Bright Heart tutor Sally discusses sleep and why children need it. She also provides some helpful tips on how to improve sleep quality.

The importance of sleep

According to the NHS website, children between the ages of six and twelve need 9 to 12 hours of sleep per night. Teenagers need a minimum of 8 hours, but ideally 10.

There have been many books published and advice given recently about why it is essential to get enough sleep. However, as we all know, this isn’t always easy to achieve with busy school and social schedules. This article will summarise the key benefits of sleep and then look at ways to change our routine to help the whole family get the amount of sleep it needs.

1. Sleep helps children to succeed at school

Children who get enough sleep can focus better throughout the day. They tend to behave well in class as they can think more clearly, concentrate and control their emotions more effectively. 

Sleep helps our bodies to repair physically, but our brain also uses the time to process all the information we have learnt that day. Sleep enables us to consolidate information and improves memory which is essential when revising for exams.

2. Sleep helps us to stay healthy

When we do not get enough sleep, we feel hungrier and crave unhealthy foods. A lack of sleep can also lead to heart issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. 

As mentioned earlier, sleep gives us time to rest and repair, which helps our immune system to stay strong and fight off any germs we encounter during the day. If we do not get enough sleep, we are more likely to feel run down and it is important to give yourself time to rest if you are not feeling well.

sleeping child
One cannot underestimate the value of sleep on well-being.

3. Sleep helps us to maintain healthy relationships

A lack of sleep can lead to poor control of our emotions and more outbursts, especially amongst young children and teenagers. Stress and low mood are also linked to poor sleep and both of these things impact our ability to communicate effectively and relax. Good sleep helps us to stay positive and make sound judgments which will help us manage our relationships more effectively.  

Children playing
Sleep is a strong factor in emotional regulation.

So what can we do to help improve the quality of our sleep?

A bedtime routine is vital for children to help them wind down and relax before sleep. This is still beneficial for older children, teenagers, and even adults. Why not ask your children to read or listen to music for half an hour before sleep each evening? This should help them to unwind.

It isn’t easy being a child or teenager today. There is lots of pressure to succeed at school, friendship worries, and the constant demands of social media. If you notice that your child is feeling stressed or worried and think that this might be impacting their sleep, why not ask them to write down the things that are concerning them on a piece of paper each evening? Explain to them that once their worries are down on the paper and no longer in their head they will be able to fall asleep more easily.

There is an excellent book by Matthew Walker called “Why We Sleep”. In this book he advocates the following advice which can be used for the whole family, parents included!

1. Go to bed and wake up at the same time seven days a week because your body needs a routine

This can be hard for teenagers who have deadlines and social commitments, but it is important to ensure that they have at least eight hours of sleep per night and then work around this schedule.

2. Do not use electronic devices in bed (phones, iPads, etc)

Matthew Walker recommends that we stop using our electronic devices an hour before we go to bed to help us switch off and get ready for sleep. This is very important for children and teenagers; I would recommend having a charging station in the kitchen where the whole family leaves their phone after 9 pm. This is fair and ensures everyone is getting enough sleep and not tempted to check their phone during the night.

boy with ipad on bed
Blue light from devices interferes with natural sleep patterns.

3. Make sure your bedroom is dark and not too warm because your brain and body need to be cooler to help you fall asleep

According to the Sleep Foundation, the ideal temperature for sleep is about 18.5 degrees Celsius. We are programmed to experience a slight dip in body temperature at night and turning the heating down can help with our temperature regulation and signal to our body that it’s time to go to sleep.

4. Avoid drinking caffeinated drinks including tea, coffee, and fizzy drinks at least three hours before you go to bed

Energy drinks such as Monster are popular amongst teenagers and these should be avoided at all costs. This is because they lead to not only poor sleep, but also anxiety, irritability, and concentration issues.

In summary, there are many benefits of improved sleep and it really should be a priority for the whole family. It is very important that parents set an example and ensure that they follow the same advice they are giving to their children! I know that it is difficult over the summer to stick to set bedtimes. However, I would recommend setting up new sleep routines at least two weeks before the start of term. This will ensure that everyone has time to readjust and that the early starts are not too big a shock to the system come September. 

mother and child sleeping
Sleep routines are important to provide structure for the school term.

We hope this blog was helpful! For further tips on sleep hygiene for children, please see here.

Please feel free to get in touch with us should you have any questions about optimising your child’s learning. We enjoy talking with parents and helping our students by tailoring learning to their individual needs.

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