In order to ensure healthy growth and development for your children, it’s absolutely essential you practice good sleep hygiene techniques. As important as healthy sleeping habits are for adults, they’re even more vital for little ones!
Sleep hygiene describes your child’s bed time routine – from what they do leading up to bed-time to how they actually sleep. There are a number of techniques and methods you should practice to instill good sleep hygiene for toddlers, children and teens. The benefits of a good night’s sleep, every night, are massive.
Sleep hygiene is important because healthy sleeping habits are essential towards your child’s development and growth, both physically and mentally.
A good amount of healthy sleep will help your child improve and develop their focus and concentration, their memory, their creativity and their learning habits. Sleep is essential for physical wellbeing; a lot of growth occurs during sleep, and sleep is known to improve children’s immune systems.
For kids and adults alike, sleep is an opportunity for our bodies to take a break after a busy day and replenish energy. It’s a time for our brains to store and organise information, and a time for our bones, muscles and joints to rest and develop.
Signs of poor sleeping patterns include mood changes, memory issues, balance and coordination issues, irritability and fatigue. If you notice that your child is often lethargic, is struggling to concentrate and having difficulty at school, these very well may be signs of unhealthy sleeping patterns.
How much sleep your child needs every night will depend on their age.
Sleep time (within a 24-hour period)
4 to 12 months old
12 to 16 hours (including naps)
1 to 2 years old
11 to 14 hours (including naps)
3 to 5 years old
10 to 13 hours (including naps)
6 to 12 years old
9 to 12 hours
13 to 18 years old
8 to 10 hours
Following the guidelines above means your kids will get the exact amount of sleep they need for healthy development. If they sleep too little, they’ll experience sleep deprivation, while oversleeping can lead to further health issues.
There are a few must-dos and must-not-dos when it comes to sleep hygiene for kids. It’s not just about ensuring they get the right amount of sleep, in order for them to really feel the benefits of a good night’s sleep. They’ll also need a healthy routine leading up to bedtime, and there are things you can do throughout the day to ensure that come night it’s all sweet dreams.
If you struggle to help your child fall asleep, use the tips below.
Healthy eating is of course important, but making sure your kids are eating at the right time is just as crucial. A large dinner too close to bedtime can cause sleep issues – so you should make sure they never have a meal right before bed. It’s recommended to wait three hours between mealtime and bedtime. This gives the body time to digest the food.
At the same time, if they go to bed hungry, they’ll also have trouble sleeping. If they’re still hungry after dinner, a light, protein-packed snack should do the trick! Avoid anything too sugary and heavy, and instead opt for something like nuts, berries or yoghurt. A glass of warm milk before bed is said to assist a good night’s sleep.
Caffeine isn’t just found in coffee, and it can show up in lots of things your kids drink too – like cola, tea, energy drinks and fizzy drinks. Because it’s a stimulant, caffeine can be hugely detrimental towards sleep hygiene for children. If they drink anything containing caffeine, limit this to earlier in the day and avoid giving them any caffeinated drink after lunchtime. Remember to look out for caffeine in food too – as it can sometimes show up in treats like chocolate.
An active lifestyle is a healthy lifestyle, and making sure your child gets a good amount of exercise every day will do wonders for their sleep hygiene. Exercise will help them burn energy, which in turn helps them get to sleep easy come nighttime. If they’re not into sports, even a daily walk will help. Without exercise, they won’t have anywhere to burn that energy, which could make for a long, restless night.
It’s important that their exercise doesn’t happen too close to bedtime, though, as they’ll need time to cool off. Exercising early in the day is ideal – it will help them stay energized, alert and fuel their focus throughout the day.
The light from screens is known to suppress the natural hormones in our brain that help us get to sleep. Because of this, you should make sure your kids limit their screen time in the evening and avoid watching TV or using a computer, tablet or phone entirely in the hours leading up to bedtime. At the latest, screens should go off an hour before bed.
Instead, encourage reading before bed, listening to calming music, and other relaxing activities that aren’t too stimulating or active.
It’s important that your kids associate their bed with sleeping, so make sure they don’t spend time lying or sitting on their bed throughout the day. It may seem like a comfy spot for reading and relaxing, but they’ll struggle to get to sleep if in their mind the bed doubles as a sofa. Instead, consider a daybed, or make sure they have a desk for creative activities.
Similarly, avoid letting them fall asleep elsewhere. It’s best to get them to bed when they’re tired, but still awake. If they get in the habit of falling asleep on the sofa, they’ll start associating the living room with bedtime.
A consistent bedtime routine will help your kids establish healthy eating habits. That means the same bedtime every night, as well as the same pre-bedtime routine – including brushing their teeth, bath time, getting into their PJs and making sure they’re relaxed and ready for sleep. It also helps to make sure they go to the toilet right before bed, to prevent them waking in the middle of the night. Their bedtime should be the same on weekends as weekdays to help them get used to their routine.
If your child tends to wake up throughout the night, it’s important that you encourage them to settle back to sleep on their own. You might feel a little bad about it at first, but this is essential for them to learn healthy sleeping habits without having to rely on mum or dad.
If they wake up at night, calmly and quietly lead them back to bed. Eventually, they’ll understand that they can do it on their own, meaning better sleep for both of you! It always helps to offer positive reinforcement and praise them the next morning if they manage to sleep through the night.
Your child may struggle to sleep if they’re anxious, frightened or uncomfortable. If that’s the case, helping them develop a sense of security without having to rely on mum and dad being by their side is crucial. Whether it’s snuggly soft toys, comfy blankets, night lights or all of the above – creating a cosy, calming environment for them will help them nod off without worry.
Look for night lights designed for children rather than using a regular lamp or their bedroom light – as too much light will stop them from producing melatonin – the body’s sleep hormone.
A child’s bedroom should be a calm space that encourages a good night’s sleep; they’ll struggle to fall asleep in a chaotic, messy room.
When you design their bedroom, always keep sleep hygiene in mind. Having the right sized bed and a suitable mattress for their age and development is essential for comfortable, valuable sleep.
Get them into the habit of putting their toys away and tidying up the clutter before bedtime to create a more peaceful space. Their room should be cool – the NHS recommends between 16°C and 20°C, any light should be dim, and any noise from outside should be blocked.
In summer, they may be heading to bed before it’s dark out – so blackout curtains are always helpful to get them into sleep mode. Just make sure the curtains stay open during the day – so they only associate the dark with winding down.
Keep distractions away from them come bedtime – so they don’t find themselves reaching for the action figures if they can’t get to sleep.
While all of the above applies for teenagers, you might need some extra reinforcement as they begin to explore their independence. Certain factors, like screen time, caffeine, and mealtimes might become harder to control once they reach a certain age, which is why it helps to instill those values early, and keep reminding them why sleep hygiene for teens is so important as they get older.
Educate your teens on the side effects of bad sleeping habits. This is a time where they’re so excited about growing up – so remind them that they can only do so properly if they’re sleeping well!
Teenagers should be aiming to exercise for at least an hour a day, and should be sleeping for 8-10 hours every night. To keep their body clock in check, make sure they avoid those weekend lie-ins.