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Dr Deirdre Peake - Consultant Paediatric Neurologist gives advice on children's sleep patterns

16th, Dec 2018

Help get your child to sleep in time for Santa - Kingsbridge Healthcare Group's Dr Deirdre Peake gives advice to parent's about how to establish a good sleeping pattern before Christmas helping get them and you rested.

Lack of sleep can be troublesome for children and exhausted parents.

Problems with sleep include:

  • bedtime resistance, anxiety about sleep,  not being able to get to sleep quickly
  • nighttime waking, inadequate sleep duration, difficulty awakening in the morning
  • morning moodiness, daytime sleepiness, to name a few!

Many of these can be improved with sleep hygiene.

What is Sleep Hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is the term used to describe good sleep habits. Considerable research has gone into developing a set of tips which are designed to enhance good sleeping and they can work!

The Four Pillars of Good Sleep Hygiene:

1. Bedtime Schedule

2. Bedtime Routine

3. Environmental Conditions of the Bedroom

4. Daytime Behaviors and Habits


Bedtime Schedule

Create a bedtime routine that works for you and your child, and then stick to it. For this to work you must have 2 things

1. It must include both a regular bedtime and a regular waking time. Make sure the times you select are practical and realistic for you and your child's other life schedules.

2. Consistency is the Key! If you must adjust it for weekends, then don't adjust it by any more than an hour in either direction, or else you defeat the whole purpose. Their physiology simply will not know when it is time to sleep or be awake. And this goes double for teenagers.

Bedtime Routine

Establish a regular bedtime routine for your child. A regular bedtime routine, about 1/2-hour long leading up to bedtime itself, is how you can best help your child to prepare for a good night's sleep.

Good Bedtime Routine: 

  • Taking a warm bath
  • Reading a story together
  • Listening to tranquil music, nature sounds or a relaxation CD
  • Stretching
  • Put to bed drowsy and relaxed but not asleep


  • TV and video games
  • Active, rough-and-tumble play and cardivascular/aerobic exercise
  • Caffeine (chocolate, caffeinated teas, and some soft drinks)
  • Lots of liquids (water, juice, milk)
  • Big means and sugary snacks

Whatever activities you (and your child) decide upon, the cornerstone of your child’s bedtime routine is that he/she knows what time to get changed for bed and brush his teeth, what time to be in bed, and how much time he can spend on in-bed activities such as reading.

Environmental Conditions of the Bedroom

Set a bedroom temperature that's comfortable and will remain consistent throughout the night, erring on the cooler side. Keeping the temperature consistent throughout the night can help avert nighttime wakings

Make the room sufficiently dark; a small nightlight is okay, if needed, but too much brightness interferes with restful sleep

Provide your child a quiet sleeping environment

Take the television out of your child's bedroom; all television-viewing should cease at least 30 minutes before bedtime anyway

Keep the bed for sleeping. Don’t use the bed for playing, reading, eating, or watching TV

Dress your child in comfortable pyjamas/nightclothes

Encourage children to sleep alone and to fall asleep alone

Daytime Behaviours and Habits

Many good daytime behaviours influence good sleep hygiene:

  • Open the curtains at the same time very day and expose your child to sunlight first thing in the morning. This helps set circadian rhythms for the rest of the day, and long-term for the rest of their life
  • Avoid using your child's bedroom for punishments or time-outs, - it should be a positive place
  • Monitor the content of your child's television viewing, internet surfing, and video game playing, as exposure to excessively violent, disturbing, or confusing images could be responsible for many sleep disturbances, such as nightmares.
  • Worry time should not be at bedtime. Confront bullying or other prevalent emotional issues early in the day.

What do I do if my child wakens up?

Do not go to their room unless absolutely necessary. They need to learn to “self soothe”. It is normal for children to awaken and they need to learn to fall asleep on their own after these normal awakenings.

 If upset go to your child soothe and comfort and leave again before the child is asleep.

If your child is never drowsy at the planned bedtime, you can delay bedtime by 30 minute increments until the child appears drowsy, so they experience falling asleep more quickly when they go to bed. Bedtime should then advance as a routine is established.

How quickly will this work?

Improvements in your child's sleep patterns likely won't happen overnight, but once you begin implementing good sleep hygiene practices in your child's life you should see a result within a few weeks (in time for Santas arrival)

What if it’s not working?

Keep a sleep diary to track naps, sleep times and activities to find patterns  and target problem areas that are not working

How much sleep do our children need?

On average a school age child sleeps 8 hours with teenagers needing 10 hours however recommendations are for even more sleep:

Infants (3 - 11 months) : 14 - 15 hours 
Toddlers (1 - 3 years) : 12 - 14 hours
Preschoolers (3 - 5 years) : 11 - 13 hours
School age children : 8 - 10 hours 
Teenagers : 10 - 11 hours 

Wishing you a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and a restful night's sleep for you and your children.

Written by Dr Deirdre Peake, General Paediatrics & Paediatric Neurology at Kingsbridge Private Hospital, Belfast.

For further information about the Paediatric Children's services at Kingsbridge Healthcare Group click here

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