August 12, 2020

The importance of sleep for young people

Happy International Youth Day! To celebrate, I’ve teamed up with MLILY, to discuss the importance of sleep for young people. 

According to MLILY’s Sleep Scientist Dr. Robin Thorpe; ‘enhancing sleep quality in young people is imperative for both cognitive and physical development but one aspect which is sometimes not appreciated and often sacrificed is the sleep quality of the parent, particularly during the early years. SleepByKate not only advises effective sleep behaviour techniques for young people but also strategies for parents and children together for effective sleep habits’.

Does lack of sleep as a young person affect their development long term?

Discover the effects of sleep deprivation on young people, and how you can help implement better quality overnight sleep.

We all need sleep, but our young people need more due to the amazing amounts of cognitive and physical development that continues to progress through infancy to adolescence. Without the right amount of sleep, this continuous development is hindered.

How much sleep should young people get?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average amount of sleep a school-aged child needs for healthy development and wellbeing overnight is ten hours, an adolescent needs nine hours. Further research has shown that 92% of adolescents do not get enough sleep and 62% of school aged children are also in a sleep deficit.

What happens if the recommended sleep levels are not met?

Studies have shown that without significant sleep and good sleep hygiene there is a decline in cognitive function, growth, academic performance, memory retention, emotional regulation and immunity. Sleep in essence is our greatest superpower!

But how do we ensure our children are getting the recommended amount of sleep for their age?

Nurturing the importance of sleep for young people starts with engaging parents around good sleep hygiene and the significance of a good bedtime routine. This can be as simple as explaining the sleep cycle, to changing the language we use around sleep.

Sleep Cycle

From around 4 months old, the sleep cycle matures from a two-stage cycle to a five-stage cycle. A baby’s sleep cycle is around 45 minutes, lengthening to 90 minutes by the time they start pre-school. These cycles knit together overnight with partial awakenings in-between. Keeping our kids in the loop with this information lets them know what is normal overnight, and why we can sometimes wake up!

Sleep Language

The way we teach children about sleep is an association that will last a lifetime. By encouraging and promoting rest ourselves gives children the modelling they need in order to communicate their own feelings around sleep. Speaking about how you feel after a good sleep is a good place to start.

Whilst remaining conscious that there may be heightened anxieties around bedtime for young people, we can support them through our responsiveness as caregivers, listening to their worries around falling asleep and incorporating some quality wind down time to ease this. Encouraging this two-way conversation, increases the security felt by young people at bedtime, enabling them to relax and build up a positive relationship with sleep from a young age.


When thinking about a sleep routine, we must look at the whole day, rather than just the hour before bedtime.

Young people’s eating and exercise habits during the day are key to the best possible night’s sleep. But also, the time spent outside, and the steps taken an hour before bedtime to teach the body to produce the sleepy hormone.

By being consistent with our children’s bedtime routine, it signals to the brain what is going to happen next before it happens so that the sleep hormone, melatonin, is produced ready to get in to bed and drift off with ease. A typical bedtime routine should:

  • last an hour
  • Avoid screens and electronic devices
  • Include some 1:1 time with parent or carer
  • Include a relaxing activity that uses hand eye co-ordination like a jigsaw or colouring.
  • Some supper incorporating sleep inducing foods
  • A bath
  • Story or reading time
  • Many children also benefit from some mindfulness activities, or some grounding activities like massage   

Sleep Enviroment

A calming sleep environment is key so as not to overstimulate.

This can be achieved by keeping the sleep space dark, cool and clutter free. Using calming colours in bedrooms and discontinuing the use of electronics an hour before bedtime is another way to encourage a more peaceful sleep.

By making small changes to our habits, and keeping them consistent, we can start to change the way our next generation view sleep and encourage the positivity around rest for both the mind and the body.

    Discover more on International Youth Day