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The importance of sleep

Advice for parents and carers from The Children's Sleep Charity  

Sleep plays a vital role in children achieving their full potential at home and at school. Sleep deprivation can have a huge impact on a child’s physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. Over 40% of children will at some point in their childhood have a sleep issue with this figure rising to over 80% for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. There are however some practical steps that you can take to promote a good night’s sleep.

Spotting signs of sleep deprivation

While there are the common signs that we may expect such as tiredness and irritability, sleep deprivation can also present in other ways. Hyperactivity is one of the most common symptoms of sleep deprivation in youngsters, this however is often mistaken for a child not needing much sleep.

Children can find it difficult to concentrate during the day time if they are sleep deprived. Behaviours can also be affected negatively, they may find it more challenging to get on with their peers for example.

Sleep issues may also impact on physical wellbeing. Growth hormones are released when we sleep. Some children crave sugar if they are tired and this may impact on their weight.

Practical steps to promote a better night’s sleep

The good news is that there are lots of practical steps that you can take to support your child to get a better night’s sleep. Improving sleep patterns can help them to feel better and to achieve more in school.

Bedroom Environment

The bedroom environment is very important when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. You should consider whether your child’s bedroom is conducive for relaxation. Bright colours can be over-stimulating and best avoided, neutral colours are a better choice.

Ensuring that the bedroom is kept cool is also important, temperature plays an important role in supporting a good snooze. The ideal bedroom temperature is around 16 to 18 degrees. Try to see things from your child’s point of view, that dressing gown hanging behind the door may look fine in the daytime but may look scary at night time.

It is vitally important that conditions are kept the same throughout the night in order to avoid children waking. We all sleep in cycles and partially awaken numerous times. If changes have been made to our sleeping environment we are likely to awaken fully. Make sure that the light levels are the same throughout the night. Investing in blackout blinds is a good idea, particularly for the summer months. If a child is afraid of the dark then a nightlight that has a soft glow, left on throughout the night may be helpful.

Bedtime Routine

We all have a body clock and routine helps to keep it on track. Developing a good bedtime routine in the hour before sleep is an important strategy. Screen activity can be particularly stimulating and can reduce the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin. This means it can be harder to fall asleep after engaging in screen activities and is why we advise that all screens are switched off an hour before sleep time.

Hand eye co-ordination activities can be helpful to promote relaxation. Make a bedtime box of different things to do, ideas can include jigsaws, colouring and model making.

Some children enjoy a bath and it can aid relaxation, half an hour before bed is the ideal time to plan this. For other children a bath is too stimulating and may be better avoided in the run up to bedtime.

The key thing about a bedtime routine is that it is consistent and needs to be carried out every night - including weekends!

The Morning

Wake up time is also important and should be scheduled to support your child’s body clock. A set wake time is very helpful and needs to be adhered to every day of the week to maintain that regular wake/sleep cycle. Open the curtains to let in natural daylight to help to wake your child up.

Diet and Sleep

What we eat and drink in the daytime can have an impact on our sleep. Avoiding caffeinated products is important but did you know that hot chocolate also contains caffeine as well as sugar? Water or milk or good choices for drinks in the run up to bedtime. Blackcurrant juice can act as a diuretic meaning children may wake more for the toilet or even wet the bed at night time.

Slow release carbohydrates help to keep hunger at bay during the night. Porridge or wholemeal toast are ideal pre-bedtime snacks. Dairy products are also helpful including yoghurts, fromage frais and cheese (it doesn’t give you nightmares!)

Sleep Issues

If you are having sleep issues with your child then please ask a professional about what sleep support is available in your area.

For more information about The Sleep Charity's work please visit thechildrenssleepcharity.org.uk

Reviewed: February 2018
Key points
  • Look out for signs of sleep deprivation 
  • Check the bedroom environment supports sleep
  • Set a bedtime routine - and stick to it
  • Seek help for sleep issues

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