How Much Sleep?

Dear Mamas,

I keep reading about how kids aren’t getting enough sleep these days, and that can lead to poor school performance, fatigue, moodiness … even obesity! It makes sense, and I get that kids need more sleep than adults, but how much exactly?

I’m a single mom with a 4-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy, and by the time we get home in the evening, eat dinner, and finish homework it’s already late. Add a little snuggle time on the couch with our favorite TV shows, and we all end up headed for bed in unison. I’m pretty sure that’s not what the experts have in mind, so give it to me straight: what are the rules?



Dear Stephanie,

This is one of our favorite topics, and we talk about it all the time. By now you probably know that it’s not only kids who need plenty of sleep — all sorts of grown-up problems are being linked to a shortage of shut-eye.

Yes, kids need significantly more dreamtime than adults, but how much is enough? Sleep requirements do vary from child to child (we all know highly active ones who just don’t seem to need as much, and others who fall apart without a solid sleep routine) but the following are general guidelines. Here’s the breakdown, according to WebMD.

Newborns: 18-20 hours per day (but not the 18-20 you might choose)

1-3 Years Old: 12 – 14 hours per day

3-6 Years Old: 10 – 12 hours per day

7-12 Years Old: 10 – 11 hours per day

12-18 Years Old: 8 – 9 hours per day

This is only going to happen if you set a reasonable bedtime for your guys and make it stick. That means if your 8-year-old needs to get in, let’s say, 10 1/2 hours of zzz time before his alarm goes off at 7 AM, he’d better be well on his way to REM by 8:30. This may seem impossible if yours have gotten used to staying up for American Idol and falling into bed exhausted right around the same time you do, so don’t try the cold turkey approach.

Start moving school night bedtimes back by about 15 minutes at a time. Keep it there for a few days while they adjust and then take another step back. Repeat until you reach a time that works. If their favorite TV show is a roadblock, vow to tape it for family viewing later or on the weekend. Value added? You’ll find yourself with some alone time you didn’t have before, and that’s a win-win.

Sweet dreams!

~ The Mamas


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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.

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One response to “How Much Sleep?”

  1. Ann

    Our sleep challenge is school start times–7:35. So the kids need to be up by 7, which means asleep by 9 to get 10 hours in (on the minimum side). But Scouts doesn’t get done until 8:30, and the “late” game for baseball is over at 8:45 (7:15 start, first game slot is 5:30 but that pushes work schedules and messes with dinner), and he needs a snack and a shower. Good thing we live close to school so there isn’t the added morning time for the bus….

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The Mama ButtonThe information provided by MamasOnCall is not intended as a substitute for professional advice, but is for information purposes only. You assume full responsibility for the health and well-being of your family. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical or psychiatric condition.