Sleep problems and bedwetting for school age children
School age is an exciting time for children. It's a time when your child makes new friends, meets new people and becomes more independent. They also come across new rules, routines and experiences - so do you! But sometimes this new world takes getting used to. Worrying about this can affect your child's behaviour and wellbeing.
If your child, and you, are finding these changes difficult, that's OK. There is plenty of help, advice and guidance to support you and your child through this time.
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Many children struggle with sleep. The NHS says school age children should get 9-12 hours of sleep per night. Does that sound like your child? If not, don't panic, they are not alone. A quarter of schoolchildren don't get enough sleep each night!
Sleep problems go beyond trouble sleeping. Issues like nightmares and bedwetting can also be very stressful for children. The good news is the reasons for a child's sleep problems usually aren't serious.
Often, a few tweaks to their daily routine should help. If problems continue, don't worry, there are further steps that you can take to help.
Why can't my child sleep?
There are many reasons why your child may not be getting to sleep. Many younger school age children suffer from bedtime fears, such as being afraid of the dark. Others might be napping too much during the day. When this happens too often it can affect your child's sleep patterns. This can have an effect on your child's schoolwork and home life.
Another common cause is too much screen time before they go to bed. This could be watching TV, gaming or spending time on a mobile phone or tablet. If your child spends a lot of time in front of a screen and then struggles to wind down for bed, that's a good place to start!
But what if your child's problem isn't with getting to sleep?
Many children have the odd nightmare. Bad dreams are often nothing to worry about. They may happen simply because of a child's creative mind, or due to something scary that they saw on TV. But if your child often has nightmares, don't ignore it! It could point towards some anxiety or trauma.
These are rarer than nightmares and can be pretty scary for parents and carers! This is because the child appears to be wide awake and very scared of something when they are asleep. Don't worry too much as children usually won't recall anything in the morning. But just like nightmares, night terrors could be a sign that your child is stressed.
Wetting the bed is more common in younger children. But it's not unusual for children to wet the bed well into late childhood. This could be the result of simple factors. If your child is not drinking enough water or going to the toilet enough during the day, they may wet the bed. It can also be linked to stress at home or at school. In very rare cases, bedwetting can be a sign of constipation or an illness. If you're worried please ask a professional like your GP for advice. Or try the Children's Bladder and Bowel Charity ERIC's helpline.
Top tips to help children with sleep problems
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How to get a good night's sleep
Good sleep hygiene will give your child the best chance of a good night's sleep. This means setting a bedtime routine and making sure your child's bedroom is relaxing. Consider some of the following tips:
- Set regular times for going to bed and getting up – make sure you stick to them!
- Avoid the TV, tablets, and other gadgets for at least an hour before bedtime
- Make sure your child's bedroom is dark, quiet, tidy, and free of distractions – try and make it a screen-free zone!
- Run your child a warm bath before bed
- Once in bed, get your child to read or listen to some relaxing music
- If they still struggle, try a breathing exercise with them
Dealing with nightmares and night terrors
Regular nightmares and night terrors are a different type of problem. The key to sorting this is finding the cause:
- Ask your child to tell you about their nightmare or night terror
- It can sometimes help to ask your child to draw a picture of their dream
- Think about whether anything in your child's daily life could be setting off these dreams
- If the cause of your child's dreams seems to be stress, consider some of the tips shared here, or speak to their GP
- When nightmares happen, get your child to try a grounding technique to help calm down
How to help your child stop bedwetting
It's not unusual for school age children to wet the bed, but it can still be embarrassing for them. Here are some steps that will hopefully make sure that they don't have to go through it again:
- Check your child drinks enough water during the day
- Encourage your child goes to the toilet at least four times a day, and before bedtime
- Make sure your child can use the toilet by themselves in case they need it at night
- Avoid giving your child drinks with caffeine, such as cola, - these can make them need the toilet more!
- Don't wake your child or carry them to the toilet in the night
- Speak to your child to try and understand why they wet the bed – could it be due to stress at home or at school?
- If problems continue, think about speaking to a GP
Don't lose sleep yourself!
Bedtime should be a time for rest and relaxation. Even though, for many school age children, this often isn't the case. Whatever sleep problem your child is dealing with, it can be stressful for the both of you! Remember to look after yourself.
But try not to worry. Most children grow out of their sleep problems as they get older. If the tips above don't help your child, there is plenty of helpful online guidance and many support services to help you put the problem to bed!
Information from external websites
ERIC has loads of information and resources about bedwetting.
Young Minds has a section for children on sleep problems that you might find helpful.
Barnardo's Family Space share useful ideas for understanding and responding to behaviour in 4-8 year olds and also for routines and behaviour for 8-12 year olds. They also have an 8-12 year olds section on healthy lifestyles that touches on sleep.
Safe Space Health UK is a website for young people aged 11 - 14 in Surrey. It offers helpful information about emotional health, lifestyle choices, relationships, keeping safe, growing up and being okay with being different.
Struggling and need to talk?
Action for Children offer 1:1 chat with a parenting coach (Mon - Fri). If they are closed you can leave a message and a parenting coach will get back to you within 3 working days.
The Children's Bowel and Bladder Charity ERIC have a free helpline with expert advisors offering information, practical tips and confidential support if your child is struggling with bedwetting. Call on 0808 1699 949 (freephone) Monday to Thursday from 10am to 2pm. If the line is busy, please try again. Lines are usually less busy from 11am to 1pm.
Family Lives have a free, confidential helpline, offering emotional support, information, advice and guidance on any aspect of parenting and family life. Call the Family Lives helpline on 0808 800 2222 (Monday to Friday from 9am to 9pm and on weekends from 10am to 3pm).
The Surrey Children and Family Health Advice Line is available from 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding Bank Holidays). They can provide support on all aspects of child health, development and parenting for families with children from birth to 19 years old. Call the Surrey-wide 0-19 Advice Line on 01883 340 922
Young Minds has a free parents helpline. For detailed advice, emotional support and signposting about your child call 0808 802 5544 (9:30am to 4pm, Monday to Friday)
For your child
Childline have a free and confidential helpline for children. You could encourage your child to call 0800 1111 if they need to speak to someone - open 7 days a week from 7.30am - 3.30am. Childline also have a 1-2-1 counsellor chat for children who don't want to speak on the phone.
If your child is 11 or older you might want to tell them about the Child and Family Health Surrey text service called ChatHealth. It's a confidential school nurse messaging service for young people aged 11-19. Young people can contact their school nurse in confidence by text. The Chat Health text number is: 07507 329 951 (Mon - Fri 9am - 5pm).
All of the issues discussed are confidential unless a child's safety, or that of others, is at risk. The school nurses will always encourage young people to discuss issues with their parents or guardians.
Useful videos on sleep problems and bedwetting
Family Lives share this helpful video on bedtime sleep issues.
Check out this Family Lives video on bedwetting and continence.
The Families Under Pressure video collection offers a great series of short top tips videos on managing behaviour and help with negative emotions. Perfect for when your family leave you feeling frazzled!
Helpful tools and apps
Action for Children has an activity to help children wind down faster, and an activity to help your child to fall asleep. They also suggest an activity to help your child get back to sleep if they wake up and another activity you can teach your child so they can deal with nightmares.
The NSPCC has a great guide on positive parenting with a helpful section on setting boundaries.
Surrey's Early Support team offer great advice on sleep. They recommend using a sleep diary (PDF) too. It's a handy resource for you to learn about your child's sleep and wake patterns and what might influence this. It's really helpful to take this to your GP (or other professionals supporting your child) if you do have concerns about your child's sleep.
Surrey's Family Learning and Adult Learning teams have developed a family wellbeing resource, with lots of tips on looking after yourself and your family during these challenging times.
Online parenting guides
Surrey residents get free access to an online guide that include top tips from childcare, education and NHS health experts
How to register
Registration is quick and easy. Go to the OurPlace website and use the access code 'ACORN' to get your free guide.
Access to the guide is unlimited with no expiry date, so you can return as and when you need and want to. Why not watch the Child and Family Health video to find out more.
Community support, courses and local help
Choose the area you live in for local services. Please note that due to coronavirus (Covid-19) very few community services are currently running.
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Date published: 03 Mar 2021