We know children are sleeping less now than they did 30 years ago. Our children are unfortunately more tired and can suffer side effects in life because of it. Studies show that school-age children who create a sleep debt (chronic sleep deprivation) and are chronically tired have a more difficult time completing school work, they don’t score as well on tests, they may be more distractible, they can have difficulty maintaining attention, and they may be at higher risk for having an unhealthy weight. Even if your kids have already started school, you can provide a boost for your child’s attention, mood, and health by focusing in on sleep.

Starting out the year with better habits can help everyone at home (ahem, wouldn’t it be nice to avoid late evening battles?). If you’re not already there, think about moving to ideal bedtimes during the next couple of weeks.

How Much Sleep Do Children Need?

Sleep debt is created when we don’t sleep enough — it causes kids to crave “catch-up” sleep like those after-school naps, sleeping in until noon on the weekends, or falling asleep in the carpool on the way home. That being said, each child’s sleep need can be a bit different but in general children need:

  1. sleep needsPreschoolers: 11-12 hours of total sleep
  2. School-age children: 10-11 hours total sleep
  3. 12 year-old to teens: 8 1/2-10 hours total sleep

5 Ways To Support Good Sleep

  • Keep to an 8pm bedtime for young children. Move bedtime back slowly (move it by 30 minutes every 3-5 days) to prime your child for success and avoid battles!
  • 10pm bedtime for children age 12 & up is age-appropriate. More info here.
  • Habits: No screens 1-2 hours prior to bed, no caffeine after school, no food right before bed.
  • Exercise or move 30-60 minutes a day to help kids sleep easier
  • No sleeping with cell phones (create a docking station in the kitchen)
  • Don’t use OTC medications (cough & cold, for example) to knock your kids out and get them to sleep. Using medications that have a side effect of drowsiness can cause sleepiness to extend into daytime which can negatively affect school and sports performance.

REMINDERS: School start is a stressful time, sleep can help • Anxiety, depression can manifest as sleep problems so if concerns about your child’s sleep don’t ever hesitate to talk with your child’s doctor or nurse • It can take a few weeks to move bedtime back to ideal times. Start now keeping in mind that you’ll only be able to move bedtime by about 30 minutes every 3-5 days • Don’t reach for medications to help sleep, allow your child to gradually shift back to a regular bedtime • Remind teens: the more active you are, the easier you sleep and 10pm is a great bedtime.


This post was written in partnership with OTC Safety.org. In exchange for our ongoing partnership helping families understand how to use OTC (over-the-counter) meds safely they have made a contribution to Digital Health at Seattle Children’s for our work in innovation. I adore the OTC Safety tagline, “Treat yourself and your family with care all year long.” Follow @OTCSafety #OTCSafety for more info on health and wellness.