Fall 2012
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Ask An Expert: Keeping Kids Rested

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Question

How much sleep do kids really need, and how do I know if my child is getting enough?

Answer

By Dr. J. Brian Kang, medical director of the Dell Children's Medical Center Sleep Disorders Center

The amount of sleep that children need decreases as they age. Newborns typically need 15 to 18 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, whereas toddlers need 12 to 14 hours during the same period. Preschoolers might need 11 to 13 hours.

Children typically stop taking naps at 5 years old because they are getting enough sleep overnight. Kids between 5 and 10 years old might need 10 to 12 hours, and children 11 years and older typically need nine to 10 hours of sleep.

When children don't get enough sleep, it is noticeable through their daytime behavior. They might present the classic symptoms of sleepiness such as sluggishness, but they might also be overly hyperactive or prone to significant tantrums. Older children might need naps, although they are at an age when these are not usually necessary.

To ensure your child gets adequate sleep at night, a routine bedtime and wakeup time should be maintained. Television, video games and computer use should be eliminated an hour before bedtime. Naps for age-appropriate children also should be maintained at routine times.

The quality of sleep is as important as the total amount of sleep. Children can have sleep disorders. Although they are less prevalent than in adults, obstructive sleep apnea and periodic limb movement disorder in sleep can be seen in children. These disorders can result in restless sleep and nighttime awakenings. A higher rate of abnormal behaviors in sleep including sleepwalking, bed wetting and teeth grinding is often associated with obstructive sleep apnea or periodic limb movement in sleep. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea has been associated with an increase of hyperactivity and inattentiveness in children. While difficult to diagnose, children also can experience restless legs syndrome. Children with RLS experience "growing" pains, which interfere with their ability to fall asleep.

If your child is demonstrating any of these symptoms, please speak to his or her pediatrician and/or a pediatric sleep specialist.

Ask an Expert is a partnership between the Austin American-Statesman and Seton Healthcare Family. It is intended for consumer education only. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider with questions regarding your personal health or medical condition.

Ask An Expert: Keeping Kids Rested
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Good Health for Kids is produced by Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas.