Sufficient sleep in preschoolers

Why it’s important, how to spot if something’s “off”, and how should it look like anyway?!

Why sufficient sleep is important

All humans depend on a certain amount of sleep to function well. Think of it as a necessary component of health, on par with good nutrition and exercise. In preschoolers, enough quality sleep greases the gears for optimal development. It’s a prerequisite for learning, both academically and socially. With optimal rest, kids are mellower and less prone to accidents. They are better able to regulate their behavior and throw fewer tantrums. 

All sleep isn’t created equal. While some kids may get the right amount of 11-13 hours every day, the sleep quality may be off. This happens if they sleep at times that aren’t in sync with their biology. Both quality and quantity are important. 

How to spot if something is “off”

As a rule of thumb: if your child is generally active, chipper, and on an even keel throughout the day- he or she is likely getting enough sleep, at the right times. 

If, on the other hand, your child: is often tired during the day, experiences fragmented sleep at night, shows difficult behavior more often than not, bedtime is an epic battle, morning wake-ups are way too early, then it’s worth investigating if too little sleep- both in quality and quantity- could be the issue. 

What does sufficient sleep in preschoolers look like?

Circadian rhythm and sleep pressure determine when we need sleep. Kids ages 2-5 will often still nap in the afternoon. A good nap is 1-2 hours in length. Bedtime should be between 7-8pm to guarantee optimal night sleep- both in length and in quality. 

You may know when it’s time to shorten the nap or to cut it out altogether: bedtime by observing bedtime getting pushed back too late, or your kid refusing to take the nap alltogether. 

When the nap starts to negatively impact bedtime, you can start to shorten it and see if that helps with bedtime.

Once you’d need to cut it to <1 hour, it’s time to transition to no nap. It’s a good idea to institute quiet time in lieu of the nap. This will give your child the opportunity to recharge and make it to bedtime. During the transition it’s often a good idea to bring bedtime a little earlier as well.

Good web resources for more in depth information on this and other topics are the National Sleep Foundation sleepfoundation.org and the Pediatric Sleep Council babysleep.com. National Geographic featured sleep science in their August 2018 issue, and a great book I can recommend on sleep in general is “Why we sleep” by Matthew Walker, PhD.