American Academy of Pediatrics Says 10 Hours or More of Consistent Sleep Helps Kindergarteners

Sleep is about so much more than physical health. Here's what parents should know.

Young children need to catch a whole lot of Zzzs—at least 10 hours worth, according to a new study.

The research, published in the August 2022 issue of Pediatrics, found that children who typically got 10 or more hours of sleep each night, particularly before entering kindergarten, had better socio-emotional, learning engagement, and academic outcomes than those who had irregular sleep patterns. The children who slept for double-digit hours also transitioned better to kindergarten.

The researchers examined sleep measures of 221 families and controlled for income-to-poverty threshold ratios, child health status, and days absent from school. They found regular nighttime sleep totals were more important than getting at least 10 hours throughout the day, including naps.

Ten hours is more than the CDC's recommendation of at least seven hours for adults ages 18 to 65.

"The reason why children need more sleep than adults is because they are growing, and younger children require more sleep than the older kids due to the rate of growth," says Dr. Reeba Mathew, a sleep medicine specialist with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston and Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical. Recovery and restoration happen during sleep, and hormones necessary for growth are secreted during deep sleep.

Dr. Mathew, who was not a study author, adds that sleep doesn't just aid in physical growth but mental health and focus.

Small child sleeping in bed

"Sleep plays a major role in neural processing and consolidation that impacts cognition, memory, learning, problem-solving, mood, motivation, focus, and behavior, among others," Dr. Mathew says.

Some children have no problem sleeping at least 10 hours per night, but others may struggle to get the recommended amount. Dr. Mathew says parents play a role in helping children adjust.

"Protecting their sleep schedule and keeping it regular consistently will mean rearranging home or work-related tasks [and] chores if needed and ensuring regular mealtimes," Dr. Mathew says. "Keeping the schedule on the weekends is also crucial, although that is a challenge for many parents. Throwing the schedule off on the weekend confuses the child and their circadian rhythms; it potentially sets them up for a sub-optimal start to the school week."

Dr. Mathew also suggests keeping the child's bedroom screen-free and notes that children don't always show the same symptoms of sleep deprivation as adults.

"Some of the more frequently seen symptoms are hyperactivity, behavioral issues, and falling behind in school," she says.

She recommends speaking with a child's pediatrician if they continue to struggle with sleep.

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