No matter what time we put our toddler to sleep at night, she wakes up every morning as if she has an internal alarm.
8:00pm bedtime? 8:30am wakeup.
11:00pm bedtime? 8:30am wakeup.
I’ll admit that we have tried later bedtimes on the weekends in hopes of getting to sleep in. However, this proved futile. As the sun begins its ascent above the horizon, our littlest family member is ready to start her day too! Whether she sleeps nine hours or twelve, it seems to have no consequence.
Our oldest daughter (8) is the exact opposite. She has always slept as long as we will allow her. On non-school days, that can be up to fourteen hours.
I sometimes find myself waking up my oldest daughter on weekends because I worry that she is sleeping too long.
My daughter is always fully awake and alert once she’s had a chance to eat breakfast, and she doesn’t fall asleep in school or places she shouldn’t. Yet I still couldn’t help but wonder if her seemingly greater necessity for sleep is normal.
Is it possible that some kids need more sleep than others?
The answer is yes.
Child Sleep Recommendations
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics offer these guidelines for total hours of sleep needed in a 24-hour period:
Even within these expert recommendations, there is a fairly wide range of what is considered “normal.”
Including her afternoon nap, my toddler is squarely within the “normal” range. My oldest daughter generally hits the upper end of sleep for her age bracket, and on weekends she will sometimes pass the twelve-hour mark.
Why would my oldest daughter need more sleep than my youngest?
Why Some Kids Need More Sleep
Not getting enough sleep during the week
Long school days, a heavy homework load, extracurricular activities, and parent work schedules often mean that kids don’t always get to bed early enough to meet their ideal sleep needs. This might cause them to sleep what seems to be an “excessive” amount on weekends, essentially to “catch up.”
Some researchers say that it is possible to make up for not getting enough sleep during the week by sleeping longer on weekends. Say your child has to wake up an hour earlier than they naturally would on school days. These 5 “lost” hours might be made up by sleeping a couple hours longer on Saturday and Sunday.
Anxiety or Stress
It’s well known that stress can cause problems with sleep, making it more difficult to fall asleep and/or stay asleep at night. However, for some people, anxiety can actually make them sleep more.
According to Dr. Rebecca Spencer, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Department of Psychology, “you can be driven to sleep simply by having a lot of emotional memories to process.” In short, when life gets overwhelming, your brain needs the ability to decompress and sort through what’s going on. It can’t do so properly unless you’re fully at rest.
Be cognizant of situations that could be causing stress for your child. Some might be obvious (a new sibling), while others might not be so simple to determine, like if your child is being bullied but hasn’t told anyone. Click here for warning signs of bullying in children.
Some people just need more sleep — it’s genetic!
How do I know? Because I am one of them!
My husband can function well on very little sleep. Sometimes he goes about his day on five hours of sleep! (This can be due to his work schedule OR due to his love of horror movies that none of us will watch with him during the day).
I am not my best self if I’ve gotten less than eight hours of sleep, and if I could, I would sleep much longer. I’ve always been like this — I just need more sleep than my husband.
There is actually a term for people who are genetically-wired to require more sleep than others, even more than what might be considered normal. “Long Sleepers” often need ten hours of sleep or more (adults), and there’s not really anything that can be done to change that. We simply have to accommodate this as much as possible.
What can you do if you think your kids need more sleep?
Help them fall asleep faster
These tips to help an anxious child sleep can be beneficial for any child who struggles to fall asleep. The less time spent trying to sleep means more actual rest.
Re-evaluate weekday activities
Is karate class really worth it if it means your child doesn’t get home for dinner until 7:30pm? When possible, find activities that can be done on weekends or earlier in the day.
Discuss a reasonable homework load with your child’s teacher
Even when my daughter is fully focused, it usually takes at least thirty minutes to complete her daily homework assignments. On days where she is especially tired from school, homework can drag over an hour as she struggles to retain focus.
The National Education Association recommends 10-20 minutes of homework for first graders, increasing by 10 minutes per grade. A recent study published by the American Journal of Family Therapy found that the average first grader actually receives three times the recommended amount of homework!
If you feel that excessive homework could be contributing to sleep issues, try talking with your child’s teacher to figure out a reasonable work load.
When to see a doctor
Changes in sleep patterns, trouble staying awake during the day, or suddenly sleeping hours longer than usual could be signs of an underlying issue. Trust your gut! If something seems “off,” don’t ignore it. It can’t hurt to give your family physician a call.
Disclaimer: This post is based on my own experience; I am not a medical professional.
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