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Wolverhampton Information Network

A Guide to Sleep

Please find information on this page for support and advice on safe sleep for children.

For information about safe sleep, visit the BASIS - Baby Sleep Info Source or Lullaby Trust websites.

Why is Sleep so Important?

  1. Learning – during periods deep sleep, the brain reviews and processes the experiences they have encountered in the day. Children who don’t get enough sleep are likely to find it hard to retain information and it may take them a little longer to learn new skills than if they had adequate sleep.
  2. Immunity – during sleep the immune system seeks out and deals with any bacterial or viral invasions. Sleep is vital to young children in the fight to and prevent repeating infections.
  3. Muscular Strength – all children are physical activity, even very young babies, sleep is essential for their developing muscles to rest and prepare for the next day’s adventure.
  4. Concentration – just like adults, if children are tired they will find it very difficult to focus on an activity or task. This can lead to the child feeling very frustrated.
  5. Self-Regulation – young children find it hard to control their feelings and impulses. This becomes more difficult if they are tired. Leading to an explosion of emotions, resulting in a tantrum and challenging behaviour.
  6. Weight Gain – research has found that a lack of sleep can lead to excess weight gain.            

What are the Signs of Lack of Sleep?

Most three year olds will need at least eleven and half hours of sleep per day, for more information on how much sleep a child needs search ‘children sleep how much’ at: www.nhs.uk/livewell

Look out for these common signs that your child might need more sleep:

  • Hyperactivity – a restless child who is unable to concentrate can be exhibiting signs of being overtired. If this happens at nap or bedtime, your child may not be relaxed enough to fall asleep
  • Waking your child in the morning – young children should be bright and alert in the mornings, so if you have to wake your child or he/she is still sleepy, it is likely that they need more sleep
  • Frequent coughs and colds – in order to fight infections, children need enough rest and a healthy diet. A child that appears to be prone to coughs and cold and appear tired, additional sleep may be needed
  • Tantrums – these are common especially in children aged two, but in an older child, this behaviour can be linked to a lack a sleep

What can be done to help?

If your child is not sleeping well or having experiencing disturbed sleep, these might be a starting point:

  • Routine – establishing and sticking to the same nap and bedtimes creates a pattern of wakefulness and sleepiness. Avoid significant changes in timing, location and behaviours, such as bathing and/or story, this can help children to settle into a better pattern
  • Winding down - the time before nap and bed is crucial in giving the body a signal that it is soon time for sleep. Sharing books and cuddles in bed works well so that the bed becomes warm and children settle into the space.
  • Hungry/thirsty? it is normal for babies to need to feed frequently at night, especially if they are breastfed. In addition formula fed babies can be offered water to drink between their feeds too. Offering your baby a feed before they go to bed can be helpful also. Similarly, ensuring your older child eats well and has a drink before they go to bed is important.
  • Exercise – being outdoors and physically active can increase children’s readiness for sleep. Activities such as watching television, can make it harder for children to relax and eventually fall asleep
  • Nap time – a late morning or early afternoon nap can help to prevent your child becoming over tired, leading to undesirable behaviour and frustration for both you and your child

As children grow older, parents tend to find that children gradually sleep for longer periods overnight, but as babies and young children it is normal for parents to need to respond to their babies throughout the day and night - feeding, soothing, changing and settling them.

However, if you feel you are experiencing sleep problems, speak to your Health Visitor, G.P or seek advice from your local Strengthening Families Hub.

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