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Mandy Gurney
Former Director of the Sleep Clinic at the NHS St Charles hospital in London and Director of Millpond Sleep clinic. She also works as an NHS Sleep educator to health professionals across the UK.
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Stage 8 – before 5th birthday

Helping your child sleep well

There has been great concern expressed recently by scientists and psychologists that many children could be suffering from severe sleep deprivation.  Research indicates that this may be caused by over-stimulation from a range of sources including artificial lights, electronic devices and televisions often placed in children’s bedrooms.
Video Tutorial
In Short
Keep your child's bedtime routine around half an hour to help promote his sleep hormone, melatonin.

Darkness and a coolness help to promote sleepiness so keep your child's bedroom cool and keep all electrical devices out.

Avoid giving your child food or drinks containing caffeine as will keep him awake.

Tryptophan rich foods like turkey and porridge can help to promote melatonin production and sleepiness.

Sleep deprivation has a number of negative outcomes for children, including irritability, anxiety and ultimately poor performance at school. It is thought that children aged up to five years old may be losing as much as two hours sleep per week and children aged up to ten years could be losing up to four hours per week.

Bedtime routines for children
  • A sleep routine is really a series of gentle sleep cues that you and your child follow every night, in the same order. Your child will soon start to recognise that they’re preparing for bedtime and sleep, and will wind down accordingly so that by the time she’s in her bed she’ll be feeling relaxed and ready to nod off.
  • Don’t make the routine too long. It should only take about 30 minutes from beginning to end. Otherwise, your child will lose track and get confused and bored.
  • Keep the routine gentle, quiet, focused and calm.
  • Remove all screens such as TV, smartphones and tablets for at least an hour before your child’s bedtime. Otherwise her brain will think it’s recognising daylight and trigger a hormone called cortisol, which will keep her awake. The sleep hormone, melatonin, is triggered by darkness so minimise light – especially the artificial light emitted by screens.
  • Your child’s bath should be nice and warm – not too hot – and last just five minutes. A long hot bath raises the body temperature and reduces melatonin. Remember that’s the hormone which promotes sleepiness, so we need to raise it as high as possible at night-time – and that’s best done by keeping things dark and cool. If you want to have a longer, warmer play bath, have it earlier in the day for fun.
  • Get your child to dry off quickly and head straight into her bedroom. Quietly put on pyjamas and pop into bed.
  • Sing a lullaby, or read a story.
  • Give her a kiss, a cuddle, say good night and pop her down to sleep.

References and Further Reading

Teach Your Child To Sleep, Millpond / Hamlyn, Revised 2016.

Sleep Faring, Jim Horne / Oxford, 2006.

Take Charge of Your Child’s Sleep, Judy Owens and Jodi Mindell / Marlowe and Co, 2005.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Children, Dr Marc Weissbluth / Vermilion, 2010.

Sleeping Better, A Guide to Improving Sleep for Children with Special Needs V Mark Durand / Brookes Revised Edition 2014.

Outcomes at six years of age for children with infant sleep problems: Longitudinal community-based study Anna M.H. Price, Melissa Wake, Harriet Hiscock et al, Sleep Medicine 13 (2012) 991–998.

Short Nighttime Sleep Duration and Hyperactivity Trajectories in Early Childhood,Tourchette et al. Pediatrics.2009.

Sleep and Depression in Postpartum Women: A Population-Based Study; Dorheim SK et al, Sleep 2009; 32(7): 847-855.

Fragmented maternal sleep is more strongly correlated with depressive symptoms than infant temperament at three months postpartum. Goyal D, Gay C, Lee K, authors Arch Women’s Ment Health. 2009;12:229–37.

Sleep problems in young infants and maternal mental and physical health, Jordana K Bayer, Harriet Hiscock, Anne Hampton and Melissa Wake, Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, vol 43, issue 1-2, January/February 2007.

Longitudinal analysis of sleep in relation to BMI and body fat in children: the FLAME study. BMJ 2011.

Short sleep duration is associated with increased markers in European adolescents.

International journal of Obesity (2011) 35, 1308-1317 M Garaulet et al.

Sleep and the epidemic of obesity in children and adults; E Van Cauter & K Knutson, 2008.

The use of Melatonin in children with Neurodevelopmental Disorders and impaired Sleep: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel study (MENDS),Re Appleton, AP Jones, C Gamble, PR Williamson, L Wiggs, P Montgomery, A Sutcliffe, C Barker and P Gringras. Health Technology Assessment 2012; Vol. 16: No. 40 DOI: 10.3310/hta16400

Kids’ behavior impacted by lack of sleep, Jase Donaldson, Insight Journal, Feb 13 2006.

What affects the age of first sleeping through the night? S M Adams, D R Jones, A Esmail and E A Mitchell, Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, vol 40, issue 3, March 2004.

Behavioral Treatment of Bedtime Problems and Night Wakings in Infants and Young Children; An American Academy of Sleep Medicine Review, Jodi A. Mindell, et al SLEEP, Vol. 29, No. 10, 2006.

References are reviewed on a regular basis and are updated when applicable.

Sleep Training NHS staff since 2007

If you or your colleagues want to know more about children’s sleep and how you can help the families you are working with, Millpond Sleep Clinic run one-day Sleep Workshops aimed at health care professionals.

These highly engaging sessions are based on proven research and years of experience and are suitable for all staff working directly with the families of babies through to school aged children.

The workshop is fully certified and approved by The CPD Certification Service.

If you would like to find out more about the sleep workshops please contact Millpond direct on:

Tel: 020 8444 0040

Or website:

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.