How many of us have had trouble sleeping in our adulthood or childhood? Most? In this blog, I will be looking at some of the main causes for sleep difficulties for a young person and how we as adults can help support them to get the best possible night’s sleep!
What is Sleep Hygiene?
“Sleep hygiene is a variety of different practices that are necessary to have a normal, quality night time sleep and full daytime alertness.” (2023)- National Sleep Foundation.
In my two previous positions of work, I have been a Psychotherapeutic Counsellor/Therapist working with children and young people in schools, residential homes and children’s centres. A large majority of the clients I have worked with have had sleeping difficulties and stated that they had poor sleeping patterns and poor sleep hygiene.
Here are some common facts around children and young people’s sleep hygiene that may shock you:
- Around 40% of children have sleep problems
- Around 40% - 80% of children with SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) have sleep problems
- Research has found that Covid has led to more complex sleep issues in our children and young people.
Research by the Sleep Charity organisation (sleepcharity.org.uk) found that many children and young people are having a wide range of sleeping difficulties which include: difficulty sleeping on a night, waking throughout the night and failing to fall back asleep, waking up earlier than expected to start the day, not falling asleep till late, difficulty getting up on a morning.
All these factors can lead to daytime tiredness and impactful on motivation, behaviour and engagement at school.
The Importance of Sleep and How Much?
Sleep is vital for both adults and young people and has a huge impact on their mental health and well-being. A poor night’s sleep and disturbed pattern can lead to physical health issues, poor concentration and performance at school therefore leading to difficulties in a young person’s education. Stress, irritability, poor relational connections and depression has also been linked with poor sleeping patterns. On a wider scale, poor sleep costs the economy an excessive amount and puts strain on medical services due to the linked effects of poor sleep.
According to research, children and young people require the following hours of sleep:
While there is no hard and fast rule, the general guide is:
- toddlers need around 12 hours of sleep a night;
- children aged three to six – 10-12 hours;
- Seven to twelve years olds – 10-11 hours;
- and teenagers – around 8 to 9 hours’.
- Thesleepcharity.org.uk (2009).
Improved Sleep Hygiene and Tips
The following tips will hopefully help your child/young person improve their sleep hygiene and also support their motivation to get out of bed in the morning easier. Please be mindful that improving someone’s sleep hygiene does take a number of weeks and months to show signs of a hopeful improvement. Researchers have identified it is vital that children and young people have a regular sleeping and waking time to promote consistency and ensure the body attunes to their needs. Please see guidance above for required hours and ages (in bold).
Sleep and Exercise
A common misconception is that we need to ‘tire out’ our young people before bed however this is not the case. Research suggests that exercising too close to bedtime can release feel good hormones and wake us up. This can also raise the temperature of the body therefore it is advised that as adults we limit our children’s exercise before bed. Additionally temperature is important to monitor and you can discuss with your child/young person around their temperature within their room as well as breathable bedding materials and pyjamas/nightwear.
Food and Sleep
‘Below is a list of foods that may aid sleep, there still needs to be much more research in this area but many families share that they find this list helpful:
- Almonds contain magnesium which promotes both sleep and muscle relaxation. They also help to keep blood sugar levels stable overnight.
- Bananas are an excellent source of magnesium and potassium. They also contain tryptophan, an amino acid that helps us to sleep but don’t forget fruit contains sugar too. Blend one banana with one cup of milk or soya milk to make an ideal bedtime drink.
- Dairy, yogurt, milk and cheese contain tryptophan helping us to nod off more easily. Calcium is effective in stress reduction and it’s not true... cheese doesn’t give you nightmares!
- Cherries, particularly tart cherries, have been found in one small study to naturally boost melatonin production. You could try drinking a glass of cherry juice (available at most natural foods stores) or a serving of fresh, frozen or dried cherries before bedtime.
- Cereal is not only a healthy snack but it may also help you snooze.
- Complex carbohydrate-rich foods increase the availability of tryptophan in the bloodstream. Avoid sugar-coated cereals though, these will give your child a sugar rush and wake them up’.
List compiled from: TSC Advice sheet Diet and Sleep. Thesleepcharity.org.uk (2023).
Light and Sleep
Natural light - It is recommended that a person should be exposed to natural light for a minimum of thirty minutes in the morning to promote their awakening and motivation for the day.
Blue light (TVs, phones and other electronic blue light devices) - Screen activity is highly stimulating and best avoided an hour before bed for all children and young people. Screens give out light which interferes with melatonin production therefore causing us to be awake for longer and struggle sleeping/forming good sleep hygiene.
It is important to consider that dim lights help produce melatonin and therefore aid and prepare a young person for an improved sleep hygiene. Parents and carers should also take into consideration whether blackout blinds and curtains are stopping light from entering a young person’s room. If nightlights are to be used they need to be consistent and please be mindful that doorways can still let light in which can affect a young person’s sleep.
Resources, Websites and Further Information
- The Sleep Charity- https://thesleepcharity.org.uk
- NHS- https://www.gosh.nhs.uk/conditions-and-treatments/procedures-and-treatments/sleep-hygiene-children/
- Sleep Resolutions- https://www.sleepresolutions.com/blog/what-is-sleep-hygiene-sleep-hygiene-best-practices#:~:text=From%20the%20National%20Sleep%20Foundation,mostly%20have%20some%20control%20over.
- The Tees Valley Sleep Service- https://teesvalleysleepservice.co.uk/
- Sleep Scotland- https://sleepscotland.org/
The Sleep Charity Organisation (2023). TSC Advice Sheet Diet and Sleep. Accessed on 19/03/23. Accessed via: https://thesleepcharity.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/TSC-Advice-Sheets_Diet-Sleep_Online.pdf
Bahanda, R (2022). Sleep Regional Clinical Presentation - The Witherslack Group Therapist. Presentation slides and notes (The Sleep Charity Practitioner’s Course).
Information From the Author
My name is Nicholas Shallow, I am currently a qualified and UKCP accredited Child Psychotherapeutic Counsellor. I trained at TACT (Therapy and Counselling Teesside) on the Children’s Psychotherapeutic Counselling Course. My training helped me explore a range of different theories and I am confident across several integrated therapies. I use a relational model and believe that a good therapeutic-client rapport is vital for growth. My experience with children and young people is stretched over nine years. Initially, as a sports coach and a primary school teacher before qualifying as a therapist. I have worked with a range of ages from five to seventeen years of age. Additionally, I have worked with children from a variety of backgrounds, gender, ethnicities and non-English speaking children via an interpreter.
I have a range of knowledge of the presenting issues: anxiety and low self-esteem, complex-trauma, sexual abuse, bereavement and loss, self-harm, domestic violence, family and relational issues.
I have also recently begun formal training for the Diploma in Integrative Psychotherapy at TACT (working with adults 18 and over).