Children's Hospital Colorado

Insufficient Sleep in Children

What is insufficient sleep?

Insufficient sleep means not getting enough sleep at night, which can cause several problems including decreased brain development, learning problems and more frequent negative emotions. It can also contribute to weight management problems, growth issues and increased frequency of illnesses. Insufficient sleep may also referred to as sleep deprivation.

Sufficient sleep means getting enough sleep to wake up in the morning feeling refreshed and being able to maintain energy throughout the day. The amount of sleep a child needs falls within a range, much like adults. Your child may require a different amount of sleep than their peers.

Sleep needs change with age. The following are typical amounts of sleep kids need in a 24-hour period:

  • Infants (4 to 12 months): 12 to 16 hours (including naps)
  • Toddlers (1 to 2 years): 11 to 14 hours (including naps)
  • Preschoolers (3 to 5 years): 10 to 13 hours (including naps)
  • School-aged children (6 to 12 years): 9 to 12 hours
  • Adolescents (13 to 18 years): 8 to 10 hours

What causes insufficient sleep?

Many things can cause insufficient sleep or sleep deprivation, including medical problems, mental health issues and poor sleep hygiene (sleep habits). Some medical conditions that contribute to poor sleep include obstructive sleep apnea, periodic limb movements, excessive movement when sleeping and acid reflux.

Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep in a reasonable amount of time or waking up during the night and having trouble falling back to sleep. Symptoms may include insufficient sleep and not feeling refreshed after sleep. Insomnia can occur at any age. Depression, anxiety, trauma, life changes, hormonal fluctuations, poor sleep habits and an "overly active mind" can all contribute to insomnia.

Babies and younger children may have frequent night awakenings. Parents often describe the condition as a baby who won't stop crying during the night or a child who won't stay in bed throughout the night. These extended waking periods and disruptions in sleep often reduce the amount of sleep both the child and other family members get during the night. Night awakenings often occur because a child or baby has not learned to "self-soothe" and go back to sleep after natural wakings that commonly occur throughout the night.

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