How Much Sleep Do Kids, Tweens, Teens Need?
Kids need as much as 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night in order to perform their best in school.
Lost sleep hurts learning and hinders school-day success, according to sleep experts and numerous new studies.
That’s bad news, because today’s kids get about an hour less sleep each night than they did 30 years ago, says New York Times bestselling author Po Bronson in his book NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children. This lost sleep comes with a steep price tag — impaired learning and academic success.
How does sleep boost learning? Researchers believe it has to do with the way the brain processes information during sleep. In fact, Michigan State University researchers found that children can even learn while they’re asleep as the brain integrates new information and memories. Researchers from University of Florida discovered that newborns learn in their sleep, and new research from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine shows that sleep helps students perform better on tests.
Here’s how a lack of sleep impacts kids at different ages and how to help them get a better night’s rest.
EARLY SCHOOL YEARS: 'Faux' ADHD
Sleep deprivation significantly worsens inattentiveness and hyperactivity in young children, leading to ADHD-like symptoms (known as “faux” ADHD), the American Professional Sleep Society reports. So instead of appearing sleepy, they may act hyper and goofy.
Even modest sleep deprivation is enough to hinder learning. According to a study published in the journal Sleep, a mere hour of lost slumber is enough to bring on inattentiveness and hyperactivity in young children.
How to help:
Establish a consistent, age-appropriate bedtime that allows your child to rest for 10 to 11 hours each night.
TWEEN YEARS: More sports, less sleep
During the late elementary and middle-school years, academics become more challenging and sports more competitive. But when increasingly busy schedules start cutting into sleep, kids retain less of what they learn, says Dr. Mark Splaingard, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Long hours spent on sports practice or math problems are counterproductive, if these activities keep kids up late at night,” he notes.
How to help:
Choose after-school and evening activities that end at least an hour before kids need to wind down for bed.
TEENAGE YEARS: Sleep-deprived
Teenagers are Splaingard’s most sleep-deprived patients, a fact that doesn’t surprise him. Juggling high school, after-school jobs, extracurricular activities, sports, socializing and homework simply doesn’t leave enough time for sleep. Teens need more than nine hours of sleep a night and chronic sleep deprivation hurts learning at a time when kids need lots of mental energy for tough subjects from chemistry to calculus.
Teens’ busy schedules are only partly to blame for their sleep deficits; cell phones and laptops keep teens up late, often into the wee hours. When they finally power off their computers, round-the-clock access to cell phones disrupts sleep. A new study reports that sleeping near cell phones puts teens at risk for so-called “sleep texting:” waking up and firing off text messages during the night without any recollection of having sent the texts the next morning. All this sleep disruption adds up to bleary mornings and bleak report cards.
How to help:
Set a media curfew: Shut down all electronics an hour before bed and establish a “charging station” outside the bedroom where teens leave their electronics overnight. This important step keeps bedrooms free of sleep-disrupting cell phones and computers, says Shelby F. Harris, PsyD, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. “The bedroom should be a place for sleep,” she notes. “It’s not a spot for homework, watching TV or surfing the Internet.”
When it comes to learning, tutors, cutting-edge gadgets and hours of homework can’t compensate for hours of lost sleep. When parents prioritize kids’ sleep needs, learning comes more naturally, says Splaingard. “We think we’re helping make kids more successful with more activities and more homework. But what they really need is more sleep.”
Malia Jacobson is a freelance writer. Her latest book is Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirades.