Baby sleeping

Children and Sleep

Children and Sleep

Sleep is vital for both children and adults. Getting a good night sleep on the other hand is easier said than done. Concerns over how much sleep children should have is a concern for many parents.

This month we aim to look at sleep habits and the recommended sleep hours per day that a child and an adult should get.

Before we look into sleep and recommended sleep hours it is important that we remember that all children are individual and unique, comparing children with other children can be very unhelpful.

Why is sleep important?

 Firstly, it is important to say that problems with sleep are common with children. Research has shown that children with additional needs are between 40 and 80% more likely to have problems with sleep.

Sleep is as important for your body as food

Sleep is Important for children because:

Growth Hormones are released

During sleep growth hormones are released, these hormones are released by the pituitary gland, helps to spurs growth in children and adolescents as well as helping to regulate body composition, body fluids, muscle and bone growth, sugar and fat metabolism, and possibly heart function.

Immune system strengthens

The immune system strengthens, helping the body to fight off illness, it does this by releasing proteins called cytokines, some of these helps promote sleep. Some cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you’re under stress. Deprivation of sleep may decrease production of these protective cytokines.

It makes sense of the day

The brain makes sense of the day’s events while you sleep, by sorting and storing information from the day. The process is particularly important for creating long term memories, as your brain consolidates all the information it has picked up during the day and files it away for later use.

Memory and concentration functions are increased

Sleep has a profound effect on the body’s memory and concentration. Having a good night sleep can aid your productivity on the following day.

Our bodies rest

Allowing the body to rest is crucial to ensure that the body functions as it should the following day. During sleep the body is at its least active, and preparing for the day ahead.

Emotional wellbeing is restored

Sleep allows your mind to unwind and de-stress. This allows your mental and emotional wellbeing to be restored.

What are the stages of sleep?

During sleep the human body cycles through four stages of sleep. The cycle of sleep occurs multiple times throughout the night for different lengths of time, which varys from 70 to 120 minutes each. The stages generally repeat about four times during a 7 to 9-hour sleep period.

The sleep cycle includes two major phases of sleep:

  • non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep, and
  • REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

The cycle of sleep includes three stages of non-REM sleep and one stage of REM sleep.

Non-Rapid Eye Movement sleep is characterised as an absence of eye movements, whereas Rapid Eye Movement sleep, when dreaming occurs, is characterised by rapid eye movements.

The cycle of sleep

Stage 1: Non-Rapid Eye Movement sleep

This stage occurs when you first fall asleep. As your body enters light sleep, your brain waves, heart rate, and eye movements slow down. Typically this stage lasts for about 7 minutes.

Stage 2: Non-Rapid Eye Movements sleep

This stage involves the light sleep just before deep sleep. During this stage your body temperature decreases, eye movements stop, and heart rate and muscles continue to relax. The brainwaves briefly spike and then slow down. You spend most of your night sleep in this stage.

As we move on to Stage 3 and 4, the body’s deep sleep begins.

Stage 3: Non-Rapid Eye Movement sleep

Now at stage 3, your eyes and muscles don’t move, and your brainwaves slow down even further. Deep sleep is restorative. The body replenishes its energy and repairs cells, tissues, and muscles. If you did not get this stage of sleep, you fail to feel awake and refreshed the next day.

Stage 4: Rapid Eye Movement sleep

This stage of sleep first occurs about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. The eyes move quickly from side to side during REM sleep, with the brainwaves and eye movements increasing along with the heartrate and breathing speeding up.

Rapid Eye Movement sleep is the stage of sleep where dreaming often happens. During the stage the brain also processes information, making it important for learning and memory.


Melatonin is an important hormone released into your body. It is released by the pineal gland in the brain and is then released into the bloodstream. Darkness prompts the pineal gland to start producing melatonin while light causes that production to stop. Melatonin is central to the body’s sleep-wake cycle.

Melatonin only works if all other conditions for sleep are met for example your tired, comfortable, in a quiet dark room, not hungry or over tired and feeling relaxed.

How much sleep is recommended?

The amount of sleep that person requires varies on their age and from person to person. There is no hard and fast rule, but out handy guide below provides guidance across the age ranges.

How can sleep be aided? 

There are many things that can help with sleep. Good sleeping routines start at a young age. As we are focusing on children’s sleep, we have a few things to consider in order to help children’s sleep.


One of the most important things that can help children to sleep is to have a routine in place, that works for them. Most children require a wind down at the end of the day prior to sleep. In order for a routine to be successful, the same things have to happen in the same order each night. As much as the same routine has to take place of an evening, you should wake your child at the same time each day.


It is important that you remain consistent with the child, when setting up the routine, and then maintaining it as the bedroom routine continues. It is also important that other people who look after your children of an evening should follow the same routine as the parents, ensuring a fully consistent approach.

Bedtime Activities

It is a good idea to carefully consider activities that are carried out before sleep, something a puzzle or a colouring-in activity could be beneficial as hand-eye co-ordination activities can help to relax children.


Another key stage in assisting children with their routines is ensuring that the children are rewarded as the routine is set up and put into place. Rewards should be given as soon as the behaviour you want is displayed. Rewards could be as simple as:

  • Praise,
  • Hugs,
  • Signs,
  • Pictures, and
  • Star Charts.
Night and Day

It is important that children are aware of the difference between night and day, teaching children about the time is a good way of doing this. It is not a good idea however to introduce the idea of darkness means that it is night-time as across the seasons in the UK the onset of darkness varies wildly from as early as 4pm to as late as nearly 10pm, therefore the children will be confused why they are going to bed in the daytime. Phrases like, its night-time time to go to sleep, and the opposite in the morning, it’s morning time to wake up, can be beneficial.

Their Bedroom

The other thing that can help to aid a child’s sleep is to help their room more restful.

It may be an idea to lie down in the child’s room and consider:

  • Is the room at the right temperature?
  • Are the curtains too thin?
  • Is the room free of distractions?
  • Can you hear any noises?
  • Things look different when in darkness
    • are there any scary posters on the wall?
    • Is there anything displayed that could be disturbing your child?
    • Even something as simple as a dressing gown hanging on the back of a door can cause some children to be afraid during the night.
  • Is the colour of the bedroom relaxing?
    • Pale colours and pastel shades are the most calming.
    • Bright colours can be over-stimulating and you might want to avoid them.
  • Is the bed comfortable?
    • Your child may not be able to tell you that they are uncomfortable in bed, so spend some time lying on the mattress to see for yourself how it feels.
    • Some bed protectors can cause sweating and discomfort during the night. If so there are a number of alternatives now available in the shops.
  • Are comforters within easy reach?
    • If your child uses a comforter such as a dummy, blanket or favourite teddy, are they able to reach out and get them during the night?
    • Sometimes it is helpful to have more than one comforter so that there is always one to hand.

 What happens if you don’t enough sleep? 

The human body has a hard time functioning properly without enough sleep. Being sleep deprived is linked closely to chronic health problems affecting the heart, kidneys, blood, brain, and mental health.

Lack of sleep is also associated with an increased risk of injury for both adults and children. Driver drowsiness, for example, can contribute to serious car accidents and even death.

In older adults, poor sleep is associated with an increased risk of falls and broken bones.

Specific consequences of sleep deprivation can include:

  • Mood changes,
  • Anxiety,
  • Depression,
  • Poor memory,
  • Poor focus and concentration,
  • Poor motor function,
  • Fatigue,
  • Weakened immune system,
  • Weight gain,
  • High blood pressure,
  • Insulin resistance,
  • Chronic diseases, like diabetes and heart disease,
  • Increased risk of early death.

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