Ask The Expert: How can I help my child sleep through the night?

A sleep expert explains that poor sleep in older children is common and what parents can do to help...

Bedtime can still be a struggle even as children get older
Bedtime can still be a struggle even as children get older Bedtime can still be a struggle even as children get older

MY SIX-year-old daughter either struggles to get to sleep and gets up, or wakes us up because she's had a bad dream, wants a drink or some other excuse. Is there anything we can do to help her get to sleep and stay asleep?

Sleep coach and infant feeding expert Lyndsey Hookway, author of Still Awake, says:

"Many people assume that by this age, dodgy bedtimes and fragmented nights are over. I assure you though, this is more common than you might think. Some of the most common reasons for this pattern of sleep are changing sleep needs, need for connection, and anxiety.

"Starting with sleep needs – around this age, the total amount of sleep a child needs overnight reduces by a couple of hours per day, to nine to 11 hours. This means your daughter might only need nine hours of sleep – this might be 9pm to 6am.

"We can only get as much sleep as we need, and trying to put children to bed too early may set everyone up for a frustrating evening, or very early start.

"Occasionally, as children get older, the changes in their brain result in them getting more sleep. So by the time your daughter is 11, she might turn into a duvet monster and love her sleep!

"Thinking about connection – as children get older, they see far less of us. They're often at school, or busy. While this can be lovely to gain some space and independence, sometimes we forget that kids still need to connect with us.

"We also touch them less as they get older – they don't need our help to get dressed, they don't climb into our laps for cuddles, and we aren't doing personal care for most of our kiddies at this age.

"Touch is incredibly important, and as kids get older, sometimes we need to be more intentional. Try incorporating massage, foot rubs, or 30-second hugs into the pre-sleep routine.

"Some children are naturally more anxious than others. As kids get older, they develop more awareness, morality, and life experience. As their world gets bigger, their worries sometimes get bigger as well. There are school, friendship, identity, family member worries and concerns over pets, as well as wider world problems.

"We can't always stop the feelings, but we can provide tools to help children manage anxiety. Try journaling, talking about feelings well before bedtime, or some worry dolls.

"Finally, have a soothing, predictable bedtime routine with a calming story – six is definitely not too old to snuggle up with a story."

:: Still Awake by Lyndsey Hookway is published by Pinter & Martin, £14.99. Available now.