Why is sleep important for children? And what happens if they don’t get enough?

We all love to sleep and it is very important for children. We discuss children's rest and sleep requirements with Mandy Gurney—sleep expert and founder of Millpond Children’s Sleep Clinic—to ask, why is sleep important for children?

6 min read 100%
Young girl hanging carefree off her bed

Why is sleep important for children? And what happens if they don’t get enough?

We all love to sleep and it is very important for children. We discuss children's rest and sleep requirements with Mandy Gurney—sleep expert and founder of Millpond Children’s Sleep Clinic—to ask, why is sleep important for children?

6 min read 100%

Why is sleep important for children?

Children need lots of good quality sleep in order to develop properly—both in body and in mind. It has been shown that having enough sleep has a direct effect on happiness.

Sleep can also help improve your child’s attention span and alertness, can help them learn and achieve well academically and improve their memory too. It can help your child grow properly, have good motor skills and meet their development milestones.

Clearly this means sleep is important for children—but how and why does it affect your child’s development?

Why is sleep important for children’s development?

Mandy says: “It’s really important that our children get enough good quality sleep. Sleep supports their health and wellbeing, helps them learn and develop and have energy for the next day.”

How does sleep ‘work’, and why is it so essential for kids?

Our sleep is regulated by two distinct and separate body systems: homeostasis or the sleep drive, and the circadian rhythm, or body clock. The two systems work closely together to regulate when we are sleepy and when we wake over a 24-hour period.

Young child holding a soft toy while sleeping


“Our sleep is categorised into two main stages: rapid eye movement (REM or light sleep) and deeper, non-rapid-eye-movement sleep, (NREM or deep sleep).”

“Overnight, our brain cycles roughly every 90 minutes, through REM and non-REM roughly every 90 minutes, passing through light and deep sleep, followed by brief stirring – then, the cycle happens over repeatedly until the morning.”

Sleep is essential for our brain health, helping with focus, learning, concentration, behaviour, the storage and consolidation of memory and our emotional wellbeing.

Sleep also helps support our immune system and the hormones that control our appetite are re-balanced. Not having enough sleep long term can put us at risk of problems such as obesity, depression, anxiety and a weakened immune system.

Mandy Gurney

Bedwetting can have a big impact on your child’s sleep

Children who experience a bout of bedwetting may get poor sleep as they are woken frequently. They may also dread going to sleep, or wake up worried that they are going to have an accident.

If your child is going through a patch where they are experiencing bed wetting, there is a high chance their sleep will be impacted. So it’s even more important to help and support them through this stage.
Mandy Gurney


That’s why it’s a good idea to have a plan of action for helping support your child to be dry at night and to offer them solutions, such as DryNites® Pyjama Pants, so they can sleep through without having to change their bedding.

Children's rest and sleep requirements

“Over childhood, sleep slowly declines, but even the average teenager still needs nine hours of sleep a night!” says Mandy.

“Below are the average amounts of sleep your child needs at each age. Bear in mind that some children will need a little more and some a little less than average.”

  Age of child

  How much sleep do they need?

  Infants under 1 year

  12-16 hours

  Children 1-2 years old

  11-14 hours

  Children 3-5 years old

  10-13 hours

  Children 6-12 years old

  9-12 hours

  Teenagers 13-18 years old

  8-10 hours


What happens when children don’t get enough sleep?

Yawning child


Not having enough sleep can lead in the first instance to your kids being tired and grumpy. That goes without saying, but the lack of sleep in children can also have other effects.

Overtiredness, causing hyperactivity or ADHD-like behaviour

“Some children, when over-tired, can show behaviour that looks a lot like hyperactivity or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder),” Mandy explains.

“Their attention span can decrease and they struggle to listen to a thing you say, they can be day- dreamy and find it hard to focus and sit still! However, if a few good nights’ sleep improves this, you’ll know that your child’s behaviour is more likely to be a consequence of being over-tired.”

Increased risk of obesity, risk taking, and poorer general health

“We know that about 25% of young children are not getting the sleep they need to be fit and well and function at their best.” Mandy explains. “Sadly, these figures go up with age.”

“Recent figures from the ONS (Office of National Statistics) show over a third of 11 to 16 year olds are affected by sleep problems. However, the good news is that even as little as 15 minutes’ extra sleep a night has been shown to have a positive impact on a child’s emotional wellbeing and behaviour.”

“If these problems continue, there may be some more worrying long-term effects.”

“Scientists are discovering that teenagers who do not sleep well are more at risk of obesity, risk taking, substance abuse and poorer mental and physical health,” explains Mandy.

Reduced ability to learn—especially at school

Sleep is fundamental to learning. In school aged children, studies show that sleep habits are a better predictor of grades in school than eating habits, mood, stress, time management and social support.
Mandy Gurney


Top tips to help your child get a good night’s sleep

There are plenty of ways to make sure you allow your child the time and support they need to get a good night’s sleep.

Create a consistent bedtime routine together

Building a bedtime routine can make all the difference to your child’s sleep.

Having a consistent bedtime routine, whether your child is two or 12, means that they know what to expect and find comfort in the routine. This will improve sleep patterns.
Mandy Gurney


Make sure you have supplies of DryNites® Pyjama Pants (just in case), build in a wind-down time, include a night time story and set a light’s out time.

Encourage your child to be active during the day

“Being active, getting out into the fresh air and having plenty of exercise is great for good sleep,” Mandy says.

“Make sure your kids have some physical activity every day. Running, football, gymnastics—whatever they enjoy, encourage them to get active.”

Make sure their bedroom is a relaxing place that encourages sleep

Make sure your child’s room is calm and peaceful, with clear spaces, no clutter and soft lighting.
Mandy Gurney


Temperature, sounds, and even colours in your child's bedroom can affect their sleep. So creating a calm and restful bedroom environment can do wonders for your child’s nightly adventures into sleep, and dreamland.

Make sure they’re wearing their DryNites® Pyjama Pants, just in case

Waking up wet will not help your child enjoy a good night’s sleep. Aside from feeling uncomfortable, if they are at the age where they understand what is going on then they will also likely worry about their night-time accidents, causing stress and even more of an impact on their sleep.

DryNites® Pyjama Pants have 5 layers zoned protection designed to help keep children dry all night and are designed to look and feel like underwear for comfort & confidence; with quiet & breathable materials.

Help your child go to bed worry-free, sleep well, and wake-up feeling amazing

If your child is having a tough patch and is either waking up a lot to use the loo, or is having accidents, then offering them the support of DryNites® Pyjama Pants can help them stay dry at night.

“The most important thing,” says Mandy, “is to manage the old balancing act: making sure your child is supported through times when they might have accidents and helping them get enough sleep – which can be tricky.”

“But make sure you talk through what’s happening and what might be bothering your child and together, you’ll get there!”

2 packs of huggies drynites pyjama pants age 3-5 that offer support for children who have enurisis

Explore the DryNites® range

This content should not substitute medical advice from your personal healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations/diagnosis or treatment.
Was this helpful?

For every step of your parenting journey.