Is Everybody Getting Enough Sleep?

Gloria De Gaetano

by Jennifer Watanabe
PCI Certified Parent Coach®

As adults we all know what if feels like when we don't get enough sleep. We probably even know the risks, increased chance of: poor performance at work, use of caffeine, obesity, accidents, driving while sleepy, being less patient in trying situations, irritability, reduced concentration, reduced cognition, poor decision-making, depression, immune impairment, and even cancer.

When children don't get enough sleep their symptoms may look like this: behavioral problems, mood swings, hyperactivity or ADHD is worse, trouble with school work, trouble waking up in the morning, sleepiness, falling asleep when it is not bedtime, and irritability.

So, how much sleep is enough?

From the National Sleep Foundation:

0 to 2 months 10½ to 18 hours*
2 to 12 months 14 to 15 hours*
12 to 18 months 13 to 15 hours*
18 months to 3 years 12 to 14 hours*
3 to 5 years 12 to 14 hours*
5 to 12 years 9 to 11 hours
8½ to 9½ hours
7 to 9 hours
* includes naps

In our modern society, we all know that we adults have many demands on our time: work, commuting, caring for our children and for our homes. Children's days are filled with homework, sports, and other important activities. With our modern life comes more pulls on the family's time: TV, computers, the Internet, e-mail, video games.

Sometimes parents see their children having difficult behaviors. One of the first things parents can do is see if lack of sleep is a contributing factor. Many times it is, and if lack of sleep is not causing the behavioral issues, then at the least the lack of sleep is making things worse.

In the 2004 Sleep in America poll, it was found that "school-aged children (1st through 5th grades) get 9.5 hours [of sleep] but experts recommend 10-11 hours" of sleep.

In this poll, it was found that when the children don't get enough sleep, the parents oftentimes get less sleep themselves. When parents lose sleep they may then lose their patience. If this happens, parents can lead the family in its quest for more rest at night so that the days are better.

What can you do? First, assess the situation: determine if everyone is getting enough sleep. One clue that a person is getting enough sleep is if one wakes up naturally on time. If some family members are not getting enough sleep then decide to make changes that will help the whole family. If you feel that you or your child's life is so affected by sleep deprivation that this is important enough to do something about, then here are some suggestions that may help:

Talk up the value of getting a good night's rest
Elevate the consciousness of good sleep hygiene. Read stories to your children where the characters go to sleep. Talk about how good it feels on the days when family members get a good night's sleep. Talk about the health benefits of sleep. Children want to be like the adults in the family. If the adults value sleep, the children will be more likely to value sleep. Ask your child what he/she feels like on the days when you know he has had enough sleep. Do the same (at a low emotional time) on those days when you know your child is tired. Help your child learn his/her body cues related to sleep. Then, help your child take action to get to bed, so that the child will be more well rested. Praise and encourage good sleeping habits. Help your child to see that feeling good and functioning well during the day are the true rewards. Once the child is able to see the cause and effect of good sleep habits, then with time your child will be more likely to become internally motivated to get enough sleep.
Help your child succeed
Work to eliminate sleep detractors and encourage sleep promoters: Move any TV or computer out of your child's bedroom, have him/her stop watching TV or playing videos and stop using the computer or cell phone near bedtime, and even stop your child's caffeine intake. Invite your child to exercise before evening and to get some fresh air. Has your child ever been camping or spent the day at the beach? Remember how much your child welcomed sleep on those nights? Recognize that sleep begets sleep. Overtired children sometimes have a hard time getting to sleep and staying asleep. Some sleep advocates say that the more sleep a child gets before midnight the better quality of sleep for the child. When possible maintain a consistent bedtime 7 days a week. If you decide to move bedtime up for your child try getting your child to bed 15 minutes earlier for 4 or 5 days, then the next 4 or 5 days move bedtime up by another 15 minutes. Most humans learn best in small steps. Encourage effort and acknowledge improvement even when the gains are small. Your child will benefit from this approach.
Put your home to bed
After dinner start turning down the lights, turn off the TV, video games, etc., turn your home into a sleeping nest, comfy and cozy with quiet soothing sounds of soft music. Many times children don't want to go to bed because they are afraid that they are going to miss something exciting or important. If the home becomes boring, then the child may lose interest in staying up late. Remember those days when the power goes out? What happens around 7:30 or 8 p.m.? Many times, folks decide, oh well, might as well go to bed! The modern conveniences of light and electricity make it easy for us to stay up late. Something to consider: "The presence and absence of light can affect levels of sleepiness and alertness. It's why dimly lit rooms lead us to feel drowsy, while bright lights stimulate wakefulness." (from:

In the end, when each member of the family gets enough sleep, then the relationships between the family members tend to improve, daily life tends to run more smoothly, and school and work performance tend to lead to success.


National Sleep Foundation

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth, M.D., publ. 2003 by Random House Publishing Group.

Sleepless in America by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, publ. 2006 by HarperCollins Publisher.

Jennifer Watanabe is the mother of two boys who are now 15 and 12 years of age. Jennifer teaches parenting classes using a family friendly telebridge line (conference call) on such topics as: child development, temperament, emotional management, temper tantrums, discipline, sleep, potty training, safety awareness, sibling relationships, family communication, picking a preschool, children's friendships, and power struggles. For information re: class offerings: Jennifer Watanabe can be contacted at (206) 399-4355 or

Copyright © 2009 Jennifer Watanabe, all rights reserved. Used with permission.