For some parents, bedtime is the low point of the day, for others getting the kids up in time for the school run is tough. Whatever your experience, it’s worth bearing in mind that ideally, 6 to 13 year-olds should be getting 9 to 11 hours sleep a night.
While it may appear that not much is being accomplished during sleep, the opposite is true. Sleep is a very active process when lots of essential body functions and brain activities occur. The brain is never entirely at rest during sleep, and in some stages during the sleep cycle, it may be more active than when awake.
Sleep provides energy throughout the day. It improves immunity and resilience to stress, enhances creativity and promotes concentration. It allows the brain to process information and create long-term memories, replenish energy and lifts the mood. It’s also a time of growth and repair - in short, sleep is essential to survival.
Improve your child’s sleep with these day and nighttime habits:
- Top up on vitamin D: giving your child a regular dose of daylight - ideally, sunshine - in the early morning promotes melatonin production, which aids sleep. Combine this with exercise for even better results: studies show children who exercise fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep longer than those with sedentary lifestyles
- Develop healthy sleep habits: get your child up at the same time every day, and establish a bedtime routine that starts at the same time every night. Follow a familiar pattern every night, e.g. bath, book, bed. A warm bath can make it easier for your child to fall asleep. It’s not the rise in body temperature that triggers sleepiness, but the cooling down that follows, which tells the body it's night-time
- Keep tech out of the bedroom: avoid screens an hour before bed. Time on screen boosts alpha brain waves, which create alertness, and cortisol - the ‘awake’ hormone - while suppressing delta waves which are necessary for deep sleep. Turning off WiFi can also reduce electromagnetic fields that may disturb sleep
- Get comfortable: your child’s bedroom should be quiet and tidy. It should be well ventilated and kept at a temperature of about 15 - 17 degrees Celsius. Ideally, it should be dark, but if your child needs a night-light, opt for a red, orange or yellow bulb. Make sure the bedroom is associated with relaxation: avoid rowdy games and noisy toys here
- Write it down: if your child suffers from anxiety, nightmares or fear of the dark try journaling - keep a notebook by the bed so they can jot down or draw what’s on their mind. This helps to file away problems and ‘tidy the brain.’
- Avoid overstimulation: keep an eye on after-school activities. Hobbies are important, but too many combined with lots of homework can push the bedtime later and overstimulate your child
- Keep the routine: Don’t let weekends throw you. While it’s tempting to let the routine drift at the weekend, late nights and lie-ins and can confuse your child’s internal clock, making it more difficult during the week.
If you’re concerned about your child’s sleep, speak to your GP, who can advise regarding common sleep concerns such as persistent bedwetting and sleep apnoea.
Ongoing lack of sleep can be a serious health concern for young people. Unfortunately, current statistics show that 1 in 4 secondary school children don’t get enough sleep. Establishing a consistent sleep cycle will support with helping students with school performance, feeling energised and overall wellbeing. In part, this is why we’ve established Nuffield Health’s Schools Wellbeing Activity Programme (SWAP) which aims to empower students to improve their wellbeing.
But be reassured, all children go through phases when it comes to sleep: it’s common for children to have difficulty sleeping when they go back to school after the holidays or are worried about an exam, for example. The odd night of poor sleep isn’t the end of the world and worrying about it won’t help. Removing stress from the bedroom should take priority - so relax!
Last updated Wednesday 5 August 2020
First published on Friday 6 September 2019