The importance of sleep for children

My daughter relaxing

Infant sleep is a fundamental process for the cognitive and physical growth of children.

Infant sleep is dynamic process, rapidly changing during the first two years of infant’s life. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends:

  • 14-17 hours/day of sleep from birth to 3 months,
  • 12-15 hours/day from 4 to 11 months,
  • 11-14 hours/day between 1 and 2 years,
  • 10-13 hours/day between 3 and 5 years.

Cognitive development

Sleep is not only a period for resting, but also a period of great change in the brain activity. Several studies showed strong relationship between sleep duration and cognitive growth. An interesting study of Seehagen and collaborators showed that infants who napped for at least 30 minutes after learning a set of object-action pairings, recalled more actions compared to infants who didn’t nap after the activity. Moreover, Gómez and collaborators found out that daytime naps of at least 30 minutes have a great impact for language learning.

The benefits of longer sleep duration at night seemed to have a role after years: Bernier and collaborators showed that 12-month-old infants with longer hours of night sleep displayed better functioning performance at 4 years.

Physical development

Taveras and collaborators showed that infants who slept less than 12 hours/day in the first 2 years of life, showed higher body mass index and an increased risk of being overweight. It is important for children to go to bed early because the growth hormone is only active in the fourth phase of sleep, between 12 a.m. and 1 a.m.. Therefore, it is necessary for children to go to bed between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. to allow the growth hormone to work at its best.

All these data suggest that it is important to understand the impact of sleep as an early development factor.


Bernier et al., “Sleep and cognition in preschool years: Specific links to executive functioning”, 2013,

Gómez et al., “Naps Promote Abstraction in Language-Learning Infants”, 2006,

Seehagen et al., “Timely sleep facilitates declarative memory consolidation in infants”, 2015,

Taveras et al., “Short Sleep Duration in Infancy and Risk of Childhood Overweight”, 2008, 10.1001/archpedi.162.4.305

Tham et al., “Infant sleep and its relation with cognition and growth: a narrative review”, 2017, 10.2147/NSS.S125992

Verrillo et al., “Effects of replacement therapy on sleep architecture in children with growth hormone deficiency”, 2012, http://10.1016/j.sleep.2011.09.018

Sleep foundation:

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