Is your child getting enough sleep?

Tired boy reading at desk
Sleep affects how we perform during the day, and for kids, it can be a factor in how well they participate in school. But how do you know if your child is getting enough? We speak to Dr. Ian Maconochie about how to establish good sleep habits.

Putting our children to bed can sometimes be more tiring for us than them. But, while getting everyone to sleep successfully is important, you also need to make sure that primary-school-age children are getting at least nine hours of sleep each night. 

A recent sleep study among children age 6-7 in Spain confirmed this, explains Dr. Ian Maconochie from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. The study looked at how children functioned in school based on the amount of sleep they had. “Children who had less sleep weren’t as good in areas such as spoken language, problem-solving, and forming thoughts and ideas,” he said.

To nap, or not to nap?

Dr. Maconochie says naps are good for children age 4 and younger. “It varies quite a bit as to whether naps take place in the morning or afternoon, but having a routine of one or the other is important,” he explains.

Remember that children often fall asleep on long car journeys, so that counts in the amount of sleep they get in the day too. “Just keep it consistent,” he says.

How’s your hygiene?

The key to making bedtime a smooth process is finding a routine that works, and sticking to it – in other words, having good sleep hygiene. It’s the habits (hygiene) of when and how children go to sleep that affects how restful their sleep is.

All children have late nights every now and then, but they make up that lost time at weekends and get back on ‘sleep track’. However, the longer that they go without the necessary amount of sleep, the harder it is to catch up. And that’s when it starts having a noticeable affect on everyday life.

“It affects cognitive ability, and decreases stimulation,” says Dr. Maconochie. “There is also a risk of a child becoming overweight if they don’t get enough sleep.” A study conducted in New Zealand among 3-7-year-olds found children who got less sleep had a larger BMI at age 7.

How to set the routine

“Sleep patterns have to fit in with the family lifestyle,” Dr. Maconochie says. Bedtime is actually a set of routines in itself, and Dr. Maconochie recommends these things for creating a mellow atmosphere that helps children settle down.

  • Have a bath
  • Turn down the lights
  • Keep noise to a minimum
  • Avoid watching television right before bed
  • Use nightlights
  • Play soft music
  • Read for a designated period of time each night
  • Choose a bedtime book that doesn’t have too many exciting details in it, and end on a resolution rather than a cliffhanger

“It’s important to fit these things into the family’s lifestyle, and not be too pressured about it,” explains Dr. Maconochie. “It’s about making bedtime an enjoyable experience.

“If something doesn’t work out one night, don’t worry – there’s another one ahead.”