No caring parent would deprive a child of food, water, or air.

They’re all vital to living, but parents sometimes trim the edges off a child’s nighttime routine to make room for a more active daytime.

That, according to Lisa Meltzer, Ph.D., a sleep psychologist a National Jewish Health, is just like depriving a child of other necessities.

“Parents need to make sleep a priority,” she told Healthline. “It’s as essential to health as breathing, eating, and drinking.”

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How Much Sleep?

Children of different ages need different hours of sleep each day, including overnight rest and naps during the day.

To find the optimal amount, a panel of 13 experts in sleep medicine and research developed sleep recommendations after reviewing 864 published articles.

Their guidelines, published Monday in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, are as follows:

  • infants 4 months to 12 months: 12 to 16 hours per day
  • children 1 to 2 years: 11 to 14 hours per day
  • children 3 to 5 years: 10 to 13 hours per day
  • children 6 to 12 years: 9 to 12 hours per day
  • teenagers 13 to 18 years: 8 to 10 hours per day

Researchers didn’t establish guidelines for children younger than four months because of the “wide range of normal variation in duration and patterns of sleep” and the lack of evidence related to their health outcomes.

Meltzer, who was not a part of establishing the guidelines, but has researched child and teen sleep behavior, says the guidelines make sense. Overall, she said, adolescents are only getting 7 to 7.5 hours of rest a night.

“They are just not sleeping enough,” she said.

But to make these hours possible involves creating “sleep opportunities,” including a consistent bedtime “across the board,” she said.

This means making sure bedrooms are cool, dark, comfortable, and technology free. Glowing screens, she says, affect a person’s ability to create melatonin, which regulates sleep timing and other vital functions.

“It used to be just TVs,” Meltzer said. “Now it’s computers, tablets, phones, and so on.”

Technology in the bedroom can rob a child of 30 minutes of sleep a night, she said. Over the course of a week, that’s 3.5 hours.

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How Lost Sleep Can Damage a Child

A lack of sleep harms a child more than simply making them moody the next day, although that’s one sign more rest is needed.

The new guidelines, which were funded by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), spell out what the research says about children getting adequate or inadequate sleep.

Children who get enough sleep every night, researchers say, have improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health.

Conversely, too little sleep can lead to an increase in injuries, hypertension, obesity, and depression. Teens are especially at an increased risk for self-harm or suicidal thoughts.

If a child is sleeping in two or more hours on the weekend to “catch up,” falling asleep when they shouldn’t be, or parents have to drag them out of bed in the morning, those are sure signs a child isn’t sleeping enough, Meltzer said.

“In America, sleep is for slackers, at least in the public mindset,” Meltzer said.

But what about the old saying, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead?”

“If you believe that, you’ll be dead sooner,” Meltzer said.

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