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Children and sleep - how much is enough and how to ensure your child is getting a healthy amount.

Every parent knows just how difficult tired children can be. We have all felt the wrath of a tired child at some point and its not fun for the parent or the child. Kids can suffer from sleep difficulties just as adults can and long term, sleep impairment can affect daytime functioning. Heres a guide to how much sleep is adequate and the ways to promote healthy sleep for your child.

How much sleep is enough?

The amount of sleep that kids require changes as they grow but the following can be used as a general guide -

Children aged 0-1 year need 14-16 hours/day

Children aged 1-3 years need 12-14 hours/day

Children aged 3-12 years need 10-12 hours/day

Children aged 12-18 years need 8-10 hours/day

But it not just about hours, restlessness throughout the night causes a decrease in sleep quality which can lead to a child feeling unrefreshed when they wake.

Signs that your child is not getting adequate sleep include irritability, headaches, less enjoyment and participation in activities, behavioural problems, lack of concentration and memory, anxiety at bedtime, daytime fatigue and daytime hyperactivity.


Insomnia is persistent difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep. Insomnia is usually a sign that something else is going on, its a symptom rather than a disease.

What causes insomnia in kids

There are a number of factors that can contribute to insomnia including poor diet, food sensitivities, anxiety, stress, bedwetting and fear of doing so, lack of bedtime routine, ADHD, behavioural problems, pain, constipation and teething.

Promoting healthy sleep

There are lots of things that you can do to help your child improve there sleep.

  • Creating a bedtime routine is really important. Going to bed at the same time each night creates a sleep schedule that promotes sleep onset. Transitioning your child toward bedtime by turning down the lights, switching off the television and doing quieter activities will promote relaxation. Avoid vigorous, stimulating activities at least one hour prior to bed.

  • Create a healthy sleep environment by ensuring your childs bedroom is cool, has plenty of ventilation, is quiet and dark. The circadian rhythm or sleep cycle is responsible for sleepiness and alertness and is affected by light and darkness. Exposure to late afternoon sun as well as darkness in the evening will enhance the health of the circadian cycle.

  • Diet has a huge effect on sleep quality. Caffeinated beverages, processed foods, foods high in sugar and saturated fats can all interfere with sleep. A whole-foods diet rich in colourful vegetables, quality protein and healthy fats will help maintain healthy blood sugar levels, optimise nutrition and minimise your childs exposure to food additives and colourings.

  • Relaxation techniques such as guided meditations can be great tools to calm children at bedtime particularly if your child has difficulty "switching off" worrying thoughts. There are a number of free mindfulness apps available for download such as Headspace Guided Meditation and Smiling Mind.

Where to next

If poor sleep is affecting your childs daily activities you may consider professional practitioner assistance to identify possible food or environmental triggers, allergies or intolerances or support for anxiety. Your practitioner can recommend lifestyle and dietary changes as well as appropriate herbal and/or nutritional supplementation to promote healthy sleep and a happier child.

Metagenics Insomnia - Children protocol, August 2011

#sleep #childrenshealth #parenting #health



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