Good sleep is fundamental to good mental health, just as good mental health is vital to good sleep. A good night’s sleep is about getting to sleep, staying asleep and getting enough good quality, deep sleep.
Increasingly, studies show that the pattern and quality of our sleep is not only closely linked with our mental health and wellbeing, but also with our immune system, our alertness/cognitive functioning, our mood, our physical wellbeing, blood pressure and general health.
When we are having challenges in relation to our mental health, this can have an impact on our sleep patterns. For example, there is evidence to suggest that individuals who experience depression, anxiety and/or trauma-related symptoms may have more persistent difficulties sleeping.
Sleep problems in children and young people
Having enough good-quality sleep is a key, and often underestimated, protective factor for children and young people. Sleep helps to regenerate their brains and bodies, process information and memories, boost immunity, guard against obesity and stress, and help concentration, learning and behaviour.
Primary school-aged children generally need around 10 to 11 hours of sleep a night, while teenagers need around 8 to 10.
Sleep problems in childhood and adolescence are common and can take many forms, including nightmares or sleep terrors, sleepwalking and broken sleep patterns. These problems can often be temporary if good habits are consistently encouraged, but children and young people can also get ‘stuck’ in unhelpful habits.
It is important, if sleeping does become an issue or becomes regularly disrupted, that help should be sought as soon as possible. School staff and parents/carers should contact school nurses for advice especially where sleeping difficulties are more entrenched and causing distress to families and children. You could also refer families to their GP for more advice and guidance.
What schools and further education settings can do
If you are at all concerned about a child or young person, you should always speak to your designated safeguarding lead as a matter of priority. They will be able to advise on suitable next steps, and speaking to them about any concerns should always be the first action you take, ahead of any of the suggestions on this page.
Education staff could help all children and young people learn more about sleep – what they think it is for and its benefits for our physical and emotional health.
These discussions could also prompt children and young people to think about sleeping, what stops them sleeping, what interrupts their sleep, the role played by dreams and what helps them sleep.
It may be useful to share some of the following basic guidance for good sleep hygiene, including:
- Having a regular time to go to sleep and wake up.
- Having a predictable and consistent nighttime routine.
- Making sure children and young people are in natural daylight for at least half an hour– particularly in the morning.
- Making sure children and young people get enough exercise during the day.
- Older children should avoid napping in the day.
- Avoiding caffeine, particularly in the afternoon.
- Turning off computer screens or other devices at least an hour before bedtime. Blue light from TVs, tablets and mobiles excite the brain and interfere with the sleep hormone levels, preventing the brain from feeling sleepy.
- Having low lighting and a quiet space in bedrooms.
- Avoiding checking devices, particularly in the middle of the night.
- Supporting children and young people to develop positive coping strategies for regulating their emotions and managing their stress levels.