This post is also available in: Français (French) Español (Spanish)

Why is sleep important?

Rest is important to help our bodies work properly. Too little sleep can make our bodies sick and can make it difficult to learn and grow.

Are sleep problems and gastrointestinal problems related?

Kids who have poor sleep may experience gastrointestinal (GI) problems. This can include feeling belly pains or other symptoms.

Poor sleep causes inflammation in the body and can affect how our bodies work. For example, this can make belly pains and inflammation worse if your child has inflammatory bowel disease. Poor sleep also can make sensitive nerve conditions like functional abdominal pain worse. In children with irritable bowel syndrome, poor sleep can make pains and GI symptoms worse, too.

More pain, more nausea, and more GI distress can make it hard to get good sleep—causing a terrible cycle. Changing sleep behaviors can help the body sleep longer and more restfully, which can help improve GI symptoms.

How much sleep does my child need per night?

The amount of sleep you need depends on your age.

  • Children aged 3–5 years: 11–14 hours per day, including naps
  • Children aged 6–12 years: 9–12 hours per day
  • Children aged 13–18 years: 8–10 hours per day
  • Adults: at least 7 hours per day

How can sleep be improved?

  • Get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day, but try not to exercise at least 2 hours before bedtime.
  • Try to avoid caffeine, especially in the evenings.
  • Avoid large, heavy meals or spicy foods before bedtime. These can make reflux symptoms and belly pains worse, which can disrupt sleep.
  • Pick the right bedtime for the schedule of your child and your family. If your child has soccer practice until 8 PM, a bedtime of 9 PM might not be easy. Picking a routine that is realistic for your family makes it easier to stick to. Changing routines gradually helps us change behaviors over time.
  • Try to keep a consistent schedule between weekdays and weekends.
  • Talk to your doctor about trying melatonin if you have trouble falling asleep.
  • Avoid using electronics like cell phones, televisions, computers, and other screens before bed. The blue light from these devices can make it difficult to fall asleep.

How can I make the bedroom a better place for sleep?

  • Electronics before bed are bad for sleep. Remove distractions like televisions, computer games, cell phones, and video games from the bedroom.
  • Try using white noise from a sound machine during sleep.
  • Keep the bedroom as dark as possible. Blackout curtains and shades may be helpful to keep light from coming into the room.
  • Consider keeping a journal next to your bed. It can be helpful for some people to write down thoughts that bother them when they are trying to fall asleep.

When should my child see a doctor about their sleep?

If you are supporting your child with strategies to help them sleep as listed above but they continue to have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or seem to be getting too much sleep, talk to your child’s pediatrician or gastroenterologist. Sleep disorders can occur in childhood and may require attention from your child’s medical providers.

What are possible treatments for sleep disorders?

The most simple treatments for sleep disorders include changing behaviors and creating good habits around sleep. Other treatments can include medications, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medical devices that can improve sleep quality in some people.


  • “AAP Endorses New Recommendations on Sleep Times.” Edited by Melissa Jenco, Publications.Aap.Org, American Academy of Pediatrics, 2016,
  • Dipasquale, Valeria, et al. “Randomized controlled trial of melatonin for paediatric functional abdominal pain disorders.” Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, vol. 59, no. 3, 2023, pp. 458–463,
  • Duan, Liping, et al. “Prevalence of sleep disorder in irritable bowel syndrome: A systematic review with meta-analysis.” Saudi Journal of Gastroenterology, vol. 24, no. 3, 2018, p. 141,
  • Owens, Judith, et al. “Insufficient sleep in adolescents and young adults: An update on causes and consequences.” Pediatrics, vol. 134, no. 3, 2014,
  • Watson, Nathaniel F., et al. “Recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: A joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, vol. 11, no. 06, 2015, pp. 591–592,

Author: Amanda Glinky, MD, MS, FAAP
Editor: Christine Waasdorp Hurtado, MD, MSCS, FAAP, NASPGHAN-F
January 2024

This post is also available in: Français (French) Español (Spanish)

North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition
The Association of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition Nurses
North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition Foundation
The NASPGHAN Council For Pediatric Nutrition Professionals
Share This