Five Minute Guides to Sleep

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Five Minute Guides

What is sleep?

Sleep is a period of reduced consciousness where the muscles are relaxed and where various processes occur that are essential for physical and mental health. Sleep occurs in cycles lasting about one and half hours and during each cycle there are usually four phases with differing levels of brain activity.

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Why is sleep so important?

A third of our lives are spent sleeping and the reasons for this are not fully understood. However, we do know that sleep is important for repairing and reenergising our muscles; for processing our experiences of the day; and releasing and regulating hormones for growth, appetite and alertness. In addition, sleep appears to be a significant factor in how effective our immune system functions.

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How much sleep do you need?

This amount of sleep needed depends on age. The following table give details from birth to adulthood.

Recommended Sleep Hours For Children

The table gives average values and each individual will vary slightly. For example, adult daily needs tend to vary between 7 and 9 hours sleep though many cope (at a long term cost) on fewer than 7.

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What are the problems with not enough sleep?

Not enough sleep can lead to difficulties with:

Concentration and focus in lessons
Poor memory and recall of learning
Reduced problem-solving ability
Irritability and conflict with peers
Dietary and weight issues leading to increased risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease
Mental health issues

Studies show that as many as three quarters of children routinely do not get the recommended number of hours.

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Why do children develop sleep problems?

Many factors may contribute to the risk of developing sleep difficulties and include:

Insecure attachment
Inconsistent bedtime routine
Stressful events that trigger sleep disturbance
Environmental factors such as bedroom too warm, too light, too noisy etc.
Use of computer games and television prior to bedtime that release stress hormones
Underlying health conditions

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What makes a good bedtime routine?

The following strategies may be useful:

Keeping to the same daily bedtime including at weekends
Avoiding TV or computer games and keeping light levels low for at least one hour before sleep time
Avoiding eating meals and snacks before bedtime
Calm and relaxing activities in the hour before sleep time
Setting bedtime according to recommended hours needed
Opportunities for exercise and fresh air during the day

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What is the relationship between sleep and ADHD?

Children on ADHD medication may experience sleep problems and are sometimes prescribed Melatonin at night. However, this is only effective when combined with good sleep routine.

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What is the relationship between sleep and ASD?

Many ASD children experience sleep difficulties and this increases the likelihood of challenging and disruptive behaviour during the day. Difficulties are often based on the child's inflexibility around routines and behaviour’s that control and make unfair demands on parents and siblings.  

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Where can parents get help?

Discussing your child's difficulties with your doctor may be your first course of action. They may decide to prescribe a short course of Melatonin to help with the immediate problem particularly if the situation has become desperate. Your doctor may decide to refer your child to a paediatrician specialising in behaviour and sleep. Again they may prescribe Melatonin but often over longer periods of time. They may also give you advice about bedtime routines. Alternatively, attending parenting classes can be very effective particularly when there are opportunities to network with other parents who are experiencing these difficulties.

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Five Minute Guide to Sleep

A handy printable version of this five minute guide suitable for handing to parents, school staff and other professionals and carers. Use 2-sided printing (set printer to flip on short side) and fold in half to produce A5 leaflet.

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Got more than five minutes?

You may be interested to read more:

Sleep Problems

Sleep Strategies

Back to the Five Minute Guides Index

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