Why is sleep so important?


Our body needs sleep, just as much as it needs air, food and water, in order to function well.


During sleep, your body heals itself and restores its chemical balance. Your brain forges new connections and helps memory retention. Without enough sleep, your brain and body systems won’t function normally and for children and young people, lack of sleep can have a real impact on behaviour, concentration and health.  


Babies, children, and teens need significantly more sleep than adults to support their rapid mental and physical development. Most parents know that growing kids need good sleep, but many don't know just how many hours kids require, and what the impact can be of missing as little as 30 to 60 minutes of sleep time.


One of the reasons it's so hard to know when our kids are not getting enough sleep is that drowsy children don't necessarily slowdown in the same way that we do. Children often act as if they're not tired, resisting bedtime and becoming hyper as the evening goes on. All this can happen because the child is overtired.


Unfortunately, for many families bedtime can be a challenging time of the day. Children are wound up and full of resistance, parents are tired and short on patience and this can often be a repeated pattern that goes on night after night. Getting children to bed at an appropriate time can end up being so difficult that parents give up trying rather that get into another battle. 


If you are looking for help to tackle bedtimes and sleeping then there are a variety of tips and organisations that can help.


Improving bedtimes and sleep 


How much sleep do we need?


To help your child or young person sleep at their best, you first need to know how much sleep is enough. Sleep needs change throughout our lives. Children and teens need more sleep than adults do to fuel their growth and development.


The Sleep Council have produced a sleep chart to help you: How much sleep does my child need.pdf 


6 golden rules for a good night's sleep


  • A regular bedtime
  • Spend 30 minutes before bedtime preparing for bed and do something relaxing
  • Avoid watching TV, using games or looking at screens before bed.
  • Avoid eating and drinking before bed and avoid caffeine
  • Avoid vigorous exercise a few hours before bed.
  • Have a bedroom environment that is sleep friendly: free from screens, noise and a consistent temperature.

Sleep by Age


Pre-school children, ages 3-5

This is an age when children’s daily lives begin to become busier and wider, and their days become more full of activity. Somewhere around ages 4-5, many children will give up daytime naps. This is a crucial stage in a child’s sleep development. These years are a time to establish solid sleep habits and sleep routines, and to build children’s ability to manage their sleep with more independence throughout the night, including learning to soothe themselves back to sleep when they wake during the night. This also a stage in a child’s life when sleep problems, if left un-addressed, can become chronic. 


School-age children, ages 6-12

These middle-childhood years are a time of tremendous growth for children—physically, emotionally, intellectually, and socially. During these years, children’s sleep patterns tend to become stable, with much more night-to-night consistency. Naps become rare, as children experience low levels of daytime sleepiness. With full school days and after-school activities now the norm, children’s bedtimes are often pushed later into the evening. Children may also need to rise earlier in the morning. It’s easy for children’s sleep schedules to become irregular, with bedtimes, in particular, varying from night to night. The result? Children during this stage of life are at higher risk for insufficient sleep. 



Research shows that most teens do not get the sleep that they need on a daily basis. Each person has their own need for sleep. This need may vary from one person to another. Teens are at an important stage of their growth and development. Because of this, they need more sleep than adults. The average teen needs about nine hours of sleep each night to feel alert and well rested.


There are many factors that keep teens from getting enough sleep. Causes for their lack of sleep could include the following:

  • Rapidly changing bodies
  • Busy schedules
  • Active social lives
  • A wrong view of sleep
  • Technology and gaming
  • A noisy environment

Video clip: Dr Pooky Knightsmith provides some sound advice about getting a good night's sleep




Things you can do if you are finding bedtimes a challenge:

  • Think about the reasons why your child is not sleeping or going to bed on time - Are they scared of the dark? Is there too much light or noise? Are they using a mobile phone, tablet or computer just before going to sleep?
  • Keep a sleep diary - a sleep diary is where you can record your child's sleep pattern and how lack of sleep might be affecting their day. It's good to keep the dairy going for a couple of weeks so that you can capture a full picture of your child's sleep behaviour. Sleep diary template here: Sleep Diary.pdf
  • Talk to you child about a bedtime routine and, depending on their age, design the routine with them i.e. a warm milky drink, bath, teeth cleaning, story, etc. The repetition and familiarity of a routine at bedtime will help your child feel safe, calm and recognise when it’s time for the day to end and the night to begin.
  • Encourage them to stop using screens an hour before they go to bed.
  • If your child or teenagers bedtime has good very late, start to make their bedtime 15 minutes earlier every 3 days. They won't respond to having their bedtime reduced from 9:30 pm to 7:30 pm in one go!
  • Model the behaviour that you want your child to copy - don't take your tablet to bed!
  • You might want to include relaxation techniques into the bedtime routine.
  • If bedtime and sleeping problems persist it might be a good idea to speak to your family GP or health visitor. There might be an underlying health issue that is preventing your child from sleeping well.

Further links and support


The Sleep Council provide a downloadable leaflet packed with information about sleep: www.sleepcouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/GNGC-website-view.pdf


The Children's Sleep Charity provide online courses and resources for parents and specific information for children with autism: www.thechildrenssleepcharity.org.uk/


NHS Choices offers guidance and tips for parents of children and teenagers: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Childrenssleep/Pages/childrenssleephome.aspx


Sleep for Kids offers a sleep diary for children to use



Tips for developing a bedtime routine