Recently I have had several parents tell me that family members and even people from the medical profession told them that it is “normal for some children to not sleep much”. I had a mom of a two-year old tell me that her daughter was sleeping about 4 hours per night! The mother was exhausted but she was being told that was probably normal for her child to sleep only a few hours.
Adults require less sleep than children. So, if you the parent are exhausted with the amount of sleep you are receiving, your child is even more exhausted. If you are bed-sharing with your child, remember your child needs a lot more sleep than you do.
As adults we might cover up our signs of tiredness by drinking coffee, eating, showing little energy or having a difficult time focusing mentally. But, our babies and young children are going to cover up their tiredness with hyperactivity. Sometimes they will be fussy or cranky but not always. The young child might not look exhausted but will feel lousy. Young children might not know what it feels like to be well-rested if they have never been able to experience that feeling.
How much sleep does every child need? It may vary a small amount how much sleep one child needs compared to other children but the sleep recommendations apply to all children.
Sleep needs according to the National Sleep Foundation for 2015 are:
Newborns (0-3 months) need 14-17 hours
Infants (4-11 months) need 12-15 hours
Toddlers (1-2 years) need 11-14 hours
Preschoolers (3-5 years) need 10-13 hours
School age (6-13 years) need 9-11 hours
Teenagers (14-17 years) need 8-10 hours
Younger adults (18-25 years) need 7-9 hours
Adults (26-64 years) 7-9 need hours
Older adults (65+ years) need 7-8 hours
Lack of sleep can affect our bodies, in particular long-term sleep deprivation. There are an increasing number of studies pointing to lack of sleep as contributing to depression, obesity, a decreased ability to learn for school age children and preschoolers. Behavior problems in children can also be attributed to lack of enough sleep. The two-year old, I mentioned earlier, who was sleeping only four hours per night, was having many behavior problems.
Will your child just outgrow their inability to sleep? Probably not. Our children must be taught to sleep. Some children learn healthy sleep habits very easily. Other children need additional help to learn those sleep skills. I work with families to help children learn how to sleep.
Sleep is a necessary life long skill for health and happiness.