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• There is no one-size-fits all approach when it comes to children and sleep problems
• Parents should see what works best for their child and be flexible
• Inadequate sleep affects every aspect of a child’s well-being and functioning

Sleep problems may affect children's behavior

Filed in
  • sleep length
  • children
  • Pediatrics

American Academy of Sleep Medicine  |  Oct 29, 2012
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Getting your child to go to bed is not always easy. However, good sleep is vital for a child’s well-being and can cause more than just tiredness in the morning.

Inadequate sleep – whether too short or poor quality – causes specific changes in mood and thinking, says Dr. Dean Beebe, director of the neuropsychology program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

“First, inadequate sleep causes everyone, including children, to be biased towards seeing the world in a more negative light and less in a positive one,” he says. “Even more, inadequate sleep causes children (perhaps even more than adults) to have problems regulating the ups and downs in their moods, leading to wider and more rapid reactions to relatively minor events. Children who don’t get enough sleep also don’t pay attention as well, are less likely to think before they act, and don’t seem able to solve problems as well.”

In fact, not getting enough sleep really affects every aspect of a child’s well-being and functioning, adds Dr. Jodi Mindell, Associate Director at the Sleep Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and author of Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers, and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night’s Sleep.

“Children who don’t get sufficient sleep at night, are more likely to be overactive and noncompliant, as well as being more withdrawn and anxious.”

There are some signs that parents can look for to determine whether their child could have a sleep problem. If a child has difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, there could be a problem. Other signs include snoring or other breathing problems while sleeping, having a tough time waking up in the morning, sleepiness during the day, problems paying attention, becoming very moody or grouchy, or acting without thinking.

To prevent sleep problems in children, parents should establish positive sleeping habits. These habits include setting a bedtime, having a consistent bedtime routine, and encouraging children to fall asleep independently. In addition, keeping all electronics out of the bedroom will help children to get a good night’s sleep.

How can parents know when they should take their child to see a sleep specialist? If parents are having trouble getting their children to go to sleep at bedtime or stay asleep during the night, then it is a good time to start looking for help.

“In those cases, the best treatment is behavioral, not medicinal, but don’t underestimate how hard it can be to change behaviors,” warns Dr. Beebe. “If parents notice that their child snores loudly most nights or is very restless at night (e.g., their covers are a tangled mess in the morning), they may have a very treatable sleep disorder that is causing poor quality sleep.  So parents should talk to their child’s primary care doctor.”

As far as how much sleep children should be getting, Mindell recommends these sleeping guildelines for children of different ages.

  • 3 months - 1 year need about 14 - 15 hours a day.
  • 1 – 3 years should sleep for 12 - 14 hours a day.
  • 3 – 5 years need 11 – 12 hours of sleep a day.
  • 6 – 12 years require sleep for 10 – 11 hours a day.
  • 12 – 18 years should sleep between 8.5 – 9.5 hours a day.

Tips for Parents

  • Have a wind-down time at night that involves calm activities, such as a bath/shower and time to read or draw.
  • Tone down the lights in the evening to allow the body to naturally make its own melatonin.
  • Turn off any electronics at least an hour before bed and leave them off for the rest of the night.
  • Encourage children to fall asleep independently.


  1. 1 Dawn 17 Sep
    My 8 year old has always had trouble falling asleep%2c he even lays down and I think he is asleep then suddenly he%27s sitting up or fidgeting i think he starts to get anxious or doesn%27t like the feeling of falling asleep so distracts himself until the point hes up sitting on the floor singing or playing. He%27s now getting about 7 hrs sleep a night. What can we do%2c desperately need help. X
  2. 2 sindy 01 Feb
    hi im a 12 year old thank you so much for this!
  3. 3 Franca Whyte 06 Jan
    Very impressive post. It is very relevant and accurate.
  4. 4 Raven 02 Jan
    Hello! I am a 10 year old that is concerned about my sleep. According to this website, the average hours of sleep a kid my age would be 10-11, correct? This isn’t for me however. I get 9 or less hours. It’s rare for me to get more than 10, and it’s not really unusual when I get 6 hours. In the morning, despite everyone and their joyful gazes, I always feel sad and lonely, or sometimes empty. I’m always tired during the day and CAN’T focus for more than 6 minutes. Is there something wrong with me? My mom says I’m just being over dramatic.  
  5. 5 Amanda Paolo 06 Jun
    hi, I have a question! So my daughter goes with her Dad on his days and had to bring her back home at 5am. Then she goes back to sleep here and doesn’t wake up until about 10. Then the rest of the day, she’s just so naughty and I really think her sleep being disrupted, has really made her behavior worse. Most come to the point where I am asking that he drops her off at night so she can just sleep here. Am I right to assume her sleep getting disrupted can be causing her bad behavior?
  6. 6 h 01 Nov
    if my child is sleeping badly will I put to bed earlier
  7. 7 AASM 26 Feb
    Mags - It is important to help young students - and their parents - understand: 1. Why sleep is important 2. How much sleep they need 3. What time they should go to bed 4. How they can prepare for bedtime. We have some resources that can help you bring the topic of sleep into your classroom: For more instruction, the non-profit organization Sweet Dreamzzz offers a curriculum workshop for teachers: 
  8. 8 Mags 18 Feb
    How do I help my elementary students who are chronically sleep deprived?  
  9. 9 AASM 17 Feb
    Nicky - If your teen is having ongoing sleep problems, you can use our Find a Sleep Center directory to locate a sleep specialist near you.
  10. 10 Nicky 15 Feb
    I have a 13 year old, and I did everything listed on here, and I'm wondering if you have someone I can call.
  11. 11 vusi Patrick nazo 30 Jan
    Hi I have son his age they got problem of sleeping in class. So I don't know what must I do.
  12. 12 AASM 03 May
    TootieFrootie, Glad we could help - give your daughter our congratulations! 
  13. 13 TootieFrootie 28 Apr
    I was helping my daughter with her science fair project then I found this......she got an A+ thanks. :)
  14. 14 karamel 07 Dec
    what are the side effects of sleep depravtion?

  15. 15 Bill 04 Nov
    This is a good website :)