Sleep matters

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How many hours sleep should your child be getting and why is it so important?

Why does sleep matter?

A boy asleep at his desk © Fotolia XIII @ Fotolia.com

Experts acknowledge that sleep plays a significant role in brain development, and it is therefore important for children to get enough sleep as their bodies grow and mature. Sleep is crucial for teenagers - it is while they are snoozing at night that they release a hormone that is essential for the growth spurt during puberty.

As well as the role it plays in brain development, sleep also plays an important role in our brain’s day-to-day ability to function. Lack of sleep makes it much harder for us to concentrate, and we become forgetful, irritable and prone to being clumsy and making mistakes.

Furthermore, scientific evidence shows that the right amount of night-time sleep is just as important for children’s development as healthy eating and regular exercise.

How much sleep does my primary school child need?

Sleep requirements differ from individual to individual, but in general a younger child needs more sleep than an older one. Between the ages of five and 11, your child will need 10-12 hours of sleep a night.

A bedtime routine is the best way to ensure that your child gets enough sleep. Devise a routine that lasts 30-40 minutes, and includes a bath and the chance to read a story (or stories) together. Try not to change your routine – don’t change it at all during the week, and if you want your child to have a slightly later bedtime at the weekend, then only change it by maybe an hour .

Bedtime is a chance to spend some quality time together, and if it’s a time both you and your child enjoy, your son or daughter will settle down in bed and drop off to sleep more easily.

At stressful times, such as when your child starts in Reception, and at the start of each new school year, your child will probably get more tired than usual and will need more sleep.

In the summer, because of the light evenings, it may be tempting to keep children up later – but try to keep to scheduled bedtimes, and invest in curtains with a blackout lining so the room is dark.

Towards the end of primary school, your son or daughter may start to stay up later in the evening, maybe chatting to friends online, playing games on a console or watching TV. They will find it difficult to get up in the morning and will be tired or irritable during the day if they don’t get enough sleep.

Limit your child’s use of the internet, games consoles and TV in the hour before they go to bed – and ideally don’t allow your son or daughter to have a computer, console or a TV set in their bedroom.

How much sleep does my secondary school child need?

Between the ages of 11 and 18, your child will need 8.5-10 hours of sleep a night.

It can be difficult to encourage older children to keep to a regular bedtime, but it’s important to try. Experts have linked a lack of sleep to problems with behaviour, concentration and achievement at school. A lack of sleep can contribute to weight gain too, because it inhibits the production of appetite-controlling hormones.

Older children often don’t realise they’re cutting back on their sleep. Talk to your child - if they are finding it difficult to get up in the morning, suggest earlier nights.

A routine can be hard to enforce, but you can make your older child’s bedtime an opportunity for some quality time with you, just as you did when they were at primary school. Why not make it a regular habit to have a brief end of day chat with them before they put the light out?

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