Children who regularly do not get enough sleep can become irritable, aggressive, and over-sensitive. They can find it hard to concentrate, which can affect learning, play and relationships.
If your child is having problems with their sleep, it is probably affecting your sleep too. It can feel hard to sort out sleep problems if you are tired and at the end of your tether.
Firstly, for younger children a very stable bedtime routine can be really helpful. Knowing the same thing is going to happen each night, and that they are going to end up in bed asleep at the end of the sequence, is very reassuring. For babies and toddlers a routine such as bath, story and milk at the same time every night will encourage them to relax and get into a regular sleep pattern.
If your baby or toddler is anxious about being left in bed on their own, you may decide to try letting them cry for short periods of time, soothing them and then leaving the room again. Doing this consistently and leaving longer gaps between returning to your child can encourage them to get used to dropping off on their own. However, using this technique is a matter of personal choice and if your child seems very distressed or upset and is not finding it easier to settle on their own, it is best to leave it for a while. Sleep training, sometimes called controlled crying, is a controversial subject, here is Mumsnet's round-up of views on the subject
For older children it is important to reassure them there is nothing to be scared of, and to encourage them bit by bit to be comfortable on their own. You may need to sit with them for a few moments and then gradually move further away until you are outside the room. Doing this will show your child that you are sure they will be OK, and this confidence should rub off on them.
Make sure their bedroom is cosy with a dim light if that is what they prefer, and no TV or computer games available.
If your child wakes in the night and comes into your room, and you are not happy for them to stay with you, return them to bed, reassure them and leave. Reward charts can be really useful, to give children an incentive to stay in their own beds.
With teenagers and older children it can be very hard to enforce boundaries around bedtimes and this is often linked with computer and phone use. Try to encourage your child to have some wind down time before bedtime and to go to bed at a reasonable time. You can try and negotiate to find a time you both agree on.
If your child’s sleep problems go on for a long time, and things you try at home are not helping, or if you are worried there is an underlying emotional or behavioural problem, you should seek help from your GP.
The YoungMinds Parents Helpline offers information and advice to any adult worried about the emotional problems, behaviour or mental health of a young person up to the age of 25.
You can email the Parents Helpline by filling out the online contact form and selecting ‘Parents Helpline’.