The Link Between Sleep and Emotional Well-Being in Kids
  /   Dr. John Snow

The Link Between Sleep and Emotional Well-Being in Kids

Sleep is much more than just a time for physical rest; it's a vital component of emotional health, particularly for children. While they're asleep, children's brains are hard at work processing their emotions, balancing hormones, and storing memories. If sleep is cut short or disturbed, these critical processes can be disrupted, affecting their emotional wellness. Let's explore the deep connection between sleep and mental health in kids, uncover what happens when they don't get enough rest, and share insights on how parents and caregivers can encourage healthy sleep patterns.

Importance of Good Quality Sleep

Ensuring your child enjoys plenty of high-quality, consistent sleep is essential - we know how much a missed nap can disrupt the day. Setting up a sleep routine that includes regular nap times is important for good reason. Chances are, you've experienced the struggle of calming down a cranky, overtired child after a night of restless sleep.

Sleep isn't just crucial for rest; it's a cornerstone of a child's emotional health. It plays a significant role in their ability to stay alert, focus, learn, and manage their emotions, among other things. Let's take a closer look at what the science tells us about how sleep affects the emotional well-being of children.

    • Emotional Regulation: During sleep, the brain processes emotional experiences and helps kids cope with their emotions. When sleep is disrupted, these processes don’t occur, which can increase emotional reactivity and irritability, making it harder for children to regulate their emotions. 
    • Mood and Behavior: As one would guess, sufficient sleep promotes positive emotions like happiness. Overall, poor sleep is associated with worse mood and emotional regulation and a higher risk of developing a mood or anxiety disorder in children and adolescents. 
    • Stress Management: During sleep, levels of cortisol rise, a hormone that helps to regulate stress. Proper cortisol regulation means children are better equipped to handle stress, supporting their emotional well-being. 
  • Cognitive Development: Sleep is key for cognitive development, including attention, learning, problem-solving skills, and memory.
    • Overall Well-Being: As noted, sleep promotes overall well-being. Well-rested kids (and adults) are in a better position to handle setbacks and challenges.

    The Right Amount of Hours

    So, how much sleep do kids need? 

    Here’s a general guideline endorsed by The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

    • 4-12 months: 12-16 hours (including naps)
    • 1-2 years: 11-14 hours (including naps)
    • 3-5 years: 10-13 hours (including naps)
    • 6-12 years: 9-12 hours
    • 13-18 years: 8-10 hours


    Maintaining consistent good sleep helps avoid overtired kids and creates healthy sleep habits. 

    What Happens When Children Don’t Get Enough Sleep?

    You're in good company if you're concerned about your child's sleep habits. Studies suggest that up to 25% of children and 35% of adolescents experience symptoms of insomnia. Some evidence also indicates that children with insomnia symptoms may be more likely to develop an insomnia disorder in early adulthood, which underscores the importance of addressing these issues early on.

    So, what's the connection between sleep and mental health? Increasing evidence points to a two-way street between sleep and mental health in both children and adolescents. This means that poor sleep can negatively impact mental health, while mental health issues can also lead to sleep disturbances. The interplay between sleep and mental health is intricate, and researchers are continually uncovering new insights.

    You might wonder, does lack of sleep cause anxiety, or is it anxiety that leads to sleep problems? It's challenging to determine a clear cause-and-effect relationship. However, what is clear is that they often feed into each other, creating a cycle where each one exacerbates the other.

    What are the broader impacts of sleep deprivation? Beyond its psychological effects, sleep deprivation is linked to a range of health issues. Anxiety disorders can disrupt your sleep, but conversely, poor sleep can also be a sign of underlying mental health conditions.

    One study found that children, specifically those in late childhood to early adolescence, who reported poor sleep were more likely to have a mental health problem. 

    The psychological effects of sleep deprivation can affect kids of all ages: 

    Sleep problems are surprisingly common, with up to a quarter of parents with children under 5 years old reporting sleep issues.

    Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that children with insufficient sleep had less grey matter in the parts of the brain responsible for attention, memory, and decision-making.

    Benefits of a Strong Sleep Routine

    Starting a sleep routine early on is not just about ensuring your kids get enough rest; it's also a foundation for their overall development and well-being. The amount of sleep children need and the specifics of a bedtime routine can vary based on their age and individual preferences. Here is why establishing a solid sleep routine is crucial for kids at every stage of their growth.


    Incorporating daytime naps into a daily sleep schedule is key for toddlers. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule not only helps toddlers fall asleep more quickly but also minimizes nighttime awakenings and encourages longer periods of uninterrupted sleep. Toddlers who get plenty of rest tend to be happier and more serene. Enhanced emotional regulation in well-rested toddlers often results in fewer tantrums and meltdowns.

    For the majority of children, an effective bedtime routine involves gentle and natural methods to ease into sleep, such as:

    • Reading a book together 
    • Brushing their teeth 
    • Talking about their day 
    • Having a bath 
    • Doing calming activities like stretching or yoga 

    As many parents can attest, toddlers sometimes really test the limits and resist bedtime. It's important to stay patient; a robust sleep routine lays the groundwork for a sleep cycle that fosters healthy cognitive and psychosocial development in these early, formative years.

    School Kids

    As kids hit school age, between academic, social, and extracurricular activities, a busy schedule can take its toll. Sleep is fundamental for kids of all ages. 

    Research shows that kids aged 6-12 who sleep less than nine hours per night have more problems with mood and thinking than those who get enough sleep. If possible, try to have a consistent sleep schedule and wind-down period. 


    The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that teenagers get 8-10 hours of sleep on a regular basis. However, CDC data shows that, on average, 78% of US teenagers sleep less than 8 hours. Sleep loss can impact physical and mental health, mood, academic performance, and decision-making. 

    Teenagers experience a natural shift in their sleep-wake cycle during puberty, making it more difficult to wake up on time. Other factors like screen time, irregular sleep schedules, stress, caffeine intake, busy schedules, and physical activity can also contribute to sleep struggles. Screen use throughout the day and before bed by youth is associated with shorter sleep duration and delayed sleep onset in over five dozen studies.

    Tips for helping your teen stick to their sleep schedule: 

    • Involve them in the process and talk about the importance of sleep 
    • Limit screentime before bed
    • Create an environment conducive to sleep 
    • Lead by example  

    If you notice any signs of kids' sleep problems or have any concerns, please speak to your healthcare provider. 

    How Nutrition Can Help

    Nutrition also plays an important role in promoting healthy sleep in children. Here’s how specific vitamins and minerals promote sleep and work alongside healthy sleep hygiene habits. 


    Magnesium is a mineral that is especially important for sleep as it:  

    • Supports melatonin production 
    • Encourages relaxation and calmness 
    • Helps regulate the nervous system 

    When researching natural sleep aids for kids, you will likely come across melatonin. Melatonin supplements may help some people with specific sleep disorders, but the potential side effects are a concern for many parents. On the other hand, magnesium plays a more supportive role by creating an environment conducive to sleep by promoting relaxation and calmness.  

    Vitamin B6

    Vitamin B6 plays a role in the production of brain chemicals, like serotonin and melatonin, that promote relaxation and feelings of calmness and contribute to the sleep-wake cycle. 


    Another important nutrient for sleep in children, zinc supports the production of melatonin and healthy nerve function

    How Hiya Can Help

    At Hiya, we get it - ensuring your little ones get the right nutrients is key, especially for their sleep. During nighttime, children's bodies recharge, their brains rejuvenate, and their minds reset. 

    With Hiya’s Kids Bedtime Essentials, you can rest easy knowing they're getting the vitamins and minerals they need for a good night's sleep. It includes a unique blend of essentials to support a healthy wind-down period for a good night’s sleep.

    Look Out for Sleep Disorders

    Despite the best preparations, some things simply catch us by surprise. If your child struggles to fall asleep, snores, or tends to breathe through their mouth, these could be signs of a sleep disorder. Addressing sleep disorders early on allows you to seek the necessary treatment for your child, alleviate symptoms, and avert potential long-term issues. Should you have any concerns about your child's sleep, it's always wise to consult with your pediatrician.

    Navigating Sleep Challenges

    Recognizing the significance of sleep for our children is a crucial initial step towards establishing strong sleep practices. While it might sometimes feel challenging, there are effective strategies to ensure your child eases into sleep and wakes up rejuvenated, ready to embrace the day. By fostering healthy sleep habits, implementing age-appropriate routines, and utilizing natural nighttime aids, you can support your child in achieving the restorative sleep they need. This not only benefits their emotional and physical health but also bolsters their mental well-being, laying a solid foundation for their overall development.


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