Child Development 101: How Much Sleep Do Young Children Need?
Parents have long been pre-occupied with how much – or how little – their young children are sleeping. Pediatricians, as well as sleep experts, have offered parents sleep guidelines, ranging from 14 to 15 hours a day for infants to 11 to 13 hours for preschoolers.
But a study published in the February issue of Pediatrics found there is no rationale for these recommendations and that the amount of sleep children should get each night is subjective and not based on fact.
Researchers at the University of South Australia’s Health and Use of Time Group evaluated more than 300 sleep duration studies involving children from 1897 to 2009. During this period, researchers found there were 32 sets of sleep guidelines.
The study revealed that children have been sleeping less than the recommended guidelines and that, on average, age-specific recommended sleep decreased by .71 minutes per year during the 112-year period, nearly identical to the decline in the actual sleep duration of children. Overall, children slept about 37 minutes less than what was recommended.
The researchers concluded that “inadequate sleep was seen as a consequence of ‘modern life,’ associated with technologies of the time. No matter how much sleep children are getting, it has always been assumed that they need more.”
Most surprising is their observation that “there is almost no empirical evidence for the optimal sleep duration for children. Sleeping longer does not indicate a need for more sleep, in the same way that eating more does not indicate a need for more food.”
While the study raises questions about whether recommendations for sleep requirements are baseless, child development experts say parents should encourage a good night’s sleep for young children by: having a regular bedtime and wake time during the week and on weekends; creating a bedtime routine, such as a bath and story; keeping the bedroom dark and quiet; shutting off the TV, video games and other electronics 30 minutes before bedtime; limiting caffeine consumption and avoiding large meals before bedtime.