Sleep is very important for children and a lack of sleep can have an adverse effect on various aspects of their lives, including their education.
If you are struggling to get your child to sleep through the night, don’t despair because most sleep problems can be cracked with hard work and dedication. There are lots of different factors to consider so it can be helpful to try changing only one thing at time.
How to recognise poor sleep/inadequate sleep
A child or young person who isn’t getting enough sleep might display one or more of the following behavioural issues:
- be more reactive, quicker to anger
- have difficulty concentrating
- demonstrate mood swings
- have difficulty retaining information.
There may also be physical signs, including:
- napping/falling asleep
- co-ordination difficulties.
What makes a good sleep routine?
A good sleep routine is key:
- stick to regular bedtimes and waking times
- allow your child sufficient winding down time before bedtime
- sleep can be controlled by light levels so sleeping during daylight hours can have an impact on the quality of sleep and alter body rhythms making it more difficult to sleep at night.
How to have a good sleep environment
Your child’s bedroom should be somewhere they can relax and sleep without being disturbed.
- temperature: make sure your child’s bedroom is not too hot or too cold
- light levels: some children may be afraid of the dark so need a low level nightlight, while others might benefit from black out blinds to stop any outside light disturbing them
- if possible, eliminate any noises that can be heard from the bedroom, e.g. a ticking clock
- beds should be used for sleeping only, i.e. no homework in bed
- avoid stimulating activities like exercise or gaming in the hour before bedtime
- no food or drink during the night
- switch off computer, tablet or Smartphone screens for at least an hour before bedtime
- social media can lead to anxiety so it’s best to avoid electronic communication too.
How to relax before bedtime
Your child will sleep better if they are relaxed before they head off to bed. Here are some well-tested ideas to help them feel sleepy:
- give them a warm milky drink
- bath them before bed
- read a story
- play calming music
- enjoy a relaxing activity, e.g. colouring
- try some relaxation exercises (The Sleep Council has ideas)
- schedule a time when your child can discuss any worries with you earlier in the day – perhaps putting them away in a ‘worry box’ so they can forget about them.
How to deal with night time waking
Broken sleep is not unusual among children and there are some things you can do to discourage this habit:
- take your child back to their own bed, giving them minimal attention
- don’t turn the lights on
- encourage your child to self-soothe using strategies practised in the day, e.g. breathing exercises
- use a clock to show them which hours are sleep time
- use a set phrase that can be repeated and don’t enter in to other discussions, e.g. ‘now it’s night time, time to sleep’.
The Children’s Sleep Charity and the Sleep Council have lots of useful information on their websites.
Cerebra has a useful online guide about sleep for the parents of children with brain conditions.
Sleep Scotland trains sleep counsellors across the UK to support parents and carers in managing their children’s sleep problems.