We're all aware of how important sleep is for good health and general well-being, and that if you're not getting enough sleep every night, then it will have a huge effect on your mood, energy levels and more.
This is even more so the case for children who could experience behavioural problems, impaired learning, mood swings and even health issues, such as obesity, if they do not get enough sleep.
Children and teenagers need significantly more sleep than adults to support the increased rate at which they develop mentally and physically.
This means that if you can identify signs of sleep deprivation, or you are aware that your child is not getting the recommended number of hours sleep every night, then you need to take steps to ensure that this changes for the overall health of your little one.
How much sleep does your child need?
Newborn babies, infants and toddlers are recommended to get, on average, 14 hours of sleep a day. This will tend to be taken over the course of a night and a nap or two during the day.
From the age of 3 to 5, it's recommended that children get 10-13 hours of sleep, which then drops to 9-11 hours as they move into primary school (6-13 years old).
Teenagers only need 8-10 hours of sleep, which is not much more than anyone over the age of 18, who require only 7-9 hours a night.
Please be aware that the above should be used as a guide – every child is different.
The minimum hours of sleep that your child needs every night in order to function and not feel overtired, will be specific to them. Whilst some three-year olds will be perfectly fine after 10 hours of sleep every night, others may need 12 or 13 hours. It's best to keep an eye on your child's sleeping patterns and natural body clock to see where they fall on the scale.
What are the signs of sleep deprivation in a child?
Unlike adults who will appear drowsy and show obvious signs of tiredness when they have not had enough sleep, children tend to fight the tiredness by being hyperactive. The symptoms are often similar to ADHD, and can include things like being more irritable, clinginess, rejecting food and drink and increased temper tantrums.
If this continues over an extended period, they may start falling asleep at school, struggle to stay focused and alert and need to be woken multiple times in the morning.
When you start to pick up on these signs, it might be time to look at your child's bedtime and routine, and see what adjustments can be made to ensure that they are getting more sleep at night.
How to help your child get the right amount of sleep
Keeping all the above in mind, you need to start by setting a reasonable bedtime for your child. For example, if you know that your little one needs to, or will, wake up at 6am, then they need to be asleep (asleep, not in bed), by 7pm in order to get their 11 hours.
It takes the average child 10-20 minutes to fall asleep – this might be by the end of a bedtime story, or once you’ve tucked them in and left the room, so you'll need to work out, based on your child, what time they need to actually get into bed, how long your bedtime routine takes and, ultimately, what time you need to start getting your child ready for bed.
Often, on weekends or during school holidays, when your child doesn't need to wake up early for school, you might slightly adjust their bedtime to make allowance for the 'lie-in' in the morning. Staying up for an extra hour on a Friday and Saturday is reasonable, but any longer and you could start finding it more difficult to get them back into the weekday routine come Sunday night as their body clock will be thrown off by any drastic changes.
Getting your child into bed on time is only half the battle; making sure that they stay in bed and sleep through the night, waking up at a reasonable hour, is the hardest part as you might feel as though you have slightly less control over this.
Start by assessing the situation – is your child waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom or crawl into your bed? Do they leave their room or start crying only minutes after you have tucked them in? Do they continue to wake up long before they need to, no matter how late you put them to bed?
Once you have a clear idea as to what the issue is, it becomes a lot easier to put measures in place to deter this behaviour.
If it's bathroom visits, then don't let your child have anything to drink before bed, if they don't fall asleep within 20 minutes of getting into bed, then adjust their bedtime routine – maybe they are too active before bed, or maybe there are too many distractions in their room.
If they are waking up too early, and their bedtime is having no effect on this, try teaching them about numbers and time, and find ways of encouraging them to learn when it is time to get out of bed.
For example, if your child doesn't need to wake up until 7am, then get them a beside clock and teach them that when they wake up, they should look at the time, and if it says 7:00, then it's time to get out of bed. There are bedside clocks on the market that are designed for exactly this purpose.
An activity like this will make them feel more independent and, hopefully, encourage them to stay in bed and go back to sleep if it is too early.
If any of your child's bad sleeping habits continue after you have exhausted every method possible, then it's best to seek medical advice on the matter as there may be other factors causing the irregular sleep.
Oversleeping is bad for your child too
Oversleeping is dangerous too. Too much sleep on a regular basis can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke, so it is a bad habit to adopt at a young age.
This is easier for children to avoid as you, the parent, can ensure that your child is waking up at a decent time and doesn't fall into the habit of sleeping far longer than the recommended number of hours for their age.
We'll be looking more at ways to get your child out of bed on time in the morning in a future blog post.
It always helps for your child to have a great bed that they look forward to climbing into and are happy to stay in all night. Browse our collection of handmade, bespoke kid’s beds here