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Exactly how much sleep does my kid need?

Early this month, the National Sleep Foundation released new recommendations for the amount of sleep needed by various age groups, from newborns to older adults. Here's what you need to know.

Early this month, the National Sleep Foundation released new recommendations for the amount of sleep needed by various age groups, from newborns to older adults. This should be a relief to parents around the world. Now when your children whask (whine-ask) why you are making them go to bed so early, you'll have this devastating answer at the ready: "Because the NSF said so." That should shut them up.

Hahahahahahaha…just kidding.

The updated recommendations, to be published in the journal Sleep Health, are the result of painstaking work by an 18-person panel of experts in sleep, medicine, physiology, and science. This heroic panel combed through the last ten years' worth of scientific articles that concerned the effect of sleep duration on health, performance, and well-being. They then voted on the appropriate hours of sleep for each age group to arrive at the new guidelines.

The new sleep recommendations are not that different from those previously printed on the NSF's website: toddlers, for instance, should sleep 11-14 hours per day (previously it was 12-14), while preschoolers should sleep 10-13 hours (previously, 11-13).

The full set of updated guidelines is as follows:

  1. Newborns: 14–17 hours a day (previous recommendation: 12–18 hours)

  2. Infants: 12–15 hours (previously, 14–15)

  3. Toddlers: 11–14 hours (previously, 12–14)

  4. Preschoolers: 10–13 hours (previously, 11–13)

  5. School-aged children: 9–11 hours (previously, 10–11)

  6. Teenagers: 8–10 hours (previously, 8.5–9.5)

  7. Young adults (up to age 25): 7–9 hours

  8. Adults (26–64 years): 7–9 hours

  9. Older adults (65+): 7–8 hours

"The changes in the new recommendations are minimal but their release can be used as a helpful reminder for parents and pediatricians to include sleep habits in the discussion of overall health at every well-child visit," says Kelly Bradley-Dodds, MD, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Temple University School of Medicine.

"Many children do not get the sleep they need for optimal health and school performance. Parents may not realize that children, particularly adolescents, require so much sleep. Any parent who would like help getting their child on a healthier sleep schedule should talk to their child's doctor," she said.

Not only haven't the NSF's recommended ranges changed much, neither have my own recommendations as a child psychologist who sees too many sleepy patients.

  1. Elementary school-aged children should never have a bedtime past 8:30.

  2. Bedtime routines should be short and sweet.

  3. Children should fall asleep without their parents in the room.

  4. Teenagers need far more sleep than they think they do.

  5. Middle schools and high schools should start later so that teens can sleep longer.

  6. Parents should not allow TVs and other electronics at nighttime in bedrooms, including their own.

  7. Make adequate sleep a priority for every member of the family. Follow the new guidelines.

And, by the way, parents: Just because the NSF said 7 hours is acceptable for adults doesn't mean that you can necessarily "get away" with that amount. If you are waking up groggy and whasking yourself why you are so tired all the time, your body is telling you to aim for the upper end of the recommended range. And it isn't kidding.

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