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NDD Local Services and Support - Sleep

Problems with sleep are common in all children and young people, though they may be more likely to occur in children/young people with additional needs because of possible physical or medical reasons, sensory issues, behavioural issues, learning difficulties/disabilities, and frequent hospitalisation.  Problems with sleep may include difficulties settling to sleep, waking during the night, night terrors, nightmares, environmental, anxiety, learned association.  If a child has difficulties with their sleep this can also have a significant impact on the family as well. 

Sleep is important for children/young people for their growth, it helps with concentration, memory and learning, it provides rest and relaxation, can help a child/young person feel more energetic, it helps with their mood, behaviour, emotional well-being and mental health.  The amount of sleep required for children/young people is:



Amount of sleep recommended

over a 24 hour period

4 - 12 months

12 -16 hours (including naps)

1 - 2 years

11 -14 hours (including naps)

3 - 5 years

10 -13 hours (including naps)

6 - 12 years

9 -12 hours

13 - 18 years

8 -10 hours

Sleep diaries can help to identify reasons or patterns as to why a child/young person may have difficulties with their sleep.  Establishing good sleep hygiene is important:

  • Have a consistent routine: bedtime is at the same time and your child/young person is woken at the same time each morning
  • Have an hour before bedtime to wind down and relax for sleep; listen to music, read stories, colouring/drawing, meditation/massage.  Avoid screen time or energetic/exciting activities during this time
  • Make sure that your child’s/young person’s room is quiet, calm and dark.  Light can trick our brain into thinking it is daytime and we should be awake
  • Keep room temperature to a comfortable level.  High or low temperatures can disturb sleep.
  • Make sure your child/young person does not go to bed hungry.  Regular meals during the day can help our body clock regulate sleep.  Avoid snacks less than an hour before bedtime though a light snack before this can help a child/young person sleep through the night (e.g. milk, toast, banana, crackers and cheese).  Avoid giving a child over 6 months old food or drinks during the night
  • Help your child to learn to fall asleep alone in their bed, without your presence.
  • Do not let your child have prolonged naps in the late afternoon.  If a child/young person needs to sleep, make sure they are awake by 2pm.
  • Exercise during the day can help us to feel tired and reduce stress
  • Avoid caffeine and additive type drinks like cola, chocolate, tea and coffee before bedtime.  Instead have a warm milk drink
  • Parents/Carers - try to stay calm and look after yourselves

If after trying all of the good sleep hygiene strategies, your child/young person still has difficulties with their sleep, you can speak to their Community Paediatrician about trying Melatonin.  Melatonin is a natural hormone produced in the pineal gland in our brains and mainly helps us settle off to sleep.  This may be affected in children and young people with additional needs.  Melatonin is available as tablet or liquid and should be given half an hour to one hour before bedtime, at the same time each night and the effect wears off after a few hours, (depending on the preparation), so there should be no long term effect the next day.

If your child/young person has difficulties with their sleep you can talk to any health professional working with your child. They will either signpost you to the appropriate service, if needed, or help you unpick your child’s/young person’s difficulties/behaviours, and work with you to identify any reasons or patterns and possible strategies to try.  

Below you will find a list of services that are available both locally and nationally to support in this area. These services have been listed under the following categories:

Universal – These services are available to everyone, without the need for any referral

Targeted – These services provide more targeted support to address a need. In most cases a referral is required

Specialist – These services provide specialist, targeted support and a referral is required. A number of these services are provided as part of the ‘intervention’ stage of our NDD Pathway.

We have also worked with the Council for Disabled Children to create a list of useful resources that are available through national organisations.