During sleep, amazing things happen in the brain and body. Some of the benefits of good sleep include:
- better moods and behaviour
- improved mental health, self-esteem and resilience
- enhanced concentration and memory which helps learning
- a strong immune system which can help prevent illness.
Getting enough sleep is essential for the health and wellbeing of children at every age – from babies through to teenagers. Sleep is just as important as good nutrition, physical activity and learning – in fact sleep helps improve all those other things.
Like other health issues, kids and teenagers can't manage sleep on their own and need support from parents to set up sleep routines. By creating positive, regular sleep habits early on, you are helping your child grow, learn, and develop into healthy adults.
Sleep for growing kids
During early childhood, sleep improves learning by helping children process memories, focus at school and take in information from the world around them. The transfer of short term to long term memories only happens during sleep – and this is when the learning from the day before sinks in.
Sleep myth 1: Children who are active before bed just have too much energy.
Some poor behaviour and irritable moods can be linked to sleep. Unlike adults, when children are tired, they often appear to have
more energy – a sign their body is trying to stay awake. In turn, this can make it hard to settle them before bedtime.
The great thing about sleep is that good sleep can improve moods and behaviour, and better moods and behaviour can create even better sleep.
Tips for helping your child get more sleep
- Keep a consistent bedtime – going to sleep and waking up the same time each day helps their internal body clock to work.
- Start getting your child ready for sleep 30 minutes before bedtime. During these 30 minutes, do not allow screen time and focus on relaxing activities like reading or having a bath.
- Limit daytime or other activities in bed aside from reading before sleep. This helps the brain link bedtime with sleep.
- Encourage your child to spend time outdoors during the day and aim to get 60 minutes of exercise.
Sleep for teenagers
Sleep continues to be important for development in teenage years. 70% of high school students don't get enough sleep on week nights – and sleep deprivation can affect young people's physical and mental health later in life.
During adolescence, the internal body clock is temporarily reset, telling the teenage brain to fall asleep later and wake up later – this sometimes results in less sleep.
Your teenager may not be getting enough sleep if:
- they struggle to get up for school on weekday mornings and
- they sleep in for a long time on weekends.
Sleep myth 2: Teenagers need the same amount of sleep as adults.
The teenage years are the only time in our human lifespan when sleep does not decrease as we get older. Whether your teen is 12 or 18 years, they still need around 9 hours sleep on average.
Better sleep is linked to improved performance in school and other activities such as sport.
When teenagers do not sleep enough, parts of their brain are more likely to shut down when trying to learn during the day. This can mean they won't remember what they learnt, especially when they are studying late into the night. This is because their brains don't get the chance to transfer this learning into long term memory, which only happens during sleep.
Mental and physical health
Getting enough sleep can help teenagers feel happier by improving moods, self-esteem and reducing anxiety.
Research shows that poor sleep in adolescence is linked to a higher risk of depression, anxiety and suicide in adulthood. A lack of sleep can also increase the risk of diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.
Using screens in bed trains the brain to be awake and excited, rather than linking bed with sleep. Plus, the blue light from screens keeps the brain awake by suppressing melatonin – the hormone that regulates the body's sleep cycle.
Sleep myth 3: Time in the bedroom equals time asleep.
Just because your child is in their bedroom does not mean they are asleep. As kids get older, they bring study and screens into the bedroom which can mean they stay up too late.
Tips for helping your teenager get more sleep
- Explain to your teenager that you are concerned about their sleep and give a reason – like an increase in bad moods, poor performance at school or being more emotional than usual. Tell them you would like to help as good sleep can be difficult to achieve.
- Discuss how they might benefit from sleep – do they want to learn better to help with a future career goal? Do they want to become better at sports, or improve their self-image and self-esteem? Get teenagers motivated about what sleep can do for them.
- Create an evening routine with set times for dinner and homework. Agree on a regular bedtime together, where they can aim to get 8-10 hours of sleep.
- Talk to your teenager about how they can keep computer and phone screens out of bed.
- Encourage your teenager to relax by showering, reading or listening to chilled music 45 minutes before bed and limit screens, homework and exercise as much as possible.
- Limit caffeine, including coffee and energy drinks during the day, and especially in the evening.
Recommended amounts of sleep
How many hours of sleep does my child or teenager need? According to the
Australian 24-hour Movement Guidelines:
0-3 months: 14 to 17 hours of good quality sleep, including naps during the day.
4-11 months: 12 to 16 hours of good quality sleep, including naps during the day.
1-2 years: Toddlers need 11 to 14 hours of good quality sleep, including naps during the day. It is important to start establishing consistent habits for when you put them to sleep and wake them up each day.
3-5 years: Pre-schoolers need 10 to 13 hours of good quality sleep. This can include a nap, with consistent sleep and wake-up times.
5-13 years: uninterrupted 9 to 11 hours a night.
14-17 years: uninterrupted 8 to10 hours a night.
figures are a guide but because every child is unique, keep an eye out for
signs of sleep deprivation. For example, irritable moods, difficulty waking up, poor concentration or changes in behaviour. To learn more about sleep at different ages visit raisingchildren.net.au.
Need more advice about sleep? Speak to your GP or learn more about sleep medicine and treatment at the
Children's Hospital at Westmead or
Sleepshack, an online service for parents of teenagers.
Source: Dr Chris Seton (Paediatric & Adolescent Sleep Physician from the Children's Hospital at Westmead).