How Much Sleep Does a Kid Really Need?

CC BY 2.0. Liz Lawley

A handy chart from a Wisconsin elementary school breaks it down, based on age and wake-up time.

Children need a lot of sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 9 to 12 hours per night for kids between age 6 and 12, but the sad reality is that few kids get this much sleep. Family schedules are so busy, packed with extracurriculars, screen time, and late work hours, that putting a kid to bed at an early hour often seems impossible.

There are good reasons, however, to make this a priority. Getting a decent amount of sleep has been linked to better academic performance, better mental health, and lower body weight (BMI). By contrast, when sleep is lacking, kids tend to be more aggressive and prone to bullying. Teenagers can become suicidal.

In an effort to encourage parents to put their kids to bed early, one elementary school in Wisconsin created a chart that shows the optimal time to put a kid to bed, depending on their age and when they have to wake up. For example, a 6-year-old who needs to be up by 6:30 a.m. should be in bed by 7:30, whereas their 8-year-old sibling could stay up till 8 pm if he/she has the same wake time.

The chart was originally posted in 2015 and has been shared nearly a half-million times on Facebook since then, which goes to show that parents are looking for guidance on bedtime schedules.

I was thrilled to see this chart because I'm a big advocate of early bedtimes, not only for my children's health, but also for the wellbeing of the family. With kids in bed by 7 p.m. every night (I tuck mine in even earlier than the chart recommends), it frees up three hours each evening for me and my husband to do whatever we want -- a workout in the garage, baking in the kitchen, an adult dinner party, going out with friends, or simply lying on the couch in silence with a book, which is where you'll usually find me. I honestly think I'd go crazy if I didn't have that free time each night.

If you are skeptical, as many of the Facebook commenters seem to be, please realize that "putting kids to bed" is different than "going to sleep." Just because mine are in bed at 7 does not mean they're asleep by 7:10. Sometimes they're awake till after 8:30, just talking to themselves or singing quietly or yelling for water, hugs, and all manner of attempts to prolong the inevitable, but it doesn't matter because they're in their sleep space and I'm off parenting duty.

Bedtime should depend on a schedule, not on perceived tiredness. Give it a try; you will be pleasantly surprised at how wonderful it is to have well-rested kids and time to yourself.