Any parent can tell you what a child is like after a bad night of sleep; they are more easily frustrated, more “wired” or “hyper,” less able to hear “no,” and less likely to consider the consequences of their actions. Unlike adults, who tend to act sleepy and perhaps look for a chance to nap, kids who are overtired generally compensate by forcing themselves to stay energetic and busy, even when they need rest. 

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Over one night, this is a small problem that tends to resolve itself after the next night's good sleep, but when sleep debt becomes an ongoing issue for a child, this can lead to behavior problems that may be more difficult to solve. Some doctors may even believe that the child has a neurological difference like ADHD or autism, when in fact they're dealing with a sleep disorder.


If your child has regular behavior problems, looking at their sleep is absolutely crucial. The first thing to consider is the number of hours that the child sleeps. Kids need much more sleep than adults! In general:

  • a child from 3 months old to 1 year old needs between 14 and 15 hours of sleep
  • between 1 and 3 years needs 12 to 14 hours of sleep daily
  • between 3 and 5 years needs 11 to 12 hours of sleep daily
  • between 6 and 12 years needs 10 to 11 hours of sleep daily
  • and 12 years to 18 years needs 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep daily

So the first step is simply to look at when your child goes to bed, and when they wake up.

The next step, however, tends to need a pediatric sleep specialist to assess; you need to determine if your child is getting quality sleep while they're asleep. Even if your child is in bed, apparently asleep, for 12 hours without getting out of bed, that's no guarantee that they're getting high quality, restful sleep. Some signs that your child isn't getting the sleep they need, no matter how long they're in bed:

  • regular, consistent snoring
  • pauses in breathing during the night
  • signs of restless sleep (tangled covers, for example)
  • frequent wake-ups
  • complaints of tiredness in the morning
  • continuing behavioral difficulties


Any child can have difficulty getting good sleep, but children who also have a diagnosis of ADHD, autism, or epilepsy can be particularly vulnerable to sleep disorders. For any child who is experiencing an upswing in behavior problems, seeking out an evaluation from a pediatric sleep specialist is absolutely necessary to make sure that your child is as healthy as they can be. Call us today to find out more about the difference healthy sleep can make for your child.