How much sleep does your child REALLY need?

World Sleep Day is on 17 March, and we’re asking the question: Does your child sleep enough?

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It might surprise you to learn that six out of 10 children in the UK get too little sleep, according to a recent study.

The survey, carried out by the Fine Bedding Company, found that 57 per cent of children aged two to four are getting less than the recommended hours of sleep a night, as well as 63 per cent of four- to seven-year-olds and 65 per cent of eight- to 11-year-olds.

Many children also have problems with their quality of sleep, which can be just as important as quantity. The study showed 65 per cent experience difficulty falling asleep or suffer sleep problems such as sleep talking or walking.

Experts claim sleep deprivation can affect learning and memory ability, which is closely linked to performance at school.

Bad moods and behaviour, a reduced immune system, obesity and even depression have also been linked to a lack of sleep in children.

Many blame the presence of TVs, phones and computers in kids’ bedrooms, as well as busy lifestyles and the additional demands and pressures on our offspring, such as after-school activities and homework.

You can tell if your child is getting enough sleep if they rise easily in the morning, are alert and happy for most of the day, and are not grumpy. So what can you do to ensure your child gets the right amount?

Silentnight’s resident sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, says: ‘Establishing a good bedtime routine is an integral part of your child’s development and helps to ensure they have a great night’s sleep. ‘Simple things like bathing your child, reading them a story and making sure the room is a comfortable temperature are key to getting a full night’s sleep. This will result in your child being more alert, well rested and focused the next day.’

Here are Dr Ramlakhan’s tips to help your child get a good night’s sleep…

Go technology-free

Research has proven that by having a constant stream of light enter our eyes before we go to sleep, we are actually telling our brains that we want to be awake. An hour or so before children go to bed, rule out any blue light. This means no TV, tablets, mobile phones or anything else like this. Your child’s bedroom should always be a technology-free environment to encourage sleep.

Regular bedtimes

The same study found that 57 per cent of children don’t have a regular bedtime but Dr Ramlakhan argues this is important. She suggests sticking to a regular bedtime. An ideal time for pre-teens would be no later than 8.30pm. See the orange box for a full list of times per age.

Pre-sleep routine

The few hours before bed can be just as important as your child’s actual bedtime. Create a calming pre-sleep routine for your children with relaxing baths containing lavender, a milky drink or a story. It will help them wind down and feel ready for bed.

Have a chat

One of the big reasons some children don’t sleep is worry. Talk to your child about any concerns they may have before bedtime, and encourage simple meditation by repeating a calming word or by helping them with their breathing techniques, such as breathing deeply from the stomach. This should help ease their worries.

Sleep-friendly bedroom

Bedrooms need to be sleep-friendly with a cool environment. Freshly-washed bedding, possibly lavender-fragranced, can make the room feel calming and relaxing. Again, technology-free bedrooms are a must!

Exercise

It’s scientifically proven that exercise can help you get a better night’s sleep. Regular exercise is one of the most effective ways of reducing stress hormone levels — mainly adrenaline — thus enabling children, and adults, to sleep more deeply. A short walk with children after their evening meal would be the perfect exercise to help them wind down.

Nutrition

We need a good balance of the hormones serotonin and melatonin in our system to help us to sleep well. Sending your children off to school with a nutritionally balanced lunchbox will help to promote this healthy hormone balance. Foods such as chicken, tuna, eggs, nuts and milk are all high in serotonin.