We have fully qualified sleep practitioners on the Unique Ways team, offering one-to-one sessions with families that can help everyone get a better night’s sleep.

A good night’s sleep is important for everyone – we all know how hard it is to function when we’re tired. Yawning, feeling sluggish and unable to concentrate, and irritability are common side effects of a short-term lack of sleep – and things will only get worse, with long-term sleep deprivation leading to a number of physical and mental health problems, including depression and obesity.

We usually work on the basis of needing eight hours of sleep a night, but for children younger than 15, the reality is that they need far more. At age 1-3, children need 12-14 hours’ sleep per day. At age 3-5, it’s 11-12 hours, at age 5-9, it’s 10-11 hours, and at age 9-14, it’s 9-10 hours.

If a child doesn’t sleep well, it can affect their learning, behaviour, mood and health, as well as impacting upon the whole family. As many as 40% of all children experience a sleep problem, but among children with additional needs that number rises to 86%. Many children struggle with settling down on their own, but for disabled children this can be particularly difficult.

What is a sleep practitioner?

A sleep practitioner is a front-line professional who works with families experiencing sleep problems. They are trained in all aspects of sleep science, including the mechanism of sleep, sleep phases and cycles, common sleep disorders, how complex health needs impact upon sleep, and the role of melatonin on sleep. As part of their training, they are taught how to assess sleep problems using diaries and questionnaires, and use the information gained to develop a personalised sleep program for families.

How can we help?

Our very own Sleep Fairies are fully qualified sleep practitioners, trained by the Children’s Sleep Charity, offering free sleep clinics that can help families develop strategies for getting a good night’s sleep. They have a great deal of experience in working with disabled children and parent carers, and will work with you to design a sleep program based on your family’s individual needs. They can also visit you at home and offer telephone support if needed.

How can I help my child get a good night’s sleep?

The Sleep Fairies have put together the following tips to help your child – and the rest of your family – get a good night’s sleep.

  • Create a good bedtime routine. Children need to wind down before bed, and a proper routine can help this. It should be at least an hour long, involving a relaxing wind-down activity (such as colouring in, jigsaws, loom banding or threading activities) and supper, and could also include a bath – particularly if they enjoy being bathed. A good way to get started is by talking about your day with your child.
  • Give children advance warning. Let your children know that bedtime is approaching – and when – rather than springing it on them. You could create a visual timetable of your routine to let them know what’s happening next.
  • Stay calm. Bedtime can be stressful – but it’s essential to stay calm. Use a softer tone of voice as you begin to wind down – using calming music could also be helpful.
  • Switch off. As part of the routine, turn off and avoid electronic devices at least an hour before bed. TV, laptops, tablets, games consoles and phones not only keep the mind active and provide a distraction from heading to bed, the light given off actually inhibits the production of melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep.
  • Eat well. There are certain foods that can actually help you sleep. Avoid sugar and caffeine, and instead ensure that supper includes dairy, bread, cheese, seeds, nuts and bananas. Cheese being bad before bedtime is actually a common misconception – all of these foods contain essential amino acids that are converted into melatonin.
  • Keep it going until morning. A good routine should also include waking your child at the same time every morning, as this will strengthen their body clock. We know it’s particularly hard to do on the weekend, but it’s worth it!

Get in touch

If you are a parent carer who has a child with sleep issues, don’t suffer in silence. Please contact Sunny Freakley on sunny.freakley@uniqueways.org.uk, or call us on 01422 343090. We’re here to help.

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