Sleep hygiene in children and young people
This information sheet from Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) explains about sleep hygiene. The lead-up to and routine around your child’s bedtime is referred to as ’sleep hygiene’. Having good sleep hygiene can help your child to settle to sleep and to stay asleep. There are several things that parent/carers can do to help and we have listed some of these below.
Children of different ages require different amounts of sleep. In 2016, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) produced a ’Consensus Statement‘ regarding the recommended amount of sleep for children and young people.
The table below gives an indication of the amount of sleep your child needs on a regular basis to keep them healthy.
|Your child’s age
|Recommended sleep time in 24 hours
|Infants 4 to 12 months
|12 to 16 hours including naps
|Children 1 to 2 years
|11 to 14 hours including naps
|Children 3 to 5 years
|10 to 13 hours including naps
|Children 6 to 12 years
|9 to 12 hours
|Teenagers 13 to 18 years
|8 to 10 hours
Things to think about
Good sleep hygiene begins in the day, with consideration of your child’s food and drink intake. Caffeine is a stimulant that prevents sleep and can cause your child to stay awake for longer and find it more difficult to settle to sleep. Caffeine is present in drinks such as tea, coffee, cola, energy drinks and fizzy pop. If your child drinks these, try to limit their intake and avoid them altogether after lunchtime.
Food and mealtimes
Eating a large meal before bedtime can prevent sleep. Consider the best time to eat your main evening meal; if your child has an early bedtime, ensure that a large meal is not being eaten directly beforehand. On school nights, it might be preferable for your child to eat earlier, saving family meals for weekends or holiday periods. Some foods can be helpful in promoting sleep – for example, a drink of warm milk.
Children may have difficulty in falling asleep if they have been inactive throughout the day. Encouraging your child, where possible, to undertake sports and to play outside can help to burn off energy and promote tiredness at the end of the day. Even going for a walk in the fresh air can be helpful. However, avoid exercise too near to bedtime.
Your child’s sleeping environment should be a place where they feel safe and secure, but also be a place to sleep and not play. There are ways in which the sleeping environment can be adjusted, which will depend on the needs of your child (and other children sharing the room).
For instance, some children may find a nightlight can make them feel safe, others may sleep better in total darkness. If possible, adjust room temperature and noise to levels at which your child feels comfortable to fall asleep.
Your child’s bedroom should not contain items that distract from sleeping. For example, would it be possible to remove toys from the bedroom before bedtime, or move toys to a different area of the house?
Set a routine
Having a bedtime routine and a set bedtime can help your child to understand what to expect and how they should behave. A routine can begin 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime and can include activities to help wind down, such as a warm bath/shower or reading a story.
Sticking to a set pattern each night will help your child to settle before bed and give them the time to calm down before sleeping. Going to the toilet as the last task before getting into bed can also help prevent your child from needing to get up in the night time.
The use of electronic devices (such as televisions, mobile phones and tablet computers) close to bedtime can prevent your child from settling to sleep. This is because they produce light that is good at suppressing natural hormones in the brain that cause sleepiness.
Ideally, these devices should not be used in the hours before bed and removed from your child’s bedroom to create an environment that your child associates with sleep.
If your child uses these devices to help them fall asleep, consider replacing this routine with a bedtime story or playing soothing music.
If your child is routinely waking in the night, it is important that they learn to self-settle rather than seeking a parent or joining a parent’s bed. This can be difficult to enforce, and may be emotionally challenging, for both child and parent, but parents should remain firm and assertive.
If your child leaves their bed and seeks you out at night-time, try not to engage them in conversation, but lead them quietly and immediately back to bed. This may need to be repeated several times each night, but it is important that your child learns that they will receive the same response from you each time.
If your child is anxious, the use of a night light, cuddly toy or baby monitor may help them to feel safe and learn how to self-settle.
Praising your child in the morning for staying in bed at night can help reinforce good behaviour; this can be aided by the use of a reward chart or stickers, with a small token prize when a certain number of stickers/rewards have been won.