Sleep difficulties in children

It is common for children to have difficulties around sleep. These could be difficulties falling to sleep (prolonged sleep latency), difficulties staying asleep (sleep maintenance) or in some cases, both. These difficulties may have been present since early childhood or may have started suddenly. For many, these difficulties are short lived and do not require any specific intervention, but for some children, more support is needed.

Girl alseep in bed

Why is sleep important?

Sleep has many functions and benefits and plays an important part in a child’s overall development. Whilst most people believe sleep is just a form of rest and topping up our energy levels, it does in fact have far more of an important role.

Whilst we sleep, our brain processes all the things it has taken in that day and stores it into short term and long-term memory. It is at this point it discards anything that is irrelevant.

During the deeper stages of sleep the pituitary gland releases Somatotrophin (our growth hormone) which promotes growth, metabolism and also supports the body’s natural repair function by encouraging cell reproduction. Whilst sleeping, there is a natural increase in the flow of blood around the body meaning that more oxygen is carried to the tissues and muscles to aid recovery.

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Quality sleep is essential for children’s growth and development. A good night’s sleep will help them to do better at school, allow them to react more quickly to situations, have a more developed memory, learn more effectively and solve problems and will also make them less susceptible to colds and other minor ailments, less irritable and better behaved!

What causes sleep difficulties?

Some children struggle to sleep due to specific reasons linked to underlying health problems.  For example children with cerebral palsy may experience pain at night. For these children treatment for the underlying condition may be required that could be co-ordinated by their medical team.

For the majority of children however, this isn’t the case. A regular bedtime routine is a really great start to a good night's sleep, but for some families this can be difficult to maintain. All sorts of external factors also effect a child’s ability to sleep.

Girl alseep in bed next to an alarm clock

Some things that can effect a child's ability to sleep include:

  • Sleep environment: A warm, safe, comfortable bed promotes a good night's sleep. If there are too many distractions, too much or too little light, the room is too hot or too cold, this may affect sleep.

  • Diet: As adults we are aware that too much caffeine affects sleep and this is the same for children. Excessive sugar can also adversely affect sleep. Children who are hungry struggle to sleep.
  • Routine: Children sleep best with a regular bedtime routine. A period of time before sleep to calm down and reducing the number of distractions and stimulations promotes a good night's sleep.
  • Screen time: Screen time isn’t just stimulating for children, the light that screens emit has a direct negative effect on sleep. Ideally children shouldn’t sleep with a phone or tablet in their room.
  • Environmental factors: Some things can’t be controlled, such as noisy neighbours, but thinking about what else is making noise in your home (e.g. TV sounds from elsewhere in the house) can help to improve a child’s sleep. This doesn’t mean you need to be silent, but avoiding loud, sudden or unexpected noises can help.

How much sleep is needed?

Children of different ages, on average, need different amounts of sleep.

What is normal for one child may be very different for another but the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) suggests the following is the required amount of sleep to keep your child healthy:

Sleep Table
AGE Hours Sleep in 24 hour period
1 to 2 years Between 11 and 14 hours
2 to 5 years Between 10 and 13 hours
6 to 12 years Between 9 and 12 hours 
Teenage years Between 8 and 10 hours.

Will a sleep workshop help to improve a child's sleep?

Absolutely!  Programmes such as the Foundation Sleep Workshop and the Sleep Success Workshop should be the first port of call when addressing any sleep difficulties. Not only do they provide an insight into a child’s sleep difficulties, they provide the knowledge and understanding needed to address and support these difficulties. For a minority of children, further support from sleep services is required, and often these services ask for parents to complete a sleep workshop prior to accepting a referral.

Want to know more?

Sleep Workshops

Sleep Workshops are avilable via:

  1. The Family Linx Project
    The Priory Centre, Lundwood
    01226 770619
  2. Local Family Centres
    0800 0345 340

Recommended Reading

Below is a list of books that have been recommended by some parents and professionals we work alongside.

A Dragon Needs His SleepBy Steve Herman
ISBN: 1649161123

Can't you sleep little bear? by Martin Waddell
ISBN: 1406353035

Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book, by Theodor Seuss Geisel
ISBN: 008236062

Little Owl's Bedtime, by Debi Gliori
ISBN: 1526603489




The Goodnight Caterpillar: A children's relaxation Story, by Lori Lite
ISBN: unknown

The Sleep Scan: A Mindful Moments Book
ISBN: 0717195651

Sleep difficulties and autism spectrum disorders: A guide for parents and professionals, by Kenneth Aitken
ISBN: 978-1849052597

Sleep well on the autism spectrum, by Kenneth Aitken
ISBN: 1849053332


Downloads and Resources

SNappD App
The SnappD App is available to download from the Google play store or the Apple App Store and is a simple to use sleep and nap app that allows parents to record and share their children's sleep patterns - a bit like a sleep diary.

Sleep: A guide for parents
by Cerebra

Safer Sleep for babies: A guide for parents and carers
by the lullaby trust

The wide awake kidz club and the sleep crushers
Written by Susan Ozer, this is a story about cool kids with ADHD and Autism who discover the importance of sleep.

Where to access support

The following services may be able to offer you advice and support around sleep difficulties in children. By clicking on each organisation, you will be redirected to their web page which will contiain further details.

The National Sleep Help Line

03303 530 541


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  • Page last reviewed: 8 January 2024
  • Next review due: 8 January 2025