Wake Up to Sleep

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The following article was published in a Headteacher journal by the Sleep Council and has been reproduced (with slight adaptation to change it into a website page) for you to access with their permission.  It gives some very useful advice!

For more advice on sleep visit the Sleep Council Website


Is sleep a key factor in health and educational performance? Sleep is, with exercise and diet, a key factor in healthy children.  Nine hours a night minimum is deemed vital to a child’s health.  Disrupted sleep can impact adversely a child’s performance at school and yet neither teachers nor parents may be aware of any sleep problems.
What is sleep? Sleep, when brains ‘shut down’, results in a loss of contact with the external world and an almost complete loss of self-identity, though self-awareness can return during dreaming.
  • It’s a time when rest occurs·  It occurs at roughly the same time each day
  • It is regulated:  you can get too much and too little
  • Although your senses are less ‘active’ during sleep, you can still be woken out of sleep by a loud noise, or bright light
  • The person or animal sleeps in a specific position
How much sleep do we need? From birth to old age sleep requirements change.  According to the Usborne Book of Body Facts, the average amount of sleep needed each day is: Newborn baby 16-20 hours per day
2 year old child 13 hours per day
5 year old child 10-11 hours per night
10 year old child 9-10 hours per night
Adult 7-8 hours per night
80 year old adult 5 hours per night
What are the functions of sleep? Sleep has two main functions:

Replenishment to cells and organs of nutrients that have been used up while we are awake
Rebuilding broken cells

Predator and prey:  when predators are awake, preyed-upon species tend to be asleep
Senses are inadequate for the time of day, e.g. it’s difficult to see at night, when it’s dark, so we go to sleep

Does it matter if we don't get enough sleep? Not getting enough sleep can be dangerous.  The effects of too little sleep are well known.  Concentration and vigilance are impaired, particularly during monotonous tasks.  Creative abilities are often diminished.  Memory is affected.  Risk-taking increases.  In children these can be reflected in hyperactivity, being accident-prone, behaviour disorders or boredom in class.
Does exercise help? Exercise, but not immediately before sleep, is good for sleep.  How much exercise depends on age.  It has been shown that children of primary school age benefit from regular daily exercise with improved concentration and an expressed desire to go to bed at the agreed time!
Does diet help? Diet is also important – both under-eating and over-eating are associated with poor sleep.  It’s not clear, however, which foods promote or inhibit good sleep.  Fatty foods make people less mentally alert but also more sociable.

Carbohydrates may make people more alert and assertive.  Eating a lot can make you feel sleepy.  It increases the activity in the digestive tract and causes as much as a 50% increase in blood flow into the abdomen.

What else can disrupt sleep? Sleep may be disturbed by a range of factors, such as light, noise or an uncomfortable bed, but there are specific sleep disorders, which would require professional diagnosis.  Some of the factors which may affect children are outlined in The Sleep Council’s booklet The Good-Night Guide For Children, which contains advice on reducing the adverse effects that disrupt sleep patterns.
What can we do to ensure healthy sleep? Waking up to sleep means keeping to some rules:


  • Do not get up or go to bed at irregular times
  • Do not spend extended amount of time in bed
  • Do not nap more than two times each week
  • Do not drink tea or coffee before going to bed
  • Do not sleep on an uncomfortable bed:  poor mattress, inadequate sheets of duvet, etc
  • Do not allow the bedroom to be too bright, stuffy, cluttered, hot or cold
  • Do not do anything that requires too much concentration shortly before bed
  • Do not use the bed for mental activities such as thinking, planning etc.
  • If you are not sleeping well, use the points above to try to work out what might be causing it.  Don’t suffer in silence!