Sleep and bedtime routines: for children and teenagers

All the worry and disruption in recent times means that many children are having particular trouble sleeping. This doesn’t just affect the children – it will quickly affect the adults in their lives too. There are things you can do to help your children sleep.

There are lots of guidelines for children’s sleep needs at different ages – these are always based on averages. Comparing your family to official guidelines can make you feel worse if your child seems to get by on less sleep, and some children may be wakeful for any number of reasons, including medical reasons.

The important message is that you can help your children get healthy sleep with love, nurture, and a good routine. Making sure you maintain a healthy routine will help your child’s body clock naturally adjust and sleep well.

As a bonus, routines and consistency will help your child feel more secure after they've been through a time of so many changes.

So what sleep patterns should you expect?

Sleep, feed, nap, wake, feed, sleep, repeat. Children learn and develop more at this stage than any other time in their lives so it’s not surprising that they need so much sleep.

Sleep helps their wee bodies to be healthy and for their minds to process their day’s experiences and make trillions of connections as they develop healthy

Around the age of 3 children should be napping less during the day with no more daytime naps by age 4 or 5. By this time, children have built lots of the building blocks in their brains and how and what they learn is changing.

As their daytime routine changes, it’s important that they are able to cope with a day without sleep. While naps are not needed, they still need around 11-12 hours of sleep every night to make memories and process all the experiences they’re having.

For more guidance take a look at the NHS website.

There is a (lazy) stereotype that teenagers are just… lazy. In reality, their bodies – and brains – need a lot of sleep.

Changes during puberty mean teenagers’ body clocks are different to younger children and adults', setting them up to be more alert later in the day. This helps explain why they are often so tired and grumpy in the morning, as the day starts at a time when their bodies should still be sleeping.

Teenagers should get around 9 hours sleep every night. Unfortunately, today’s young people get around 7.5 hours on average.

24/7 access to screens and social media may be having a harmful impact on our teenagers’ sleep. 

Some studies have found that not enough, or poor quality of sleep over a long period can cause obesity, stress, hinder learning and concentration and contribute to mental health issues.

Meet the Brains

Find out more about children's brains as they grow up with our friendly guide to child development.

Tips to help your children sleep well

  • What really helps is a steady routine – maintain your usual bedtime routine for your kids, or if you haven’t had one before, now is a good time to introduce one.
  • Find something other than screens, for the couple of hours before bed.
  • Give them a warm (not hot) bath and maybe a warm drink.
  • Make their room a calm and peaceful environment (as much as possible). Try to make it a screen-free zone.
  • Dim the lights.
  • Read a story or listen to calm music.
  • Taking a moment to do a gentle breathing exercise can also help, if sleep is a struggle.
The 4-7-8 breathing exercise

Many sleep experts suggest the 4-7-8 breathing exercise to relax you and help you get to sleep:

  1. Breathe out completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound
  2. Close your mouth, and breathe in through your nose, while counting to four inside your head
  3. Hold your breath, while counting to seven
  4. Then breathe out again through your mouth, while counting to eight.

Do this four times and it should help you to fall asleep more easily.

Tips for teenagers

As well as the above:

  • As much as you can, encourage them to avoid high fat, sugary foods and caffeine.
  • Make sure they take daily exercise and gets some fresh air.
  • Give them facts – poor sleep can contribute to weight gain and low mood.
  • Encourage them to talk about the things that are worrying them. Talking is often the most important way we can support each other.