Sleep is not just time out to rest after a busy day, sleep is important for our mental well-being.

It is estimated that we now sleep around 90 minute less than we would have done in the past. This is particularly challenging when it comes to children. A good night’s sleep has been linked with many benefits for children’s development, including promoting growth, and boosting attention span and learning.

Lack of sleep can make us feel physically unwell, but it also has an impact on our mental health. In 2019, Place2Be found that children and young people who get less than the recommended 9 hours sleep are more likely to struggle with worries. 

Why is sleep important for our mental health?

Sleep has an important restorative function by ‘recharging’ our brains at the end of each day. Just like we need to charge our phone batteries after prolonged use. Maintaining a regular sleep-wake cycle allows for a natural rhythm of the body and optimises brain functioning. 

There is clear evidence that lack of sleep has a negative effect on emotion and performance. 

There is clear evidence that sleep deprivation has a negative effect on emotion and performance. One study indicates that a night of restful sleep may help us prepare for emotional challenges the next day.

Ongoing poor sleep can be a risk factor for the development of depression or anxiety, as well as worsening existing anxieties. Therefore, it is important for us to recognise issues with sleep and support children to get better sleep. 

Sleep tips for children

1. Get into a regular bedtime routine
A regular bedtime routine starting around the same time each evening encourages a good sleep pattern. A routine of bath, story and bed can help younger children feel ready for sleep. For older children, the routine might include a quiet chat with you about the day then some time alone relaxing before lights out.

2. Relax
Encourage your child to relax before bed. Older children might like to wind down by reading a book, listening to gentle music or practising breathing techniques for relaxation. If your child takes longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep, they might need a longer wind-down time before turning the lights out to go to sleep.

3. Regular sleep and wake times
Keep your child’s bedtimes and wake-up times within 1-2 hours of each other each day. This helps to keep your child’s body clock in a regular pattern. It’s a good idea for weekends and holidays, as well as school days.

4. Avoid daytime naps
Most children stop napping at 3-5 years of age. Daytime naps might make it harder for children over five years to fall asleep at the beginning of the night. If older children are getting enough sleep overnight, they shouldn’t need a daytime nap.

5. Make sure your child feels safe at night
If your child feels scared about going to bed or being in the dark try avoiding scary TV shows, movies and computer games. Some children with bedtime fears feel better when they have a night light.

6. Check noise and light in your child’s bedroom
A quiet, dimly lit space is important for good sleep. Check whether your child’s bedroom is too light or noisy for sleep. Blue light from televisions, computer screens, phones and tablets might suppress the hormone levels that tell our body it’s time to sleep. It probably helps to turn these off at least one hour before bedtime and to keep screens out of your child’s room at night.

7. Avoid the clock
If your child is checking the time often, encourage them to move his clock or watch to a spot where they can’t see it.

8. Eat the right amount at the right time
Make sure your child has a satisfying evening meal at a reasonable time. Feeling hungry or too full before bed can make your child more alert or uncomfortable. This can make it harder for her to get to sleep. In the morning, a healthy breakfast helps to kick-start your child’s body clock at the right time.

9. Get plenty of natural light in the day
Encourage your child to get as much natural light as possible during the day, especially in the morning. Bright light suppresses the sleep hormone. This helps your child feel awake and alert during the day and sleepy towards bedtime.

10. Avoid caffeine
Caffeine is in energy drinks, coffee, tea, chocolate and cola. Encourage your child to avoid these things in the late afternoon and evening, and don’t offer them to him at this time.