The Importance of Sleep in Children

Sleep is very important for maintaining a healthy immune system, the ability to regulate emotions and a receptiveness to learning, poor sleep will reduce these capacities in a child. When looking at sleep it’s important to not only assess your child’s sleep amounts, but also look at the sleep consolidation and sleep distribution over a 24 hour period. By six months of age children should be sleeping 6 hours in a row and have zero to one feed. By nine months children should be sleeping uninterrupted at night. Indeed, continuing to feed at night reduces the quality of sleep and is indicative of a sleep problem.

Common Sleep Issues

  • Night time wakings
  • Bed time struggles, taking 30 minutes or longer to get the child to bed
  • Middle of the night wakings for 1-2 hours each night whereby no amount of ignoring solves the problem
  • Early morning waking, where the child is really ready to start the day at around 4:30 or 5am
  • Problems with napping, either the child won’t nap, needs to be held to sleep or takes very short naps
  • Transitioning from cot to big bed and won’t stay in the bed
  • Needs a lot of assistance to fall asleep at night such as rocking, bouncing, patting or feeding

Sleep or lack of sleep, definitely does impact the academic performance of a child or adolescent. In the last seven years more than 30 studies have demonstrated that shortened total sleep time, erratic sleep/wake schedules, fragmented sleep, late bedtimes and rise times and poor sleep quality are associated with poorer school performances (Buckhalt, Wolfson, & El-Sheikh, 2009). These school outcomes results have included teacher ratings, grades, individual tests of neurocognitive functioning and comprehensive norm-referenced intelligence batteries (Buckhalt et al, 2009).

Poor school performance studies have focused on sleep/wake patterns and academic grades. The studies suggest that children with erratic sleep schedules, sleep-in on weekends, who take a long time to fall asleep and have overall sleepiness, do worse in school (Buckhalt et al., 2009). These studies were done on a wide age range of children. Of interesting note is that several studies have been done with children to assess cognitive performance after sleep has been restricted by as little as one hour per night. When sleep was restricted, there was notable diminished cognitive performance in the children (Buckhalt et al., 2009).

Attention Deficit Disorder is an issue linking poor sleep hygiene and mental health (Buckhalt et al., 2009). Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) is a rapidly growing diagnosis of child that may have its roots in poor sleep habits for some children diagnosed. In addition to sleep affecting academic performance, poor sleep hygiene can impact a child’s health by inducing stress and then stress induced illnesses, which will impact the child’s performance at school, especially if they are missing class because they are sick. The author has seen an increase in older child clients being referred to a psychiatrist for evaluation for ADHD because of behavioral problems in day care or preschool. However after evaluation the problem turned out to be a sleep problem due to the child’s lack of knowing how to fall asleep on the child’s own, frequent night wakings and not enough quality sleep.

In 2007 there was a long-term study done on 1037 people to assess for childhood sleep time and long term risk for obesity. The study, conducted by Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit, Dept. of preventative and social medicine, Dunedine School of Medicine and University of Otag found that shorter childhood sleep times were significantly associated with higher adult BMI values (Landhuis, Poulton, Welch & Hancox, 2007). Therefore, proper sleep habits, that include not just enough time in bed, but rather a consistent route of going to bed, waking and getting enough sleep contribute to better academic performance.

In Singapore, there is much pressure to do the required schooling plus additional tuition and training. However if a child is not well rested, the child’s ability to take in all the information and synthesis it will be compromised. A child needs both enough time in bed but also consolidated sleep that involves no night wakings. If a child at the age of 12 months and up is still waking 1, 2, 3 or more times this is highly fragmented sleep that is not good quality and overtime will result in a shortage of sleep that will impact the child’s ability to regulate their emotion, pay attention and learn. Often older children are being forced to give up night sleep in exchange for more homework. However, as discussed earlier, when sleep is reduced by even 1 hour each night cognitive performance is reduced and the quality of the work produced will take longer and be of lower quality. Children at age 7 need at least 10 1/2 hours sleep, yet many children in Singapore getting 8 hours or less. The long term consequences for this loss of sleep are quite profound.

What can you as parents do? Make sure that you establish good sleep hygiene at an early age. This means having a regular bedtime that is age appropriate and respects the amount of time the child needs to spend in bed. Establish a consistent and repeatable bedtime routine at a young age so that going to bed is fun and not a battle. Make sure your child knows how to fall asleep unassisted so that by one year of age they are sleep though the night without waking (sleeping through the night is considered 9 ½ hours in a row). If you have concerns contact Tammy Fontana at

Written: Tammy Fontana,
Baby Sleep Fairy 2009
Published in:


Buckhalt, J. A., Wolfson, A. R. & El-Sheikh, M (2009). Children’s sleep and school psychology practice. School Psychology Quarterly, 24(1), 60-69.

C.E., Poulton, R., Welch, D., Hancox, R. J. (2007). Childhood sleep time and long-term risk for Obesity: A 32- year prospective birth cohort study. Pediatrics, 122(5), 955-960

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About Rei

A mother of 2 who loves travel, food, shopping, face mask and Sale!
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