Sleep Deprivation in Children: Does My Child Need More Rest ?

Do you have difficulty waking your child in the morning? Are they hyperactive during the day? Do they struggle to focus on activities? Increased appetite? Defiant behaviour? Tantrums? It could be that what you thought were normal traits of your child, are actually symptoms of sleep deprivation. It is now thought that obesity is linked to lack of sleep in children too.

What is the correct amount of sleep? If my child wakes up, doesn’t that mean they have had enough sleep?

Generally children up to 4 or 5 should be getting around 13 hours of sleep in every 24 hours. Of course younger children should be napping for around 2 hours in the daytime. So they will need a little less sleep during the night. It is important to know your child’s limits regarding the length of time that they can stay awake and fall asleep with ease. Many children struggle and fight sleep if they are not encouraged to sleep at the best time. They may seem awake, happy and alert but this state can very rapidly deteriorate into defiant and disruptive behaviour and eventually tantrums.

So the trick, is to get your little one sleeping at the optimum time. But this, as any parent will tell you, is a lot easier said than done. Sleep-time must not have any negative connotations to toddlers. It needs to be something that they enjoy and are comfortable doing. This can take a lot of preparation and consistency with regard to the sleeping environment and the routine itself. It is very challenging, but enjoy the challenge. Get creative in the way you coax your little one to their bed and get them sleeping at the perfect time.

Exclusive Environment

An environment that only exists at bedtime is one of the best ways to convince a toddler in play mode to switch to sleep mode without a fight. Bedtime will never compete with their play completely but the transition can most definitely be made easier and less stressful in this way. A friend of mine has lots of glow in the dark stars and planets above her baby’s bed. She has a lullaby player that projects images onto the wall. This environment only ever exists at this time of the day and it is stimulating for her baby. It isn’t over stimulating, and that is important. None of the stimuli are reachable or touchable and that definitely helps too. The combination of soft lighting and music seems to work perfectly. Once in bed, a routine of favourite songs are sang and stories are read. It is pretty much the same routine every day now she tells me, but it wasn’t always like that. It may sound obvious to some parents but finding the right sleeping technique can take a very long time. Trial and error is paramount and perseverance is the key. You will get there. Something will work.

Gradual Separation

Once your child starts sleeping in their own bed or in their own room, the time that you spend in the room with them will need to gradually reduce. The quicker that you can help them to sleep by themselves the better. Of course the singing of songs and reading of stories is great for their listening and language acquisition and definitely something to be encouraged but you need to be in control of the time that you allocate to the getting-to-sleep process. To start with it will take longer but a carefully planned out routine of planned reductions, set over weeks and maybe even months will allow your child to slowly adjust to not needing you to be there for so long. As a rough guideline; 10 – 15 minutes at the start can decrease down to 5-10 (depending on your own particular routine). Young children will also go through phases of waking during the night. Just because they might sleep straight through a whole night now, does not mean that will always be. Enjoy it while it lasts though. When they do cry out in the middle of the night, there needs to be a plan in place with regards to time spent sending them back off to sleep. You will have to comfort them if they have awoken from a bad dream but if they are simply waking and expecting to play, you must be stern and you must only allow them a few minutes of your time. Be direct with them, tell them that they need to sleep, tell them why, be honest. Remember, you are in control.


Distraction techniques are sometimes effective. By offering choices about pyjamas, teddies, stories, songs etc it can often prevent an outburst and ease your child into the transition.

Praise and Reward

For older children, rewarding the going to bed with little fuss will only help the transitional process too. Praise them, tell them how pleased you are with them, give them stickers for their wall-chart, a treat, more of your time to participate in an activity they choose. Whatever it is that works for you and your child, but remember, being consistent is crucial, otherwise it will have little effect. You will lose control. You do not want a situation where you end up having to bribe them.

Stay in Control

Simply following these ideas and suggestions may not bring about an easy transition for you. The tantrums may be fairly set-in and routine in your child’s mind. It could be an incredibly exhausting time for you and your partner. But know this; if you don’t give in, if you are consistent, if you remain stern and explain the reasoning calmly, you will make progress and you will eventually succeed.

British Early Years Centre is a British International Kindergarten School in Bangkok