Your older child’s sleep problems

For children of school age, a good night’s sleep is vital – but what to do if your child isn't getting enough zzzzs?

Does your child exist on ‘junk sleep’?

Once your child starts school, a good night’s sleep is more important than ever – but research from The Sleep Council indicates that 30% of children only get four to seven hours on school nights instead of the recommended eight or nine. Because of this. up to 50% of teenagers feel tired at school.

If your tween or teen falls short when it comes to shut-eye, schooldays can easily turn into school daze, with grades suffering as a result. What’s causing this? Too much technology may be the main culprit: 98% of children have either a phone, computer or TV in their bedrooms and two thirds have all three. A quarter of kids say they fall asleep watching the TV.

It’s up to parents to make the link between sleep and wellbeing – because teens are ignoring it, as top UK sleep expert Dr Chris Idzikowski, of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre, says: “This is an incredibly worrying trend. What we’re seeing is the emergence of Junk Sleep – that is, sleep that’s neither the length nor quality that it should be in order to feed the brain with the rest it needs to perform properly at school."

Parents who ban media from their children’s rooms also have problem sleepers on their hands: kids who simply refuse to go to bed or suffer from insomnia, night terrors and sleepwalking.

Another culprit can be sleep apnea, which is characterised by pauses in breathing that can rouse a child from sleep several times a night (snoring and unexplained tiredness during the day are giveaway signs that your child may be affected).

Often caused by enlarged tonsils or adenoids, sleep apnea in kids is increasing as the rate of child obesity rockets, since obesity can cause tonsils and adenoids to grow larger than normal. Children with sleep apnea on average score 15 points lower on IQ tests and it’s not too much of a leap to assume that tiredness at school may be a factor.

Sleep tips for school-age kids

  • Get your child into a bedtime routine from an early age. Emphasise that tiredness at school will affect his marks (US research suggests that kids who do badly at school go to bed later and get less sleep than their peers) as well as robbing him of the energy he needs to do the things he enjoys.
  • Make sleep easy Give your child a milky drink and encourage him to do a little quiet reading before lights out to help him wind down. Don’t let him spend the evening online – doing this too close to bedtime is associated with bedtime resistance, difficulty falling asleep, anxiety, nightmares and sleeping fewer hours. Your child’s bedroom needs to be conducive to sleep – dark, cool, comfortable and quiet.
  • Keep the bedroom media-free as much as possible No child willingly goes to bed when there are TV shows to be watched, sites to surf or computer games to play into the small hours of the morning.
  • Avoid caffeine You may be vigilant about not letting your child drink coffee but that’s not the only source of caffeine. If your child drinks cola or energy drinks in the evening, he’s likely to be getting a sizeable dose of this stimulant and it’ll have him on full alert when he should be drifting off to sleep.
  • Cut back his schedule If after-school activities are pushing back your child’s bedtime, you need to reach a compromise over what’s manageable – perhaps you could agree to let him pursue his hobbies or sporting interests after school on Thursdays and Fridays, close enough to the weekend so he can catch up on some extra sleep then. Are you pushing your child too hard? Try to avoid giving your child the impression that it’s OK to put up with short-term sleep deprivation if there are academic or sporting gains to be had in the future.
  • Watch your child’s weight! Obesity isn’t just associated with a host of health problems – it can also affect your child’s sleep. Studies show that children who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight, and that being overweight can make sleep problems more likely: in fact, around two thirds of children diagnosed with sleep apnea are overweight. Ensure your child eats a healthy diet, cut back on snacking and junk food, and encourage him to take as much physical activity as possible.


Related links

  • Is your child getting enough sleep? Take our survey and let us know!
  • Bedtime routine: A consistent bedtime routine should be the cornerstone of your family routine. Your child’s development will benefit from a daily 11 to 12 hours of sleep, and it’s vital for your relationship that you and your partner have time to yourselves, too…
  • TV tactics: It’s rare to find parents who don’t rely on the TV every now and then to keep their kids occupied while they get on with something. But many child development experts are concerned not only about the amount of TV that kids watch, but also about its effects…
  • Protect your child from obesity: Around 2.4 million British children are overweight or obese. How can you avoid dangerous food habits and stop your child from becoming another statistic?
  • Meal deal: the facts about a balanced diet: Over 90% of children don’t get enough fruit and vegetables in their diet: Yvonne Wake, Supernanny’s nutritionist, gives a step by step account of what kids need in their diet and how we can provide it.



Find out more

  • The Sleep Council provides helpful sleep advice and tips on how to improve sleep quality for your child.

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