Healthy Sleep Habits for your Family

It is unfortunate how our sleep patterns can unfairly become such a defining mark of character, even from the earliest of ages. “How’s she sleeping?” strangers and friends alike would ask of my newborn, followed by “Oh, don’t you want to be a good baby for your mama?” as if her sleep patterns were early predictors of either felony charges or sainthood.

Later, when she becomes an adolescent, she might be an early riser, finding praise from teachers in her 8 am class for being a self-starter and on task. Or maybe they’ll despise her dazed appearance because she prefers to think and study her hardest late into the evening and has not had the chance to recover.

Our American culture values certain patterns of sleep: wake early, work long hours, have dinner somewhere between 6 and 8 pm, and go to bed in time to do it again—or, stay awake working even more.

Those whose bodies naturally tend to be “night owls” and prefer to sleep-in may be seen as lazy or unable to manage time wisely. When sometimes, their natural rhythms simply do not match their cultural ones.

A Time magazine article from 2016 discusses sleep research across different countries, collected by an app named ENTRAIN that logs sleep patterns and creates a large database that tracks cultural norms of sleep [4]. For fun, you can type in your own sleep habits to learn if your routine is similar to that of maybe a Brazilian woman or a French man. Or perhaps your sleep patterns match the Spanish, who generally wake late in the morning and have dinner no earlier than 9 pm.

Despite these cultural patterns, however, quality and length of sleep is still an important aspect of development that should not be overlooked. For children and teens whose neural patterns are still developing, sleep is an integral part of overall wellness. It is foundational to emotional, physical, and even social health.

And unfortunately, American children and teens are not getting enough quality sleep.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has published statistics claiming that one in four children under the age of 5 do not get enough sleep [5].

Further, a 2021 study of sleep in adolescence shared that

“25% of preschool-age children and over 70% of high-school students [are] sleeping less than the recommended amount for optimal development” [2].

It is clear that for optimal brain operation, kids and teens need to be sleeping better.

While sleep may not actually be a predictor of moral character as jokingly mentioned before, lack of sleep can absolutely affect a young person’s ability to function cognitively, emotionally, and even socially, wreaking havoc on their daily life and increasing the risk for future concerns.

Executive function, emotional regulation, mental health, and immune system functionality are just a few of the areas of the body and brain negatively impacted by lack of quality sleep in children and teens [2, 5].

Brains at these developmental stages are still in the “building block” phases of life. Creating new neural connections and processes requires more sleep than for adults.

For example, think about what it is like to be sleep deprived and still have to get up and go to work every day. This is difficult, even if you have worked at that job for five or ten years. Now imagine being sleep deprived while it is your first week on an incredibly demanding job. Everything is new. The things that will one day be secondhand currently require extensive attention to detail and extra energy.

This is what it is like for the sleep deprived child or teen. Their bodies are not experiencing enough breaks between new information for their brains to be able to perform essential “housekeeping” tasks along the way. The result? Feelings of chaos and mental clutter.

So what do we do about it?

Some school districts in different areas of the country have been manipulating school start times to attempt to offset extreme sleep deprivation in teens, many of whom have seen positive effects in the amount of sleep for their students, with subsequent increases in attendance and academic markers [3].

While shifting a child or teen’s schedule can be helpful, this single factor is not necessarily enough to promote quality sleep for your child, especially if you live in a school district yet to implement such policies.

Here are a few tips to promote better sleep for the young people in your family:

1. Learn what sleep does for the brain so you can help your child understand its importance.

The following video could be a helpful resource to watch together.

2. Consider sleep deprivation as a possible cause of changes in mood and behavior in your child if they occur. While sleep deprivation may not be the only reason for your child’s changes, making sure quality sleep is occurring can help you determine what other mental or emotional concerns could be at play.

3. Limit screentime before bed

    • A sleep study conducted during the height of the COVID pandemic found considerable decrease in quality sleep for children as an assumed result of an increase in screen time during lockdowns and virtual school. The same article posed concern for a rise in mental health issues due to these increased rates of screen time and subsequent lack of sleep [1].
    • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least an hour without screen-time prior to bed [5].
    • The Sleep Foundation suggests making children’s bedrooms, especially their beds, a no-screen zone, even during the day, to keep this area reserved for sleep.

4. Simplify evening routine

    • Much focus is placed on an infant and toddler’s bedtime routine as being helpful for falling and staying asleep. But truly, the same concept applies to children, teens, and adults. A consistent routine, or set of habits, leading up to bedtime can send signals to your brain that sleep is approaching. Keeping bedtime and awake times similar each day can be helpful as part of this routine, as well.
    • This routine does not have to be complicated. Brush teeth, change clothes, and lights out counts as a routine. For younger children, silly rhymes and songs can mark parts of a bedtime routine. We even have a silly little song for zipping my daughter into her sleep sack!

5. Be aware of the recommended amount of sleep that is developmentally appropriate for your child

The Sleep Foundation recommends the following hours of sleep per 24-hour period [7].

Newborn 0-3 months: 14-17 hours

Infant 4-11 months: 12-15 hours

Toddler, 1-2 years: 11-14 hours

Preschool, 3-5 years: 10-13 hours

School Age, 6-13 years: 9-11 hours

Teen, 14-17 years: 8-10 hours

Young Adult, 18-25 years: 7-9 hours

Adult, 26-64 years: 7-9 hours

Older Adult, 65+ years: 7-8 hours

This chart is meant to be used as a guideline, and may vary depending on individual circumstances. Always talk to your doctor about you and your children’s sleep needs. Learn more about it here:

6. Encourage movement and outdoor time during the day

We know that exercise and exposure to natural light assists the circadian rhythm of a person’s body in following natural sleep and waking patterns. Help your child find ways to play outdoors and remain active. However, overuse of either of these things can create an opposite effect. If your child appears to be consistently overtired, consider having a coupld hours of less physical activity prior to bed to ease your child into sleep time [5].

7. Make the environment conducive to sleep

Keep the room dark and cool. Use a sound machine for white noise if preferable. Some people feel better making their bed each day to reset their sleep space; this can even assist children in recognizing

the end of an awake or sleep time and the beginning of the next. Remember, routines help cueing the brain for sleep, and this is a detail that can do just that [5]!


1. Brooks, M. (2022, June 9). Covid tied to a profound impact on children’s sleep. Medscape. Retrieved July 19, 2022, from

2. Brooks, S. J., Katz, E. S., & Stamoulis, C. (2021, October 26). Shorter duration and lower quality sleep have widespread detrimental effects on developing functional brain networks in early adolescence. OUP Academic. Retrieved July 28, 2022, from

3. Dunster et al., (2018, December 12). Sleepmore in Seattle: Later school start times are associated … – science. Science Advances. Retrieved July 28, 2022, from

4. Kluger, J. (2016, May 6). Sleep: See how different countries sleep. Time. Retrieved July 21, 2022, from

5. Pacheco, D. (2022, March 11). Children and sleep. Sleep Foundation. Retrieved July 21, 2022, from

6. Scishowkids. (2017). YouTube. Retrieved July 24, 2022, from

7. Suni, E. (2022, April 13). How much sleep do we really need? Sleep Foundation. Retrieved July 21, 2022, from