If you ask parents what they wished they had done before having children, they will often say “I wish I had appreciated my sleep more!”   There is no coincidence that sleep deprivation has been used as a method of torture through the ages.  When you are not getting anything near a full night’s sleep you may long for those pre-children uninterrupted nights of blissful sleep.  It is not unusual for many parents to go for years with disrupted nights.  So what is the answer for families where sleep or lack of it has become a significant issue and how much sleep do children actually need?

The National Sleep Foundation (2018) have developed the following as a guideline:

AgeRecommendedMay be appropriateNot recommended

0-3 months


14 to 17 hours11 to 13 hours

18 to 19 hours

Less than 11 hours

More than 19 hours


4-11 months


12 to 15 hours10 to 11 hours

16 to 18 hours

Less than 10 hours

More than 18 hours


1-2 years


11 to 14 hours9 to 10 hours

15 to 16 hours

Less than 9 hours

More than 16 hours


3-5 years


10 to 13 hours8 to 9 hours

14 hours

Less than 8 hours

More than 14 hours

School-aged Children

6-13 years


9 to 11 hours7 to 8 hours

12 hours

Less than 7 hours

More than 12 hours


14-17 years


8 to 10 hours7 hours

11 hours

Less than 7 hours

More than 11 hours

Young Adults

18-25 years


7 to 9 hours6 hours

10 to 11 hours

Less than 6 hours

More than 11 hours

Lots of young children find it difficult to settle down to sleep and will wake up during the night.  For some families, this might not be a problem. However, if you and your child are suffering from lack of sleep, there are some techniques you can try.  Every child is different, so only do what you feel comfortable with and what you think will suit your child.

If you struggle with getting your child to go to bed:

  • First decide what time you want your child to go to bed.
  • Start a 20-minute “winding down” bedtime routine close to the time that your child normally falls asleep. Bring this forward by 5 to 10 minutes a week or 15 minutes if your child is in the habit of going to bed very late until you get to the bedtime you want.
  • Set a limit on how much time you spend with your child when you put them to bed. For example, read only one story, then tuck your child in and say goodnight.
  • Give your child their favourite toy or comforter before settling into bed.
  • Leave a beaker of water within reach and a dim light on if necessary.
  • If your child gets up, keep taking them back to bed again with as little fuss as possible.
  • Try to be consistent.
  • You may have to repeat this routine for several nights.

If your child won’t go to sleep without you:  This technique can help toddlers (over 12 months) or older children get used to going to sleep without you in the room.  It can also be used whenever your child wakes in the middle of the night.  It may take your child a long time to settle when you first start.

  • Have a regular calming and consistent bedtime routine, where possible keeping the lights dimmed.
  • Put your child to bed when they’re drowsy, but awake and kiss them goodnight.
  • Promise to go back in a few moments to give them another kiss. You can use strokes or pats instead of kisses if your child sleeps in a cot and you can’t reach them to give them a kiss or you child doesn’t want to be kissed.
  • Return almost immediately to give a kiss.
  • Take a few steps to the door, then return immediately to give a kiss.
  • Promise to return in a few moments to give them another kiss.
  • Put something away or do something in the room then give them a kiss.
  • As long as the child stays in bed, keep returning to give more kisses.
  • Do something outside their room and return to give kisses.
  • If the child gets out of bed, say: “Back into bed and I’ll give you a kiss”.
  • Keep going back often to give kisses until they’re asleep.
  • Repeat every time your child wakes during the night.
  • If your child gets up, keep taking them back to bed again with as little fuss as possible.

General sleep tips:

  • Make sure you have a calming, predictable bedtime routine that happens at the same time and includes the same things every night with the lights dimmed.
  • If your child complains that they’re hungry at night, try giving them a bowl of cereal and milk before bed (making sure you brush their teeth afterwards!).
  • If your child is afraid of the dark, use a nightlight or leaving a landing light on.
  • Don’t let your child look at laptops, tablets or phones in the 60 minutes before bed, the light from screens can interfere with sleep.
  • When seeing to your child during the night, be as boring as possible, leave lights off, avoid eye contact and don’t talk more than necessary.
  • Avoid long naps in the afternoon or teens falling asleep early evening!

Once a sleep pattern has become a habit It takes a lot of patience, consistency and commitment to change this pattern.  Certainly, it will be one of the difficulties that most parents can relate to at some point in their child’s lives.  Special circumstances can make sleep patterns more resistant to change. For example, children who have experienced early trauma, serious health difficulties, loss of a parent, multiple life changes including move of house or school, the death of a close family member or serious health difficulties in the family.  Due to life changes, adopted and fostered children may experience difficulties with sleep patterns.  Sleep difficulties can often be reflective of anxiety relating to separation from the parent or care giver.

Remember that sleep difficulties are very common place in the 5 years and under.  However, that does not help you when you are feeling at the end of your tether with sleep deprivation!  Make sure you get support from family and friends, talk about the difficulties; the stories that other parents will share about sleep in their households may surprise you! If a sleep issue is affecting you or your family’s well-being remember that it is okay to ask for help.    Even the most tricky sleep difficulties respond surprisingly quickly to treatment.

Dr Elise Kearney runs a clinic at The Therapies Centre, The Fold, Bransford and can be contacted onelisekearney@btinternet.com 07713755224 or find out more about the service she offers atwww.thefold.org.uk/natural-therapy-centre/consultant-child-family-psychology/

A mother of four and Chartered Consultant Child and Family Psychologist, Dr Kearney trained as a Clinical Psychologist in Glasgow.  She has over 15 years of experience working with children and families in the NHS and privately.  Dr Kearney offers 1:1 assessment and treatment sessions for a variety of difficulties including; difficulties stemming from family separation, bedtime or sleep problems, feeding difficulties or “fussy eating”, dealing with anger or “temper tantrums” and separation anxiety, difficulties around potty training, sibling rivalry or difficulties with sharing, starting nursery/school and transition to high school or College/University, anxiety, panic, phobias, low self-esteem, attachment difficulties, low mood and depression, behavioural problems, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), bereavement (this list is not exclusive).

Dr Elise Kearney consultant child family psychology profile tree field

Dr Elise Kearney – Consultant Child and Family Psychologist