Sleep is essential for your child’s growth and development. The recommended number of hours sleep for a child aged 6-13 is 9 to 11 hours.
Good quality sleep is important for everyone but especially for children as it can impact on their mental and physical development. Good sleep helps to improve attention, behaviour, learning and memory.
To help your child get the right amount of sleep it is good to teach them about healthy sleep habits, with a regular and consistent bedtime routine. This will help ensure your child wakes up feeling refreshed and better behaved.
Establishing a bedtime routine is crucial in supporting your child to sleep well. Here are some hints on creating a good bedtime routine. Decide on a bed time and stick to it. Weekends and holidays may have more flexibility.
Make sure that this routine is the same every night and praise your child for completing the tasks. It may be helpful to have the routine written down or in picture format to help guide your child.
Too much excitement and stimulation just before bedtime can wake your child up again. Before bedtime aim for at least 30 minutes of quiet time, doing relaxing things such as a bath, put pyjamas on, clean teeth, go to the toilet, read a bedtime story, give your child a goodnight kiss and turn the lights off as you leave the room.
Some children may take longer to wind down than others so give plenty of time
- ✓ Give a “heads up” that the routine is about to begin 30 minutes before the start of the routine.
- ✓ Give countdown reminders as required. This will make it easier for your child to begin the routine rather than if they are abruptly interrupted in the middle of an activity.
- ✓ Build a bedtime routine of 4 to 5 activities. Activities should be things that prepare your child for bed e.g. brush teeth, put pyjamas on.
- ✓ As a reward for completing the routine, whatever time is left before the set bedtime is time for the two of you to have 1:1 time. This may be reading a story together or talking.
- ✓ Tell your child it's time for sleep and say goodnight.
- ✓ It can be helpful to have the same phrase used every night to act as a cue for the expected behaviour.
Below are some hints and tips that can help sleep for the whole family
Exercise and activity
Exercise during the day is important to help us sleep.
Exercise affects our body temperature and the best time to exercise to promote sleep is 4-6 hours before sleep. Lots of activity right before bedtime can make it harder to get a good nights sleep
A healthy balanced diet promotes good sleep. A large meal too close to bedtime will interfere with sleep. If your child has a snack before bed, carbohydrates such as bread or cereal are good options.
You could keep a food diary and review your child’s sleep to think about how different foods may be affecting their sleep.
Create a good sleeping environment for your child. Their bedroom should be calm dark, quiet and cool.
A night light may help children feel safer. Do not allow your child to watch TV or play computer games whilst falling asleep. These activities stimulate children and therefore do not promote sleep.
Give your child lots of praise for accomplishing even small things as they develop better sleep habits.
Waking in the night time is normal as a temporary stage. If this problem persists talk to your Doctor.
Children will often create reasons for having to get out of bed. Usually this is because they are either scared, bored or both. If a child gets out of bed, the longer they stay up and the further away they get from their bedroom, the more they are likely to repeat this behaviour.
Try to stop them as soon as possible and do not talk or show any emotion as you help them back to bed
Tips that can help
- Don’t go into the child’s room unless you must, for example if they are really upset.
- Assume that the child has to go to the bathroom and steer them that way. Be gentle and quiet. Try not to put any lights on as they wake us up.
- Do not talk to them as engaging tor show emotion as engaging them in conversation will waken them more.
- If your child wakes from a nightmare then provide reassurance to help settle them back to sleep but do not engage in conversation.
- Ensure that bedtime routine covers reasons for getting up like being hungry or thirsty.
- If your child has difficulty falling asleep without you, sit in a chair in the room and gradually move further away until you are outside of the room.
Children often have sleep issues but for those on the autism spectrum or ADHD or with long-term illnesses or disabilities sleeping well may be particularly difficult.
Bedtime routines can help but may take longer for children who have additional needs
Take a look at the Autism website to find some strategies that can be used to help your autistic child sleep better.
It can take patience, consistency and commitment, but most children's sleep problems can be solved.
- Family Lives has a free helpline you can call for information and support on parenting or family issues. The number is 0808 800 2222 and it's open Monday to Friday, 9am to 9pm, and Saturday and Sunday, 10am to 3pm.
- The charity Contact has more information about helping you and your child sleep.
- Scope also has sleep advice for parents of disabled children.
- Take a look at the Autism website to find some strategies that can be used to help your autistic child sleep better.