or milk and peanut butter toast.  Finally, for the younger child you’ll want to have some time of reading or singing to them after they are in bed.  For grade school children, the time together can end with a review of the day.  And for all–why not a nighttime prayer of gratitude for the good things of the day!

With sufficient sleep, most children will wake on their own.  When you do have to wake them, begin with a gentle kiss and whisper “Good morning.”  If that isn’t enough, increase your activity in the room by opening the shades, turning on lights, talking positively about the upcoming day, or playing music.  For any child still not up, set a timer for 5 minutes and firmly direct them to begin the first task of the day by the time it goes off.  This routine works well for small children and can be used until the child wants the independence of their own alarm clock. A cheerful wake-up routine is something even teens often choose for the comfort and stability it provides.

If you find that establishing a bedtime routine is not working for your child, you may decide to seek the help of a professional therapist.  A therapist can help you develop a detailed behavior modification plan to address the specific needs of you and your family.

Persistent effort with these ideas will yield great results—a Good Morning every morning!

Recommended For You:

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  2. Family Therapy: Children and Teens

  3. 3 Steps to Establish “Prime Time” with your Children

  4. 8 Tips to Improve Your Child’s Behavior

  5. 6 Ways to Address ADHD Naturally

  6. Childhood Stress and Strength-Based Parenting

  7. 10 Things to Consider When Your Child/Teen Doesn’t Seem to Care

  8. Parenting Tips to Help Your Child through a Difficult Time


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