S.T.E.A.M. Day

Sleep, cognitive development, and ultimately academics

How much sleep does a child need?

Sleep needs vary, especially for newborns. At first your newborn should sleep 14 – 17 hours throughout the day and night and will gradually sleep more during the night and less during the day. Toddlers and preschoolers should ideally get 11 to 14 hours of sleep a day. By this age they should be adjusted to sleeping primarily at night, with a 1 to 2 hour nap during the day. Primary school aged children need about 9 – 11 hours of sleep a night while adults should ideally get 8 hours of sleep. 


Read more: How do I know if my baby is sleeping enough?


Sleep hygiene and good sleep habits

Doing physical activities during the day can help reduce your child’s energy levels by night, allowing them to fall asleep more easily. Encourage your child to spend time playing outdoors to help synchronize their circadian rhythm using the sunlight. 


Establishing and carrying out a consistent bedtime routine is crucial. Children love and thrive on routines, so making a bedtime routine will be easy. You could try creating a wind down routine to help your child transition from playtime to bedtime. These periods are very useful for daytime naps when your child might not be naturally sleepy. During this time, make sure that they do not have access to electronic devices or any forms of blue light (which inhibits melatonin production).  



We really cannot understate the importance of sleep. In a meta-analysis of over 20 studies about sleep, researchers found a positive association between sufficient sleep and memory, language, executive function, and overall cognitive development. Moreover, by the time a child turns 3, over 1,000,000 brain synapses between left and right hemispheres form during sleep. 


We have established that sleep is really important, but what can happen if my child does not get enough sleep? Although there are a host of negative outcomes down the line, including depression, obesity, anxiety, developmental delays, many of them come down to cognitive development. Insufficient sleep can impair memory consolidation, the process of transforming recent experiences into long term memories. 


As humans we spend more than a third of our lives sleeping, so it must be important! In the moment, it might be hard to get your child to calm down and go to sleep, or get them to stop crying as you leave their room, but the long term benefits are established and well worth it.