As regularly as the sun goes down, bedtime arguments come up. Warm words about the land of nod or beauty sleep won’t cut it. But, as it turns out, that hyperactive child bouncing off the sofa could well be exhibiting clinical signs of sleep deprivation
Words: Libby Norman
You might be holding back a yawn and struggling to stay awake through the Channel 4 News but the mini me whose bedtime should have happened ten minutes’ ago is resisting all reason, entreaties and – finally – orders to get up those stairs to Bedfordshire. Yes, it’s the familiar bedtime war. You had them with your parents, one day your children will suffer your fate – like the bogeyman it’s ancient lore at bedtime.
But even though they don’t look at all sleepy, that doesn’t mean they get a pass. In fact, the numbers do stack up – children need a lot of shut-eye to function and grow.
Even 30 to 60 minutes less sleep can have a big impact on children, says The Sleep Foundation, but the problem is that parents may not spot the signs that they need bed. This is because drowsy children may become hyperactive rather than showing the heavy-eyed signs we exhibit as adults. This is why it’s important to keep an eye on the clock and establish a healthy sleeping pattern as early as possible.
While we all know that a newborn needs lots of sleep, at age two your child should still be getting between 11 and 14 hours’ sleep a night, while by age five years the recommendation is 10 to 13 hours. While these variations are quite wide to allow for children’s individual make-up, less than nine hours for a two-year-old and eight hours for a five-year-old is likely to leave them sleep deprived. The need for lots of sleep continues throughout school and early adult years, so even a 13-year-old will ideally be getting a minimum of nine hours rest a night. So, yes, teenagers absolutely do need more time in bed – although not in the form of a lie in. The Sleep Council says that research indicates an early bedtime is best all through school.
You need to start clock-watching – slavishly. All the experts agree that a regular bedtime routine is essential, and you can’t start them young enough. While a bedtime story is the time-honoured way to help young children snuggle up and feel drowsy, teenagers should also be encouraged to find habits that aid sleep. Screen or TV time is not what they need, so encourage them to switch off an hour before bed in favour of books, magazines (or a Kindle if paper is all too last century). It goes without saying that adults need to show the lead on screen-time and current thinking is that TVs/phones/screens should be banished from all bedrooms.
We all need a quiet, calm and dark environment in which to sleep (although soft nightlights might be essential for younger children). Pay particular attention to temperature –16-18 degrees Celsius is optimal, says The Sleep Council, while anything over 24 degrees is likely to cause a restless night. Cool cotton sheets and familiar toys can work wonders to soothe children, and consider adding a blackout blind to the room or extra soundproofing if you want to keep it quiet for longer.
Millpond Sleep Clinic says that signs of irritability in the day are one indication your child is having a sleep problem, but waking up in the night or waking up very early in the morning may also be indicators. Millpond offers sleep therapy when children (or, more usually, parents) are at the end of their tether – also training other health professionals. It says that some children do need to be trained to sleep and usually the process of finding and addressing the issue begins with the simple step of keeping a diary of their sleep patterns.