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Sleep - are you getting enough?

mental health; habit; concentration; relaxation; irritable; rapid; routine; sleep; dream; nightmare; stress; relaxing; rest; exercise; sleep; tired; yawn; chart; REM; cycle; scary; worry; caffeine ;


After we have been working, thinking, playing and doing all sorts of exercise during the day, we start to feel tired. It is our brain's way of telling us that it needs some time to catch up on all the jobs that have to be done to keep our bodies working well.

Why do we sleep?

sleepRegular sleep is an important health habit because:

  • our bodies need time to repair themselves after a hard day of work and play.
  • our minds need to rest and relax
  • sleep is growing time.

Too much TV or computer games can affect sleep, and so can worry. Exercise during the day can help us to sleep. 

Lack of sleep

Lack of sleep causes:

  • tiredness and yawning
  • bad temper and feeling irritable
  • lack of concentration, you just don't feel like you can be bothered to work or do anything active
  • sluggishness - you feel slow and your body systems don't work so well
  • trouble with school work - you find it hard to concentrate, listen or do your work as well as you are able.

Are you getting enough sleep? - Quiz

Do you feel too tired in the morning and want to stay in bed? yes no
Do you yawn a lot? yes no
Are you irritable or bad tempered when you get up? yes no
Do you find it hard to concentrate on what you are doing? yes no
Do you make mistakes in really easy work? yes no
Does it take you ages to learn anything new? yes no
Do you try to get out of physical exercise because you don't feel like it? yes no
Do you want to sleep during the day? yes no
Do you spend lots of time daydreaming? yes no

If you do not have any health or learning problems and if you answered 'yes' to at least half of these questions, your body could be telling you that maybe you need to check how much sleep and exercise you are getting - and did you have your breakfast?

If you answered 'yes' to all of these questions, I'm surprised you managed to stay awake long enough to do the quiz!

So how much sleep should you have?

These are average sleep times. Everyone will not be the same.

New baby – 16.5 hours each day. This amount of time gets less, as the child grows older.

12 months old - about 14.5 hours.
2 years old - 13 hours.
5 years old - 11 hours.
10 years old - 10 hours
16 years old - 8.5 hours.

You can see that you gradually need less sleep as you grow older until you reach 16 plus, when your body has finished most of its growing and you have worked out a routine for sleep, work and exercise.

When you are having a 'growth spurt' you may find that you need more sleep than usual as your body is really working overtime when you are growing fast.

How much sleep do you need?

Your body and mind let you know how much sleep you need.

Your body and mind like to have a set routine of work, play and sleep.

If you change something [like staying up really late or lying around all day], then your sleep cycle is changed and your body and mind soon let you know about it.

Different people may need more sleep that others.

If you are interested in checking your own sleep needs then make up a chart like the one below. Mark on it how long you were asleep each night. Do it for a week and you will have a pretty good idea of how much sleep you need.  Get your friends to do it too and see how you compare.

My sleep chart

click here icon to see the Sleep Chart.

What happens when you sleep?

You have two main kinds of sleep.

  • REM [rapid eye movement] when your brain is very active. This time is when dreams happen.
  • NREM [non rapid eye movement sleep]. This is a quiet deep sleep.

The two together form a cycle of sleep. As you get older the cycles last for a longer time and the number of cycles in your sleep pattern decreases (gets less) so that by the time you are an adult you will go through 4 to 6 cycles during your night's sleep.

REM sleep takes up half the sleeping time of babies but drops to 20-25% of sleep time once you are about 4 years old.

What about dreams?

sleepEverybody dreams but you don't always remember what you dream do you?

Little kids often dream about animals or their family.

Primary school children often dream about people they know, animals, people from movies and they like to remember dreams and tell their friends about them.

Older primary kids often dream about friends and sometimes have really weird dreams.

Some people have such good dreams that they try to 'finish them off' the next night!

Everyone has bad dreams at times too.

  • Being chased or frightened.
  • Being unable to run away.
  • About monsters and ghosts.

Sometimes nightmares happen after something scary happened at home or at school, such as your house being robbed, or you watched a scary movie. Sometimes you can remember something which could have caused the scary dream.

You might get to know what could give you a nightmare and try to avoid it.
[I know that a scary movie about spiders would certainly give me nightmares!]

Sometimes getting to sleep is hard

  • sleepMaybe you're excited about something, like your birthday, going to a wedding or going on a holiday. 
  • Maybe you are worried about something, like getting in the team or passing a test.
  • Maybe you had a lazy day.
  • Maybe you just don't feel tired.
  • Maybe you had too much caffeine (a chemical in some cola drinks, chocolate and coffee). Caffeine can make it hard to go to sleep.

The rest of the family is asleep and you are just lying there wide-awake.

What can you do?

  • Sit up or get up and sit in a chair.
  • Get a book to read. [Not too exciting or you'll want to finish it.]
  • Listen to music for a while.
  • Do some homework.
  • Write a letter.
  • Count. Some people imagine a flock of sheep and start counting them.
  • Do some slow breathing and count 1 as you breathe in and 2 as you breath out. Some people only get to 20 when they do this.

I bet you can think of heaps more quiet things to do. [You don't want to wake everyone else.]

Don't start watching TV, or playing on the computer or checking your phone. It can be hard to stop when you need to go off to sleep. Lots of kids are not getting enough sleep because they won't turn them off.

When you start to feel tired, go back to bed, close your eyes and sleep.

sleepTo make sure that you sleep better next night:

  • Talk about your worries with your family or a friend.  
  • Get some extra exercise.
  • Avoid cola drinks, coffee or chocolate.

You could try having relaxing music on if your parents agree.

Our topic 'Stress - learning to relax' may help.

Dr Kate says:

Dr Kate

"It is important for you to get plenty of sleep in your growing years so that your body is full of energy to start each day of your busy lives".


Answering your questions

If I dream that something awful is going to happen will it come true?
No! Bad dreams are a way that your mind worries about something. You are not 'seeing' the future. You cannot cause something bad to happen by dreaming about it. Talk to a trusted adult about it.

  • Did you know?
     A lot of people take only about 10 minutes to fall asleep.
  • You are taller when you are asleep. Because you are lying down, the discs in your spine spread out. When you are standing up they squash together. You are also taller in the morning than at night time (the squashing down takes some time), so if you really want to feel like you are growing fast, make sure you are measured first thing in the morning!
  • Some people talk in their sleep.  Some people walk in their sleep.

If you want to find more facts about sleep, you could have a look at this website 

Some people snore

Flying through the air,
Looking down and seeing
Houses, fields and streams
But only in my dreams.
Fighting off a dragon
Riding like the wind.
Captain of the team.
But only in my dream.

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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