Sleep and Your Child

sleep and your child

The trouble with a child who is missing sleep is that her behavior is confusing. It’s hard to believe that the real culprit behind her temper tantrum is lack of sleep when bedtime is one of your biggest battles, or she loses it simply because you dropped her water bottle. And when she can’t even dress herself, even though she did it yesterday, it feels more like a plot against you than an issue of fatigue. How can a child who is supposedly so tired somehow garner the energy to veer off her path just far enough to bop her brother in the head? Then, jump on her bed laughing hysterically when you try to get her down for the night?”

If your child is misbehaving, it’s very likely that he or she is crying for sleep. Sleep-deprived children can include babies who are sleeping less than 14 – 16 hours in a 24-hour period; toddlers sleeping less than 13 hours, preschoolers less than 12 hours, school-age children less than 10 hours, or adolescents sleeping less than 9.25 hours a night.

“And until your child gets more sleep, no punishment, no discipline strategy will stop the challenging behaviors. Sound sleep is a key to good behavior. The problem is that children rarely tell you that they are tired. Instead, they get wired, which escalates into a frenzy of energy. It’s as though their body is out of control — and it is.”

Signs of Sleep Deprivation

  • Loses it over little things
  • Easily frustrated or irritated
  • Upset by changes
  • Easily overwhelmed
  • Clumsy
  • Has to be woken in the morning
  • Frenzied, hitting and yelling
  • Can’t focus and pay attention, doesn’t listen
  • Impatient and bossy, less flexible

How to Tell if Your Child is Getting Enough Sleep

  • Wakes up on their own
  • Listens
  • Stays focused on tasks
  • Is able to wait their turn
  • Falls asleep easily at night
  • Can deal with changes in routine or surprises well

What You Can Do

  • Establish a regular wake time (within 30-60 minutes, 7 days a week)
  • Exposure to morning light (before exposure to screens)
  • Establish a regular breakfast time
  • Emphasize exercise
  • Protect nap times (for infants this can be within 45 minutes of waking up! For toddlers it can be 1.5 to 2 hours after waking and for preschoolers it is 5-6 hours after waking.)
  • Serve snacks and meals on a regular schedule with the same bedtime each night
  • Feed your child 6 times per day (about every 3 hours) providing a balance of protein and carbs with an emphasis on protein boost at bedtime

Recommended sleep for your child in a 24 hour period

Infants (0-11 months)                                                                                                             14-18 hours

Toddlers (1-2 years)                                                                                                                13-14 hours

Preschoolers (3-5 years)                                                                                                         11-13 hours

School Age (6-13 years)                                                                                                          10-11 hours

Teen (14-17 years)                                                                                                                    9.25-10 hours

Adult (26-64 years)                                                                                                                 8.25 hours

All information is provided courtesy of Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, a parenting educator located here in our valley and author of several books including Sleepless in America: Is Your Child Misbehaving…or Missing Sleep? Mary can be reached on Facebook at Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, and at She provides classes locally and is available for in-home consultations to help solve your sleeping difficulties. If you have more questions about sleep, reach out to one of our occupational therapists for help.