Okay...after 15 years in the field and having 3 children of my own (and maybe because I really see it in myself) there is something I feel VERY strongly about and that is getting enough sleep. Unfortunately, as an adult...there are responsibilities that can keep us from getting the full amount of sleep that we need...but we should try as it will better help us be the best parent/teacher we can. It's called...taking care of ourselves. :-P
When it comes to our children though...it is our responsibility to see that they are getting enough sleep. Sleep effects...
behavior-frustration, irritation, lack of control of emotions and so on.
coordination and even the time it takes to react
ability to be attentive
ability to retain information
Some people feel that I'm such a stick in the mud because I have been so firm about bed times... that I should be more flexible and....well, I'll stop there. :-) But because I'm a "stay at home" mom (Ha!) I tend to disagree. And because I have other children in my home...I even more strongly disagree. When I worked out of the home I had more of the tendency to think...well, I won't have to deal with them tomorrow so..." But that's so not fair to their teacher/caregiver. From a teacher's perspective...we have so much we want to cover and so little time and there has been times where I have felt that nothing was really retained because the child was so tired that we pretty much had to throw what we planned out the window. I remember another time where the parents expected for me to be teaching and their child to be learning and it didn't quite meet their standards. Um...perhaps if that child was well-rested, there would have been more learning on the child's part. Parents need to know their responsibility to their child's teacher (beyond just preschool...I'm meaning elementary also) to be doing what they can to provide an environment that allows the child to get their much needed rest. Parents and teachers working together as a team brings the best to the children and brings the best out of the children. :-)
So, how much sleep? Every child is different...whether it's age or if it's just make up. Some children require less sleep and some more. But you need to be honest about it. I often hear about a toddler or even a three year old who "doesn't need a nap anymore". Hmm...very seldom is this really true. These are often the families you see struggling in the afternoon with tantrums/melt downs or just plain grumpiness. Perhaps they are fighting the sleep (as most young children are bound to do) and the parent feels it's easier to not do it. But you know what...then afternoon behaviors tend to show up and parent and child alike are stressed. It's really not worth it. Expectation, routine and consistency are the biggest factors in successful napping. If a child truly is getting enough hours at night and they don't "need" a nap then remember that they should still have "down time". This is for the well-being of the child and the parent :-). Drawing, reading, in general---resting. Not TV, not computer games/video games. That stimulates the eyes and the brain...and does not allow for rest.
Here are some general guidelines that I often suggest. Remember that it includes the day time naps also.
0-3 months- 14-20 hours
3-6 months- 14-16 hours
6-12 months- 13-15 hours
12-24 months- 12-14 hours
2-4 years- 11-13 hours
4-7 years- 10-12 hours
7-11 years- 10+
My general rule of thumb about night time rest is that a child should wake up ON THEIR OWN. So if you are needing to wake your child up to get ready for school/child care in the morning then they are not getting enough sleep at night. Having the same hour bed time allows for their body to regulate sleep well. I had one child who we'd have out late on occasion due to special circumstances and he'd come find us about 30 minutes after bedtime saying he's ready to go home and go to bed. :-) That's a child with a well-regulated body, in terms of sleep. Maybe I'll slip in here that when weekend bedtimes are different then week day bedtimes...that messes up your child's body and routine and makes Monday and Tuesday (if not all week!) hard on the child and caregiver. Plan to keep the same bedtime hour as much as possible. Young children very seldom "sleep in". They'll still wake up pretty much around the same time they normally do. (Older school-age children can handle this a little better.) Our bed time starts at 7PM. When they were very young they were in bed and usually asleep by 7:15P. Our youngest does best if he's in bed by 7P though we allow the two older to stay up until 7:30-8P now. Is that what time ALL children should be in bed? No, not necessarily. How did we come up with 7P? Well, due to jobs, we needed to be early risers. I knew the child's regular schedule night time sleeping period was about 12 hours (3 or so hours of nap time during the day). So little by little we worked it so he was going to sleep by 7P. That also works well for us as a family...going back to "taking care of ourselves". Parents need time alone and together without children...keep that in mind. :-) So the first question you need to ask yourself is...what time do I need my child up so that we can be ready to go without rushing around? The next question is, how much sleep does my child normally need at night to have a smooth running day? If you don't know the answer to that question, use the general guidelines above. It's very uncommon to find a child who does not fit those guidelines.
I can be used as a sounding board if you would like help in this area. Feel free to contact me and we can chat about it.
One last comment. :-P We chose to have the children...more often then not...we need to change our lifestyle to better meet the needs of them.