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The importance of sleep

As a School Staff Nurse, I have supported families with sleep related issues for many years. Firstly in Health Visiting and now in my current role within school health.

And as a Mum of 7 and 11 year old daughters and a recent new puppy I have come to understand the real importance of good quality sleep!

Sleep is extremely important to support children’s development both physically and mentally. If a child has poor sleep patterns, parents and carers are likely to be disturbed and also to suffer from sleep deprivation. A well-rested household usually makes for a happier home. Everyone is grumpy when sleep deprived.

Well rested children are more able to meet their full potential in every aspect of their lives. These are just a few of the symptoms of sleep deprivation in children:

• Growth or hormone issues
• Concentration difficulties
• Mental health issues
• Lowering of the immune system
• Hyperactivity
• Weight gain
• Behavioural issues
• Difficulty remembering things

So how much sleep do we need?

Children around the age of four to six years old need between 10 and a half and 11 and a half hours of sleep on average. And as they move through school, they are likely to need around 10 hours each night. Teenagers need around 8 to 9 hours per night but often get much less than this.

Some children will naturally sleep more or less than this and it’s not always a problem.

Creating a good sleep routine

A good sleep routine needs to be planned. Consistency and firmness are also key. In theory this might sound simple but in the middle of the night or during the small hours of the morning, things can go awry.

Children like routine and knowing what to expect next. Sticking to a similar bedtime where possible will help strengthen this. Here is a simple routine to try.

• Turn all screens off an hour before bedtime

• Dim the lights, close the curtains and create some darkness to help to promote melatonin (sleep hormone) production

• Baths are great if your child finds them relaxing

• Get ready for bed in the same order - for example, pyjamas on, brush teeth, toilet

• Once in bed spend some time reading a bedtime story with your child

• Give hugs and kisses and tell your child ‘it’s night time, go to sleep’

Reassurance goes a long way when trying to settle a child to sleep. Stress and anxiety will undoubtedly affect a child’s sleep pattern.

Teenagers and sleep

In 2022 the world is a very fast-moving place. Teenagers will think they have far better things to do that sleep. Lots of teenagers will spend hours on their phones or electronic devices on the internet or on social media. It’s very easy to lose all track of time this way.

Teenagers do tend to be more awake later in the evening and therefore end up more tired in the morning. This can be related to their biological clocks.

Here are some things you can try with your teenager:

• Avoid energy drinks in the evening and anything that is sugar-loaded or full of caffeine

• Do the same things at the same time each night can help to promote better sleep

• Turn off gaming equipment and screens an hour before bedtime, to make falling to sleep much easier

• Check whether the bed is comfortable, if not you may need to invest in a new one. Teens should be encouraged to try different mattresses to select one that they find comfortable

• Exercising regularly, three times weekly can help with sleep problems

• Decluttering the bedroom can help. It’s hard to switch off when you are sleeping in a messy environment

• Try zoning areas of the bedroom for schoolwork, play and sleep

Please reach out to your health visitor or School Nursing Team for help and support with sleep related issues.

Here are some websites that you might find useful:

The Children’s Sleep Charity

The Lullaby Trust

The Sleep Council

And there's a couple of great short videos on sleep from CBBC here.

About the author

Staff Nurse