Inadequate sleep on a regular basis can take a serious toll on our children. Planet Youth Survey 2020 reported 59% of Irish teens questioned were not getting their eight hours a night. There is a correlation between a lack of sleep and low self-esteem, reduced enjoyment in school and lower levels of well-being.

Lucy Wolfe, sleep consultant and author, emphasises the importance of adequate, quality sleep, saying, “While we’re sleeping, it’s not just rest – everything is being processed: thoughts, feelings during the day, restoration, repair.”

Sleeping in

Control over bedtimes is often handed over to our children - even while in primary school and certainly by secondary school - according to Lucy, who would recommend that bedtimes still need to be in collaboration with the adult, even into adolescence.

The capacity to sleep in later and go to sleep later evolves in the teenage years. Weekends and holiday times often suit their natural programming, so reverting to routine can be a sharp shock.

“If you had a series of late bedtimes with a corresponding series of late wake times, start paring back the wake time,” advises Lucy. “We always start by looking at the morning as being the area that sets the tone for the bedtime that’s going to occur.”

If things have gone badly askew during the holidays, start the earlier wake times at least three days before the return to school. It might sound obvious, but calculate bedtime by counting backwards from when your child needs to get up.

Getting your child to go to sleep can be a challenge, especially if your routine has changed due to holidays or illness. “I like people to think about sleep as a series of transitions from awake to asleep and how can we facilitate the brain and the body to accommodate that,” says Lucy.

Bedtime routine

“For a young child up to the age of six or seven, we just do a 20-minute bedtime routine and that’s what they need,” says Lucy. “But the older the child gets, and of course the more active that they are, often the longer the onset of sleep might need to be.”

Lucy recommends 1 to 1½ hour transition in older children, so, before ever getting into the bedroom they need to start switching off and replacing high level activity with lower impact activity, followed by a 20-minute bedtime routine.

“Start to replace the screens with connection and family time to make that transition easier,” advises Lucy. A family game, jigsaws, drawing, colouring, wordsearches and reading are all suitable activities.

“Children flourish with their parents’ loving presence,” says Lucy. “Ensure that we are spending lots of one-to-one, connected time with each of our children - nothing to do with sleep - with plenty of dialogue, eye contact and physical touch.

“Make sure to practice what we preach and don’t be distracted by modern life, such as phones, when we are focusing on them.”

Set the scene

It’s also important to prioritise the bedroom environment. Even while the body is sleeping, the environment impacts on the sleep hormone, so use blackout blinds and eliminate distractions such as outside sources of light from the hall or bathroom.

Lucy recommends lots of non-sleep time in the bedroom with younger children, playing, changing nappies, getting dressed.

“When children get older, they tend to spend a lot more time in the bedroom,” adds Lucy. “So then we really need to make that distinction between the bedroom, the bed and sleep versus recreational.” Ensure they have a good mattress and the bedroom is uncluttered, cleaned, aired and vacuumed regularly.

Room temperature (ideally 16-20°C for younger children and 12-16°C for adolescents) impacts on our child’s ability to fall asleep as does eating too late. “If we eat too close to sleep time, digestion creates heat. Sleep needs the body temperature to drop and this contradicts the ability to be able to fall asleep with relative ease,” says Lucy, recommending children should eat their large meal at least two hours before bed. Banana, wholemeal, oatmeal and dairy products have sleep-promoting qualities.

If things have gone awry over the holidays or sleep is a challenge in your family, Lucy would still encourage you to take the first step and commit to it, allowing three to six weeks for making adjustments and reviewing the changes.

“A sleep resolution is as good as a New Year’s Resolution,” she says. “Lots of times, parents feel that it’s a lost cause if by a certain age their child doesn’t sleep. But it’s never too late to try and initiate better, less interrupted sleep within your household - with better rest comes better everything.”


Age Amount

4-12 months 12-15 hours*

3-5 years 11-14 hours*

3-5 years 10-14 hours*

6-12 years 9-11 hours

12- 18 years 8-10 hours

*Including day sleep

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