Let’s talk about Sleep

Anyone who does not get enough sleep will be grumpy and irritable and children are just the same. Ensuring children have adequate sleep is essential for their health and wellbeing. Lack of sleep will affect a child’s growth, health, development and immune system, as well as their ability to concentrate and learn.

Although, there is a vast range of normal and some children require more sleep than others; the average 2-year-old needs just over 1 hour during the day and just short of 12 hours at night; by 5 years old children usually need about 11 hours sleep at night. The amount of sleep a child needs will vary from day to day and it will be affected by things like illness, growth spurts and leaps in development.

Familiar, calming bedtime routines help to regulate a child’s body clock which controls ‘circadian rhythm’. These rhythms respond to light and dark and determine our sleep patterns. Research shows that regular bedtime routines help babies and children fall asleep more quickly and result in less night waking.

The bathroom makes for a good transition zone for preparing for bed as it is less stimulating and exciting than the living room for example. Try to avoid activities and games that your child finds exciting; bedtimes should be calming, relaxing and enjoyable for you both. Follow the same routine, in the same order each night, ideally starting 30 minutes before bedtime.

The last part of the bedtime routine should take place in your child’s bed or cot. This is important as children should associate getting ready for bed with going to bed and falling asleep. As children get older self-settling is an important skill that you can help them to learn, so they do not become dependant on you being in the room to go to sleep.

If your child is having trouble sleeping at night try to make sure they do not nap for too long in the afternoon.

Food can affect children’s sleep; try to offer food that is rich in tryptophan at tea time. Tryptophan stimulates the sleep hormone melatonin. Foods that contain tryptophan include: pasta, turkey, oily fish, banana, beans, leafy green vegetables, and bread. Carbohydrates also activate tryptophan in the brain and calcium has a calming effect, so a drink of warm milk makes a perfect bedtime drink; but children should clean their teeth before they go to sleep. Avoid high protein meals and snacks immediately before bedtime as these take time to digest and they can activate dopamine, a brain stimulant.

A night light may help to reduce night time fears, or a landing light left on and the door ajar can reassure an anxious child. Comforters: a soft toy, blanket or dummy can help children settle to sleep.


Sleep experts suggest you should avoid watching the television or allowing screen time 30-60 minutes before bedtime as this alters brain wave patterns. Having a TV in the bedroom is not conducive to encouraging good sleep patterns, sharing a relaxing story is a more positive way to induce sleep.

Try to stay calm; if you can stay calm at bedtime this will help your child settle more easily. Babies and children are quick to pick up on how we feel, absorbing what is going on around them. Take deep breaths and try to ensure you get enough sleep yourself. Any tension or upset in the home can affect their sleep.

If your child wakes during the night try not to make it an interesting stimulating time; try not to turn the light on, don’t speak more than is necessary, avoid eye contact, and do not use the television to entertain them if they struggle to settle. Keep it as boring as possible. Babies and children over 12-months old should not need a bottle or milk during the night. If you have to offer a drink make it water only, but try to avoid this becoming a night waking association.

If you are really struggling with broken nights don’t suffer alone – your Health Visitor may be able to suggest strategies you can try, or research www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness.