Find out which foods boost concentration and aid learning, how diet can help children’s behaviour, and get plenty of packed lunch inspiration to fuel them through their school days.


What’s the issue?

Settling difficulties are common in as much as 25 per cent of young children, with resistance to bedtime or being unable to drop off to sleep being commonly cited problems.

How much sleep do kids need?

How much sleep your child needs depends on their age and activity levels. The following guidance is approximate hourly needs, however, your child may differ from this. If you have concerns, refer to your health visitor or GP for guidance.

  • 1 to 12 months – 14 - 15 hours
  • 1 to 3 years old – 12 - 14 hours
  • 3 to 6 years old – 10 - 12 hours
  • 7 to 12 years old – 10 - 11 hours
  • 12 to 18 years old – 8 - 9 hours

How to help your kids get to sleep

It’s natural to feel anxious when your child can’t settle, but by putting some practical steps in place, you can ensure it doesn’t become a wider issue, potentially causing disruption for the whole household. The steps you implement will depend on the age of your child and the sleep or settling problem they have. Here are our top tips for a restful night.

1. Wind down

As the evening progresses, encourage a wind down. For older children this might involve reading or listening to music. The longer your child takes to go to sleep, the longer their wind-down time needs to be.

More like this

2. Establish a bedtime routine

Start your routine about 20 minutes before your child’s bedtime. If your child finds settling difficult, aim for this ‘bedtime’ routine to coincide with when they naturally start to get sleepy, and work towards gradually bringing that time forward to your preferred bedtime (for young children 7-8pm is a good time). For this age group, a bedtime routine might involve a bath, teeth clean and a bedtime story.

3. Promote a well-adjusted, regular body clock

Keep sleep and wake times the same, even at the weekends. By doing this you help develop your child’s natural body clock, which is important for sustaining a regular sleep cycle.

A child looking at a tablet under duvet covers

4. Avoid technology

This includes tablets, TVs, computer screens and mobile phones, because the light from these screens can have a stimulatory effect. This ‘blue’ light suppresses levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and delays sleepiness. Encourage children to turn these devices off at least one hour before bedtime, and preferably earlier, and to keep screens out of your child’s bedroom at night.

5. Make the bedroom sleep-friendly

A peaceful, dimly lit room, kept at a comfortable temperature (about 18C) is important for sleep. Start to dim the lighting as you near bedtime and especially as you prepare your child for bed.

6. Avoid caffeine-containing drinks and foods (especially after lunchtime)

Coffee, tea, energy drinks and chocolate supply caffeine which is known to disrupt sleep, especially in certain individuals. Studies show that moderate to high caffeine consumers are more likely to have disturbed and interrupted sleep.

7. Get plenty of natural daylight

This is particularly useful in the morning. This is because bright light suppresses melatonin, which means your child will feel awake and alert during the day and sleepy at bedtime.

Child sleeping in a light room

8. A glass of warm milk before bed

If your child tends to eat their supper earlier in the evening, but perhaps struggles to go to bed or stays up later, especially at the weekend or school holiday, try giving them a glass of warm milk with a cracker or oatcake as a snack about an hour before bed. This will help ensure they do not go to bed hungry, and they may also stay asleep longer as a result of more stable blood sugars.

9. Reduce their sugar intake

Sugar affects the quality of our sleep and reducing the sugary drinks and foods in your child’s diet will help avoid sleep disruption. If you want to be able to give them something sweet then opt for something wholesome like a piece of fruit with a small piece of cheese, to help stabilise blood sugars, or try one of our lower sugar recipes.

10. Eat to sleep well

Feeling hungry or being too full are both reasons why children can’t sleep. What time your child eats their evening meal is also important because eating too late shuts off melatonin production and delays sleep. Ideally, have your family meal at least four hours before bedtime. Make it a satisfying meal, combining protein and carbohydrates to encourage melatonin production. The best protein foods are those that contain the amino acid tryptophan – these include chicken, turkey, milk and dairy. Enjoy these with a portion of rice, pasta, noodles or potatoes, as carbohydrate foods help tryptophan to work more effectively.

Sleep-promoting dinnertime recipes:

Slow cooker chicken casserole
Italian tuna balls
Turkey bolognese pasta bake
Carbonara with chicken
Three-veg mac 'n' cheese
Chicken enchiladas
More family meal recipes

Enjoyed this? Now read...

How to get a good night's sleep
5 tips to improve your sleep hygiene
Fun yoga for kids
The best fitness trackers for kids
10 mindfulness exercises for kids

Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a registered nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including Good Food.


All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Comments, questions and tips

Choose the type of message you'd like to post

Choose the type of message you'd like to post