Sleep and Sleep Disorders in Children and Teenagers

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP
    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    Dr. Perlstein received his Medical Degree from the University of Cincinnati and then completed his internship and residency in pediatrics at The New York Hospital, Cornell medical Center in New York City. After serving an additional year as Chief Pediatric Resident, he worked as a private practitioner and then was appointed Director of Ambulatory Pediatrics at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.

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Quick GuideChildren's Health Pictures Slideshow: Top Reasons Your Child Can't Sleep

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Do teenagers have the same sleep requirements as younger children?

Most teens need about 8 to 10 hours of sleep per day. Some studies have indicated that they have a different internal "sleep clock" than those younger or older than them. Researchers have demonstrated that teens are truly "night owls," and if left to their own devices, would spontaneously wake from a good night's sleep anywhere from 9:00 am to 10:00 am. High school teachers who have classes before this time period have empiric experience to second this observation. Younger children may need anywhere from 12-15 hours (infant: 2 naps plus nighttime long block) to 9-11 hours (middle school child).

How can I teach my child or teenager healthy sleep habits and good sleep hygiene?

Primary to establishing good sleep habits is a realization that sleep is a normal and necessary function. However, just as with other normal and necessary functions (for example, eating, toilet training, etc.), a battle may develop between parents and their child in this area.

All children older than 5 to 6 months of age need to master the ability to self-soothe and relax in order to successfully fall asleep. Depriving them of this skill by either feeding or rocking them to sleep, reading until the child falls asleep, or lying down with the child in order to facilitate falling asleep, is a recipe for frustration - both for the child and the parent.

Tired children (of any age) intuitively know when they are tired and, if provided the proper environment, will easily and quickly fall asleep.

When they awaken during the middle of the night they are capable of falling back to sleep without parental intervention. In this circumstance, both child and parents awake refreshed the next morning.

What are some ways I can help my child or teenager get a better night's sleep?

These "do's" are adapted from "Sleep Problems: Your Child" University of Michigan Health Care System and "Healthy Sleep Tips" from the National Sleep Foundation.

  1. Make bedtime a special time. Create special soothing and calming experiences with the opportunity for special "talks" or sharing experiences that foster comfort for both child and parent.
  2. Study your child so you can determine when he is ready to sleep. Once this is determined you can start the "get ready for bed" routine with enough time in advance so the child doesn't get a "second wind".
  3. Keep the bedtime routine consistent and simple. Mental and physical stimulation is counter productive. Dim lights starting about 10 – 15 minutes before going to sleep. Bright lights act as a stimulant to the child's brain.
  4. Keep the bedtime routine portable. For example, it can occur whether at home or outside of the home (for example, in a motel during vacation).
  5. Make sure your child is both mentally and physically tired at the end of the day. Children need between 30 to 60 minutes per day of vigorous playtime (depending on the age). Besides fostering good sleep habits, such a program will help maintain optimum weight gain.
  6. Establish a restful atmosphere. Keep the lights dim, limit noise and electronic devices. Teens should turn off computers/TV's and cell phones when retiring to bed. The bedroom temperature should be between 60 F and 67 F or 15.5 C to 19.4 C.
  7. Avoid afternoon naps in children over 6 years of age.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/18/2015
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