9 Things That Interfere With Kids' Sleep

School-age kids may not need as much sleep as they did when they were toddlers, but their bodies still require plenty of rest. Kids ages 6 to 13 need approximately 9 to 12 hours of sleep and preschool and kindergarten kids ages 3 to 5 need as much as 10 to 13 hours of shut-eye (exactly how much depends on a child's individual sleep needs). 

Is Your Child Getting Enough Sleep?

School-age children have a lot of things that compete for their attention and cause them to fight to go to bed and interfere with their getting enough sleep. At the same time, it becomes more important than ever that they get enough rest.

Poor sleep can lead to attention and behavioral problems, not doing well in school, increased risk for weight gain, and even reduced immune system health. Here are the top most common reasons why your child may not be getting a good night's sleep.


Electronic Devices

Girl texting on cell phone on bed can interfere with kids' sleep
Having a cell phone in the bedroom can interfere with kids' sleep. Emma Kim/Getty Images

TV, cell phones, video games—there's no shortage of screens calling for your child's attention, and statistics show that even young children are connected to devices.

Not only are these attention vampires addictive and increase the odds that people will ignore each other to stare at their screens (a phenomenon called "phubbing"), but studies have shown that they can interfere with falling asleep and staying asleep. This can be particularly problematic for kids since they need to get enough sleep to be alert and focused in school.

Don't let kids watch TV or play video games at least an hour before bedtime, and do something quiet and soothing instead, like taking a bath or reading a book with you. And keep TVs, computers, and other screens out of your child's bedroom. Even small screens, such as smartphones, have been shown to cause sleep problems for kids when they're allowed in kids' bedrooms.

A January 2015 study of more than 2,000 kids in 4th to 7th grade published in Pediatrics found that children who sleep near a smartphone or another small-screen device get less sleep than kids who are not allowed to have these types of devices in their bedrooms.


Abrupt Transition to Bed

Kids' sleep problems - mother tucking daughter into bed

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It's tough for anyone—a child or a grownup—to abruptly go from being awake to falling asleep without some time and bedtime routines to transition from one to the other. School-age kids, especially younger ones, need a bit of time for transitions, whether they are going from one place to another or going to sleep.

If you don't allow your child to have some time to wind down before they head to bed, chances are they won't be able to fall asleep right away. Give your child some time to go from being awake to being asleep by making sure there's quiet and peace at bath time, during teeth brushing, and while reading a book.

Have your child put away their toys and books and try some stretching or a few yoga poses. Play some quiet music and dim the lights to get your child into the mindset of rest and bedtime.


Inconsistent Bedtime

girl watching tablet at night - kids' sleep problems

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Another problem that can interfere with kids' sleep is expecting a child to go to bed at a certain time one night and then at a very different time another night. For example, some parents might allow a school-age child to stay up late and watch a movie or email or text friends on weekends and then expect that they will go to bed earlier on a school night without a problem.

Unfortunately, inconsistent bedtime will only lead to kids being more tired the next day and not being able to fall asleep at their regular bedtime. Letting kids catch up on sleep on weekends doesn't work because some kids wake up early anyway, or they sleep in really late and they are even less likely to be sleepy at an early bedtime during the school week. In short, having late nights doesn't really make up for the sleep debt that builds up over time.

Your child may protest that it's not fair because her friends get to stay up, but be firm. Don't stray too far from regular bedtime and ensure that your child routinely gets anywhere from 9 to 12 hours of sleep. This is an important way to avoid kids' sleep problems and make sure your child gets the rest she needs.


Lack of Bedtime Routine

Mother putting child to bed

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If your child has trouble falling asleep, it might be time to take a look at their nighttime routine. Having a good bedtime routine is important for kids; a relaxing warm bath, soft lights and music, and a nice book can all be part of a nightly ritual that signals to kids that it's time to wind down and relax.

And the more you do it, the more your child is likely to get used to the routine and fall asleep more easily. Bonus: Lots of great bedtime routines, like reading a book or doing some relaxing stretches together, are wonderful opportunities to communicate with kids and strengthen your relationship.



Girl eating chocolate

Maike Jessen / Getty Images

Another culprit that may interfere with kids' sleep may be hidden in their diet: caffeine. If your child's late-day snack or after-dinner dessert often includes chocolate—say, a chocolate chip cookie, chocolate milk, or any other chocolatey treat—your child may well be having sleep problems because chocolate contains caffeine.

Other hidden sources of caffeine include bottled fruity teas (they are still teas, and have caffeine, not to mention huge amounts of sugar), energy drinks, sports drinks, energy bars, and even some non-cola sodas.


Being Overtired

If your child is acting more hyper and energized than sleepy at night, that doesn't mean that they should go to bed later; in fact, it may be a sign that they are overtired and need more sleep. You probably saw this kind of behavior when your child was a toddler in serious need of a nap.

But just because your school-age kid is not napping during the day anymore, it doesn't mean that they are always able to regulate themselves and say, "Gee, I'm tired; I really need to go to bed now." If you see your child behaving in an uncharacteristic way, running around, and acting more hyper and energized than usual, break out those good bedtime routines and get them ready for bed.


Getting Riled Up Before Bed

girl jumping on bed - kids' sleep problems

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Pillow fights may be fun, but getting kids too excited right before bedtime is bound to keep them energized instead of relaxed. Be sure kids have lots of physical activity during the day and stick to quiet and calm activities before kids start their bedtime routine.


Bedroom Set-Up

boy sleeping in bed - kids' sleep problems

Tetra Images / Daniel Grill / Getty Images

If your child's bedroom is too warm or cluttered or not dark enough (with the exception of a night light if they want one), they may not be able to relax enough to ease into sleep. Get any electronic screen devices, such as tablets, phones or any other screens, out of the bedroom ASAP. Consider playing some soft music, turn out the lights (and get light-blocking shades if need be), and make your child's room a tranquil oasis that invites rest and relaxation.


Night Terrors, Nightmares, Restless Leg Syndrome, or Other Sleep Disorders

Nightmares - girl scared in bed

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Your child may also experience sleep problems such as apnea, restless leg syndrome, nightmares, night terrors, or insomnia. Talk to your pediatrician if you suspect that your child may have a sleep problem that has a physiological cause, or that isn't going away, even after you try all the strategies above.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Katherine Lee
Katherine Lee is a parenting writer and a former editor at Parenting and Working Mother magazines.