Why sleep is important for children aged 5-11 years
When your child sleeps well, your child will be more settled, happy and ready for school the next day. Good-quality sleep helps your child concentrate, remember things, regulate emotions and behave well. This all helps your child learn well.
Getting enough sleep also strengthens your child’s immune system and reduces the risk of infection and illness.
Sleep: what children need
At 5-11 years, children need 9-11 hours sleep a night. For example, if your child wakes for school at 7 am and needs approximately 10 hours sleep per night, your child should be in bed before 9 pm.
Some children fall deeply asleep very quickly when they go to bed. Others sleep lightly, fidgeting and muttering for up to 20 minutes, before getting into deep sleep.
Children have different kinds of sleep during the night. The first few hours of sleep are usually the deepest. Most dreams happen in the second half of the night.
How to help children sleep well
A good night’s sleep is about getting to sleep, staying asleep and getting enough good-quality sleep. Here are some ideas that can help your child get the sleep they need.
A bedtime routine is very important at this age. It helps your child wind down from the day.
For example, a child who normally goes to bed at 7.30 might have a bedtime routine that looks like this:
- 6.45 pm: put on pyjamas, brush teeth, go to the toilet.
- 7.15 pm: quiet time in the bedroom with a book and a bedtime story or quiet chat.
- 7.30 pm: goodnight and lights out.
Relaxing before bed
After a big day at school, your child might still be thinking about the day’s events and worries. If your child’s mind is still busy at bedtime, it can cause a restless night or bad dreams.
You can help your child settle and relax for sleep by keeping activities quiet in the hour before bed. For example, you could play gentle music or read a story together. Making a bath part of your child’s bedtime routine can also help with relaxation.
Relaxing before bed also helps with better sleep for pre-teens and teenagers.
Good sleep habits
Your child might sleep better at night if they:
- keep regular sleep and wake times, even on the weekend
- turn computers, tablets and TV off an hour before bedtime
- have a quiet and dimly lit place to sleep
- get plenty of natural light during the day, especially in the morning
- avoid caffeine in tea, coffee, sports drinks and chocolate, especially in the late afternoon and evening.
Some sleep problems are behaviour issues that you can manage at home with good sleep habits. It’s a good idea to talk with your GP if you’ve been trying good sleep habits and they don’t seem to be helping. Sleep medications usually aren’t the solution to children’s sleep problems.
Bedwetting happens when children don’t wake up in the night when they need to do a wee. Some children wet the bed because they sleep very deeply. Other children wet the bed because they produce larger than usual amounts of wee at night, or because their bladder spasms during sleep.
Children can’t control bedwetting, and they almost always grow out of it. Reassure your child that bedwetting is normal. It might help to explain in simple terms some of the reasons for bedwetting.
It might be a good idea to see the GP if your child is still wetting the bed regularly at 7-8 years and:
- you’re concerned about how your child will handle sleepovers or overnight school camps
- bedwetting is starting to bother or worry your child.
Obstructive sleep apnoea
If your child has obstructive sleep apnoea, it means that they sometimes stop breathing when they’re asleep. Your child might snore, pause or struggle while breathing at night. You might notice that your child seems tired during the day.
If you think your child has sleep apnoea, see your GP.
Night terrors and nightmares
Night terrors are when your child suddenly gets very agitated while deeply asleep. They’re less common than nightmares and usually disappear by puberty. Night terrors don’t harm your child, who often won’t remember them in the morning. But they can be scary for you. Night terrors usually happen in the first few hours after falling asleep.
Nightmares are very common in early school-age children, and nightmares are often scary enough to wake children up. As children get older, they get better at understanding that a dream is just a dream. Nightmares happen in the second half of the night, which is when your child dreams the most.
Sleeptalking and sleepwalking
Many school-age children sleeptalk, especially if they’re excited or worried about an event like a holiday or a test. Sleeptalking is nothing to worry about. Calmly talking with your child about whatever is worrying them might help reduce sleeptalking.
Sleepwalking happens when your child’s mind is asleep but their body is awake. It sometimes runs in families, and it can also be caused by anxiety or a lack of sleep. Sleepwalking usually doesn’t need treatment, and most children grow out of it as teenagers.
Sleepwalking and sleeptalking usually happen in the first few hours after falling asleep, when your child is in deep sleep.
Teeth-grinding and thumb-sucking during sleep
Many children grind their teeth in their sleep. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your child, and it usually doesn’t cause damage.
Thumb-sucking can cause dental problems for children older than about five years.
If you’re concerned about your child’s teeth-grinding or thumb-sucking, talk to your dentist.
In autistic children, problems with sleep and settling can be more severe than in other children. For information and help, read our articles on dealing with sleep problems in autistic children and promoting good sleep habits in autistic children.