Is your child getting enough sleep?

Tired boy reading at desk
Is your child overtired – or not tired enough? Here’s how to make sure they’re getting the right amount of sleep for their age.

Sleep affects how we function during the day, and for kids, it can be a factor in how well they participate and perform at school, as well as having an impact on behaviour.

‘According to research, children who have less sleep can struggle in areas such as spoken language, problem-solving, and forming thoughts and ideas,’ explains Dr Ian Maconochie of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

‘A lack of sleep also affects cognitive ability, and there’s a risk of a child becoming overweight if they don’t get enough sleep.’

As your child grows, their sleep needs change, and all kids petition for a later bedtime at some point. So how can you make sure you’re adapting to their new age and stage while still ensuring they’re getting enough sleep?

How much sleep does your child need?

The NHS advises that children’s sleep needs are as follows:

  • Four years: 11 hours 30 minutes
  • Five years: 11 hours
  • Six years: 10 hours 45 minutes
  • Seven years: 10 hours 30 minutes
  • Eight years: 10 hours 15 minutes
  • Nine years: 10 hours
  • Ten years: 9 hours 45 minutes
  • Eleven years: 9 hours 30 minutes

If your child seems to need more or less sleep than the guidelines suggest, don’t worry.

‘Children are all individuals, so don’t get fixated on the recommended number of hours sleep,’ says Vicki Dawson, founder of the Children’s Sleep Charity.

‘The most important thing is a child’s functioning. Some children will need more sleep than the guidelines suggest; others will need less. You’re the expert on your child and are best placed to decide whether they’re getting enough sleep to meet their needs.’

It’s also important to review bedtime as your child grows and develops. 

‘If your child is finding it harder to fall asleep at night, consider if they need a slightly later bedtime,’ Vicki suggests.
‘Experiment by moving things gradually and observing how this impacts on them the next day.’

Signs of sleep deprivation

Children who aren’t getting enough sleep can display a number of signs, including:

  • Appearing tired or lethargic during the day
  • Difficulty waking up in the morning
  • Hyperactive behaviour
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Difficulty regulating emotions, for example being excessively tearful
  • Poor growth
  • Looking tired: their skin may be pale and their eyes dark
  • Picking up viruses regularly, as the immune system is compromised

If you think your child is lacking sleep, take a look at their sleep hygiene: the routines, habits and environment surrounging their sleep.

In particular, when and how your child goes to sleep is important in helping them have a restful night.

A good bedtime routine might include coming off screens (including TV) an hour before bed, a bath, and a shared bedtime story with the lights dimmed and minimal noise, but adapt this to suit your child and your family: for example, older children might want to read by themselves rather than have you read to them.

‘It’s important to fit the routine into your family’s lifestyle, and not be too pressured about it,’ explains Dr Maconochie. ‘It’s about making bedtime an enjoyable and calming experience.’

Late nights and holidays

Late nights happen, but the longer your child goes without the necessary amount of sleep, the harder it is to catch up. That’s when it could start having a noticeable effect on everyday life.

‘If you let your child stay up later at the weekend in the hope of a lie-in, you’re probably going to be disappointed,’ says Vicki. ‘Often, a child will wake at the same time despite having a late night.’

This can result in them being overtired when Monday comes.

During the holidays, you can make routines work with a bit of flexibility: for example, you might shift the whole bedtime routine back an hour, but stick to each individual part.

‘Summer holidays can result in body clocks going awry, so aim to get sleep routines back on track two weeks before your child needs to be back at school,’ says Vicki.

‘If you’re away on holiday and want your child to be up later then once you return home make sure that you get back on board with the usual routine as soon as you can, as this is the key to ensuring they get enough sleep.’