Sleep is a very important part of your child’s mental and physical health because it allows your child’s mind and body to rest and recover. There are many things you can do to help your child or teen get good quality sleep as often as possible.
Benefits of sleep for mental health
Your child’s brain needs sleep to restore resources that were used up during the day. A well-rested brain can solve problems, learn new information and enjoy the day a lot more than a tired brain. Some areas of your child’s brain are even more active while they sleep.
Children who consistently get a good night’s sleep:
- are more creative
- can concentrate on tasks for longer
- have better problem-solving abilities
- are better able to make positive decisions
- are more able to learn and remember new things
- have more energy during the day
- can create and maintain good relations with others.
What are the signs and symptoms of lack of sleep?
Not getting enough sleep each night can have negative consequences for your child. These cannot always be erased with extra sleep the next night. Over time, not getting enough quality sleep each night can produce a range of behavioural, cognitive (mental) and emotional symptoms.
- Finding it difficult to wake up in the morning
- Falling asleep after being woken up and needs you to wake them again or repeatedly
- Yawning frequently during the day
- Complaining of feeling tired or wanting to nap during the day
- Preferring to lie down during the day, even if it means missing activities with friends or family
- Falling asleep or seeming drowsy at school or at home during homework
- Wanting to consume unhealthy stimulants, such as caffeine or sugar, regularly
- Reduced immune system function, so they may be sick more often
Cognitive (mental) symptoms
- Lacking interest, motivation and attention for everyday tasks
- Increased forgetfulness
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty learning new information
- Increased moodiness and irritability
- Increased impulsivity
- Increased stress throughout the day
When your child owes their mind and body sleep, this is called sleep debt. A large sleep debt (not getting enough sleep for many nights in a row) can result in your child feeling mentally exhausted. It can also worsen the symptoms of any existing behaviour, anxiety and mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder.
How much sleep does my child need?
Your child’s circadian rhythm (also called their “body clock”) is a 24 hour cycle that tells your child’s body when to sleep. The body clock is influenced by your child’s age; children need less sleep as they get older.
The Canadian Paediatric Society has produced a general guide to the amount of sleep young children need over a 24-hour period, including naps.
||Recommended amount of sleep
|Newborns (0 to 2 months)
||16 to 18 hours (3 to 4 hours at a time)
|Babies (2 months to 6 months)
||14 to 16 hours
|Older babies (6 months to 1 year)
|Toddlers (1 to 3 years)
||10 to 13 hours
|Pre-schoolers (3 to 5 years)
||10 to 12 hours
|School-aged children (5 to 10 years)
||10 to 12 hours
The National Sleep Foundation offers guidelines for older children and teens.
||Recommended amount of sleep
|6 to 13 years
||9 to 11 hours
|14 to 18 years
||8 to 10 hours
The recommended amount of sleep is simply a guideline, as each child is different. In addition, sometimes your child might need a little more sleep than what is recommended and other times they may feel fine with a little less. Talk to your child and adjust their sleep schedule to find out how much sleep per night works best.
How to respond to changes in your child’s sleep routine
Naturally, there are times when your child’s bedtime may be later than usual, for instance on a family vacation or a special occasion. Going to bed a little later than usual is fine once in a while, but it is important to return your child to a healthy sleep schedule right away to give them the best chance of rest and recovery.
Keep in mind too that some children may have a reason to wake up during the night, for instance if they need to use the washroom, experience bedwetting, have a nightmare or tend to sleepwalk. If you are concerned about the number of times your child wakes up, snores or has pauses in their breathing during the night, see your family doctor.
- Lack of sleep causes irritability, increased stress, forgetfulness, difficulties with learning and low motivation. Over time, it can contribute to anxiety and depression.
- Sleep time guidelines depend on a child's age. Every child is different, so take time to figure out what works best for your child.
- If your child's sleep routine is disrupted, return them to a healthy sleep schedule as soon as possible.
- See your doctor if you have concerns about your child's sleep patterns.
For more tips on maintaining your child's mental health, please see the following pages:
Physical activity: Guidelines for children and teens
Physical activity: Benefits of exercise for health and wellbeing
Sleep tips: How to help your child get a good night's sleep
Sleep tips: How to help your teen get a good night's sleep
Screen time: Overview
Screen time: How to help your child set healthy limits
Nutrition: How a balanced diet and healthy eating habits can support your child's mental health