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  • What are the sleep recommendations for young children?
  • Why do some children wake up at night?
  • Why is sleep important for them?
  • How can I help my child develop healthy sleep habits ?

What are the sleep needs of young children?

Children in elementary school typically need between 9 and 12 hours of sleep.  At this age, their parents and caregivers are still telling them when it is bedtime and they are responsible for creating the nighttime routine.    Instilling good sleep habits at an early age and talking about the importance  of sleep will help them maintain this routine as they get older. While many children at this age can  settle themselves and stay in their own beds through the night, there are some that will wake and call for their parents.  These reasons include, but are not limited to:

  • Nightmares
  • Bedwetting
  • Hunger/being thirsty
  • Nightwalking
  • Fear/anxiety

Parents can help their children through these issues by visiting the resources in the Continue Learning section and by seeking help from their child’s pediatrician.  However, in general it is best to deal with challenges with the lights low and as quietly and calming as possible. This will help keep the child in a peaceful state and will hopefully help them get back to sleep quickly. 

Why it Matters

Getting enough sleep is important for everyone because it affects their physical and mental/emotional health.  Kids who regularly get enough sleep are shown to have better memory, learning, attention and more positive behaviors than those who don’t.   Below are some specific ways that lack of sleep can have negative effects on children:

Physical Health

  • Accidents + Injuries from being too drowsy
  • (eventually) Diabetes + Heart disease 
  • Poor decision-making about their health and high risk behaviors

Mental/Emotional Health

  • Mood swings
  • Behavior in school and in their personal lives
  • Depression + anxiety


  • Cognitive ability (Ex ability to learn new things)
  • Academics
  • Memory + attention
  • Creativity
  • Overall learning

Check In:

Use this checklist to think about  your child’s sleep patterns  and learn more about how you can help them develop healthy sleep habits. 
My child Never or rarely Sometimes (1-2 X/ week) Often (3 or more times a week) I am not sure
has the same bedtime and wake up time each day.
stays asleep through the night
avoids heavy meals and snacks before bed
does activities that calm the mind and body before bed (ex. listening to soft music, reading, taking a bath/shower, stretching).
avoids activities that make them feel awake before bedtime (heavy exercise, video games, watching TV, using cell phone)
goes to bed at a reasonable time
avoids long naps during the day
gets 9-12 hours of sleep each night
gets at least an hour of exercise each day (in addition to exercise at school)
Bedroom Environment Never or rarely Sometimes (1-2 X/ week) Often (3 or more times a week) I am not sure
sleeps in a dark or dimly lit room
sleeps in a room that has a comfortable temperature (not too warm or cold)
falls asleep without loud music or television
has limits / follows rules about  TV and other electronics
Mindset before Bed Never or rarely Sometimes (1-2 X/ week) Often (3 or more times a week) I am not sure
goes to bed with a clear mind, ready for the next day
falls asleep easily 
Review the statements that you checked “never/rarely” and “sometimes.” Those are habits you may want to encourage your child to incorporate if you think they are having sleep issues. For the ones you checked, “I am not sure,” this can also be a place to start a conversation and help move them towards a healthy habit.

Connect & Communicate:

How Can I Help My Child Develop Healthy Sleep Habits?

For very young children, the first step may be to take action and set a new bedtime routine.  They may be too young to talk about the issues and make their own choices, but you can share with them the changes you plan to make and the reasons why.  Explain that you have noticed they need more sleep (or whatever the issue is) and talk to them about how you hope these adjustments to their schedule will help them feel better. 

For older grade school children, you may want to have a conversation about their sleep habits and support them in coming up with their own adjustments.  Below are some ways you may be able to help your child open up and see the consequences of their habits:

Start the conversation:

  • Start with an observation.  “I notice that you have been really tired lately and that it has been hard for you to concentrate on your homework.  You have been having a hard time falling asleep at night and I want to help you get the rest you need.”
  • Help them think of ways they cope“So, when you feel like that (ex. tired, wired, etc), is there anything you can do to make yourself feel better?”
  • Brainstorm ways to relax:  Talk about how important it is to wind down and relax before bedtime.  Most young children can brainstorm ways to relax and that will empower them to do it when it’s time to go to sleep.

After you have talked to your child, you can support  them in making a change.  Below are some ways you  can work  with and empower your child  to improve their sleep habits.

 1. Work together to solve the problem:

  •  rethink their schedule to identify ways of getting more sleep
  • create a pre-bedtime routine that helps them relax ( Ex. bath, calming music, reading something light/enjoyable, meditation)
  • creating a sleep-friendly environment in their bedroom (Ex. comfortable temperature, black out curtains, soft lighting, no electronics)
  • think of ways they  can get exercise/physical activity each day

2. Support them in developing positive habits:

  • spend time together outside and talk about the benefits of doing that  (Ex. walk or bike to school a couple mornings a week, walk the family dog before school)
  • start the day in sunshine to help with their circadian rhythm
  • maintain the same schedule all week (including weekends)
  • try meditating together or as a family or just you and your child
  • Make a bedtime routine chart and check off the things they do

3. Help them avoid poor habits:

  • technology/electronics before bed
  • long naps in the afternoon

One of the best ways to help your child develop these habits is to model them.  As we know, children often learn from our own behaviors more than they do from our words.  Take a moment to review the habits above and see where you may want to make some improvements of your own.

Contact & Collaborate:

In most cases, talking to your child and using some of the ideas above will help to create change.  However, there are some instances where a more serious issue may be preventing your child from getting enough sleep.  These include, but are not limited to obstructive sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and side effects of medication.  Children with certain health conditions like asthma, depression, ADD and anxiety may be more likely to have a sleep condition.

If you believe that your child has something else going on, call their primary care doctor and schedule an appointment to go over your concerns.  You may also find resources through the school nurse or counselor.

The following are pages from the Sleep Foundation that help explain the signs and symptoms of some more serious sleep disorders.

Continue Learning:

Working with your child to decide on a schedule and routine that work will be the best way to develop and maintain good sleep habits. In addition, reaching out to the school nurse and counselor may provide you with additional resources.  Below are some informative articles about sleep, managing screen time and mindfulness/meditation.

Bedtime Routines

Very Well Family (article):  Dos and Don’ts for Bedtime Routine

Nurture and thrive (blog)  Bedtime Routine for kids

Sleeping Through the Night

Today’s Parent (article):  Helping Your Child Sleep Through the Night

Babycenter (website):  Dealing with Late Night Visits (ages 5-8)

Babycenter (website):  Nighttime Fears:  Whey They Happen and What to Do (ages 5-8)

Healthy Sleep Habits for Kids (podcast):

Greater Good Science Center (podcast):

Sleep and Happiness/Mood

Greater Good Science Center (website)  A list of websites that help make the connection between sleep

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