If a child or young person doesn’t get enough sleep it can make them irritable and affect their behaviour.
The odd night of poor sleep might make a child feel tired and grumpy, but it won’t harm their health.
Regular poor sleep can cause health problems, including a weakened immune system and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. It can lower concentration levels and increase the chance of injury and accidents. It can also increase the risk of serious medical conditions such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
There are lots of different factors that can affect sleep in children and young people, including exam stress or problems with friends and relationships.
How much sleep is enough?
Most adults need eight hours of sleep a night to function. However, children and young people require more sleep. The NHS has detailed guidance about how much sleep a child needs depending on their age.
There are several things you can do to help encourage younger children to wind down at bedtime and get several hours of good quality sleep:
- Quieter, calmer playtime after the evening meal.
- Have a shorter bedtime routine – under 30 minutes.
- Deal with any bedtime challenges in the bedroom.
- Teach children gentle relaxation or wind down techniques, such as deep breathing and relaxation exercises.
- Help them to write down thoughts from the day.
Read more from the NHS about ensuring healthy sleep for children.
Older children and teenagers
According to the NHS, teenagers are getting less sleep than ever, partly due to more screen time affecting natural sleep patterns. There is also evidence to suggest that puberty affects a teenager’s sleep pattern. The circadian rhythm (the body’s cycle of sleep and wakefulness) of a teenager can be two hours later than that of an adult, making it harder to go to sleep and wake up earlier.
Small changes can help to improve sleep:
- Adjusting the light/noise/temperature in the bedroom.
- Changing eating, drinking or exercise routines.
- Not napping during the day.
- Having tech-free time before bedtime.
- Not relying on caffeine or energy drinks during the day. The effects are temporary and can disrupt sleep patterns in the future.
Using an alarm snooze button can also damage sleep patterns as it affects the natural way the body wakes.