A panel of pediatric specialists led by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) released their first sleep recommendations for children between four months and 18 years today.
The guidelines recommend 12 to 16 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period for infants aged four to 12 months; 11 to 14 hours for toddlers; and 10 to 13 hours for preschoolers. School-aged children should get nine to 12 hours of sleep, and teenagers, eight to 10.
UBC sleep specialist and nursing professor Wendy Hall, the only Canadian member of the panel, explains how the guidelines were developed and why getting enough sleep is critical to good health.
Why are these guidelines important, and why now?
Lack of sleep is a growing trend and AASM saw a need for updated, evidence-based recommendations for adequate sleep. Most parents and care providers don’t really know how much sleep children should be getting. In fact, some studies suggest that less than one per cent of children receive science-backed interventions when they have sleep problems because so few people are educated about sleep.
Our panel examined how sleep impacts different aspects of health, such as cardiovascular, developmental, mental, and metabolic, as well as longevity, immunology, and life performance.
These new AASM guidelines focus specifically on children, were developed by pediatric specialists, and are based exclusively on pediatric studies.
How does insufficient sleep affect children’s health?
While most of the evidence that we have is associative, not cause and effect, it’s pretty persuasive.
Sleep deprivation in infants is linked to problems with emotional regulation during the day, and possibly with obesity once they reach three years of age. Toddlers who lack sleep have difficulty focusing and retaining language. They might show more aggressive, less prosocial behavior. Among three to five-year-olds, lack of sleep is associated with memory consolidation and language development difficulties, and with a lesser quality of life.
Children aged five to 12 years who get less than nine hours of sleep have significantly increased odds of obesity, while 13- to 18-year-olds are more likely to suffer athletic injuries if they sleep less than eight hours. Other studies suggest sleep-deprived adolescents and teenagers show higher levels of cellular inflammation and insulin resistance.
How do we safeguard children’s sleep?
For school-aged and younger kids, bedtime should be no later than 9:00 p.m. Even older kids do better if they go to bed before 9:30 p.m.
Sleep routines are critical for kids of all ages. Reading a book, telling a story, singing a song, or getting into a toothbrush routine help kids settle into sleep better. Banning electronic devices from the bedroom also helps.
Follow good sleep hygiene and keep children’s bedrooms dark, cool and quiet.
Recommended sleep times by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine
- Infants (4-12 months): 12 to 16 hours
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11 to 14 hours
- Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10 to 13 hours
- School-age children (6-12 years): 9 to 12 hours
- Teenagers (13-18 years): 8 to 10 hours