Normal sleep patterns

Normal sleep patterns

Sleep is important for children’s learning and behaviour. Sleep also helps children's brains grow.

Normal sleep patterns in primary school children

The information on this page is about normal sleep in primary school-aged children. Check the links at the bottom of this page for information about sleep needs for children of all ages.

Role of sleep

Sleep is important for children’s learning and behaviour. Sleep helps to restore physical and mental health and keep our memory and immune system on track. Sleep also helps children's brains grow. Children who do not get enough sleep may not be able to learn as well as their school friends who get enough sleep.

Science of sleep

Circadian rhythms, or sleep-wake cycles, are controlled by light and dark and take time to develop. They are stages of sleep that develop from about 6 weeks of age. By the age of 2, most children have spent more time asleep than awake and overall, a child will spend 40 percent of their childhood asleep!

There are 2 types of sleep that we cycle through many times each night. These cycles last 45 – 60 minutes in children and 90 minutes in adults.

  1. “Deep” or Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep makes up 75 percent of our sleep. During deep sleep, muscle blood supply is increased, energy is restored, and essential hormones for growth and development are released.
  2. “Light” or Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep makes up 25 percent of our sleep. During light sleep, our brains are active and dreaming occurs. Our bodies become still and breathing and heart rates are irregular.

Diagram showing light and deep sleep cycles

  • children and adults cycle through deep and light sleep throughout the night
  • all children wake up from light sleep during the night
  • waking up overnight is normal and is only a problem if your child cannot get back to sleep without your help.

Normal sleep

School-aged children need between 10 and 11 hours of sleep per night. Not getting enough sleep is common in this age group. Common sleep problems in school children include refusing to go to bed, nightmares, delayed sleep, and snoring.

Graph showing average sleep duration at different ages

Effects of lack of sleep

Emotional

Lack of sleep may cause your child to be moody, irritable, and cranky. They may have a difficult time controlling their feelings; for example, they may be frustrated or upset more easily.

Behaviour

School-aged children who do not get enough sleep are more likely to have behaviour problems, such as not being able to concentrate, not doing what is asked of them and being very restless.

Thinking and learning

Lack of sleep may result in problems with paying attention, memory, decision making, reaction time, and creativity, all which are important in school.

Acknowledgement and copyright

Thumbnail of first page of 'Normal sleep patterns' handoutStarship Foundation and the Paediatric Society of New Zealand thank the Centre for Community Child Health at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, Australia, for making this fact sheet available to parents and families.

© Copyright – Centre for Community Child Health at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 2014. Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), no part of this fact sheet may be reproduced by an process, electronic or otherwise, without the specific written permission of the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.

This page last reviewed 24 October 2014.
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