By Dr. Kate Colón

As adults, we all can recognize the importance of a good night’s rest. Without it, we may find ourselves to be physically fatigued, mentally foggy, and more irritable with those around us as we sludge though the day. Those coveted zzz’s are critical for fully adapting to the demands of everyday life and sleep problems rob us of the time needed to restore ourselves physically and psychologically. For kids, sleep is no different. It is critical for child development, and sleep difficulties can amplify underlying vulnerabilities which lead to emotional, behavioral, and learning challenges.

How do I know if my child is struggling with sleep?

For some kids, sleep difficulties are obvious as parents may notice major difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep. For others, the sleep problems may be more subtle such as snoring or restlessness. Children with neurodevelopmental differences are at a higher risk for sleep problems when compared to the general pediatric population. [1] For example, the guess- estimate prevalence rate of sleep problems in children with attention deficit/hyperactivity(ADHD) disorder is five times that of the general population [2] For kids who are especially anxious or fast-paced, winding down at the end of the day can be highly troublesome as their brains simply struggle to wind down from the day and shift into sleep mode.

How important is sleep?

Lack of sleep can take a profound toll on a child’s ability to meet the demands of everyday life. Studies have shown that sleep disturbance increases difficulties in inattention, impulsivity, and other areas of executive functioning, while memory difficulties, poor academic performance, and emotional dysregulation may all be prevalent [3]. Kids with sleep issues also may present as more oppositional and defiant than their peers. Further, reduced sleep is associated with increased injuries, hypertension, obesity, and depression. As a result, we need to closely monitor sleep patterns and consider whether sleep may a factor in any behavior or emotional issues which start to arise.

How much sleep is enough ?

The American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Sleep Medicine issued the following guidelines:

Infants ages 4-12 months should sleep 12-16 hours per day

Toddlers ages 1-2 years should sleep 11-14 hours per day

Children ages 3-5 years should sleep 10-13 hours per day

Children ages 6-12 years should sleep 9-12 hours per day

Teens ages 13-18 years should sleep 8-10 hours per  day

What can I do to ensure my child gets a good night’s rest?

Whether your child sleeps soundlessly or stirs all night long, parents are encouraged to implement good sleep hygiene practices. Sleep hygiene refers practices and healthy habits you can implement and instill in your child at a young age. These strategies may vary from child to child. For some children, a white noise machine might be critical in supporting sleep onset, while others may need absolute silence. While some strategies are unique to each individual child or family, there are several rules of thumb parents and children should strive for.

  • Maintain a fixed bedtime each night; with the upcoming school winter break, try and stay consistent.
  • Develop a bedtime routine to help wind down prior to bed. This may include taking a bath, reading books, making up a story together, and/or playing soft music.
  • Strive to wake you child up at the same time every day even over school breaks
  • Ensure your child is engaging in regular amounts of physical exercise
  • Ensure your child avoid screens (phone, computer, IPAD, television, video games) for at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime and use bed only for sleep (no television, reading, etc.).
  • For the anxious or high energy kids, parents can teach and practice relaxation strategies with their child prior to going to sleep (visual imagery, mindfulness, listening to soft music, muscle relaxation, etc.) Various applications such as the Mind Yeti may also be helpful

If your child is exhibiting significant sleep concerns such as persistent difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep, restlessness, snoring, sleep walking, night terrors, or persistent nightmares, parents are highly encouraged to discuss observations with their primary care provider. Further consultation with a sleep clinic or other medical/behavioral health specialists may be indicated.

If you ever have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us at Elevated Insights Assessment (303) 756-1197 

[1] Wise, M. S. Glaze, D. G. (2018). Assessment of sleep disorders in children. Retrieved from UpToDate website:

[2] Spruyt, K., Gozal, D. (2011) Sleep disturbances in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Expert Rev Neurother 11:565–577. doi: 10.1586/ern.11.7

[3] Owens, J. (2018) Cognitive and behavioral consequences of sleep disorders in children. Retrieved from UpToDate website:

[4] Carter, K., Hathaway, N., Lettieri, C. Common Sleep Disorders in Children. Am Fam Physician. 2014 Mar 1;89(5):368-377.

[5] Paruthi S, Brooks LJ, D’Ambrosio C, Hall WA, Kotagal S, Lloyd RM, Malow BA, Maski K, Nichols C, Quan SF, Rosen CL, Troester MM, Wise MS. Recommended amount of sleep for pediatric populations: a consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. J Clin Sleep Med 2016;12(6):785–786