By Registered Health Visitor – Julia Headland

As a certified ‘Sleep Practitioner’, I am really pleased to write this blog on sleep because I regularly meet parents who are literally at the end of their tether because their child(ren) won’t sleep through the night or they get up super early, full of the joys of spring!

Sleep deprivation occurs if you don’t get enough sleep or you sleep at the wrong time of the day. Someone might call themselves sleep deprived if:

  • They don’t get enough sleep
  • They sleep at the wrong time of the day
  • They do not get the required stages of sleep that the body requires
  • They have a sleep disorder that prevents them from getting sufficient sleep or causes poor sleep quality.

One thing is for sure, if any of the above ring true to you, you will know the accumulative effect of how you feel if you have had poor sleep.

Effects of sleep deprivation can have on the child.

  • Impaired cognitive function
  • Impaired immune system
  • Impaired emotional regulation
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impaired growth
  • Attachment problems
  • Poor eating habits
  • Daytime sleepiness

Stages of sleep

Sleep stages are categorised as:

  • REM (rapid eye movement)
  • Non-REM

These stages of sleep are not just important for resting of the body but they are important because your memories are made during sleep. For example, in non-REM stage 3 sleep, memories are moved from the hypothalamus to the frontal cortex which is, essentially a reorganisation of memories.  This movement means that the information learnt in the day is stored in a short term, low capacity facility and then moved to a long-term storage capacity facility so that the memory can be easily retrieved in the future.

REM sleep is important as it is involved in the consolidation of learning and it also helps with ‘’emotional filtering’’. For babies it is an especially important stage of the sleep cycle as it is responsible for creating neural pathways.

Types of Sleep Disorders

  • Behavioural Insomnia.  This basically means that there is no medical reason for the child to not sleep and this is the most common cause sleep disorder in children.
  • Sleep Onset Association Disorder.  This means that the child will not fall asleep or stay asleep unless certain conditions are put in place. This can be as simple as a child refusing to sleep if their mother or father is not holding their hand or a child that needs rocking to sleep.
  • Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome.  This is a disorder of the circadian rhythm and is characterised by the child going to bed at an age appropriate time but the child cannot get to sleep for a prolonged period, maybe hours. Once they are asleep, they usually sleep though but may have difficulty waking in the morning.
  • Parasomnias.  This is the name of a group of disorders that involve abnormal movements, behaviours, emotions, perceptions and dreams. These can include night terrors, sleep walking, sleep paralysis, amongst other conditions. Most of the time, no input is required but occasionally input is required.

Other sleep disorders:

  • Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS).  Common in adults and about 6% of children will have this. Children may complain of pains in their legs or creepy crawlies on their legs. This is often mistaken for growing pains.
  • Periodic Limb movement disorder, characterised by frequent or involuntary muscle spasms.
  • Rhythmic movement disorder.  This is when you see a child demonstrating repeated body movements such as rocking, head banging and head rolling.
  • Sleep Disordered Breathing.  This is characterised by frequent loud snoring or by Obstructive Sleep Apnoea.

NB.  There are some conditions which make sleep disorders more common such as ADHD and ASD either due to the condition itself or from medication that they are taking. Also, children with cerebral palsy and Down’s syndrome often have sleep issues.

What to do if your child has problems with sleeping.

  • Get help.  Please don’t suffer in silence; there are always strategies to help once a particular disorder has been identified.
  • The best thing you can do to try and regulate your sleep pattern, children or adults, is to get natural light, particularly in the early morning. Light is the most important influence on your circadian rhythm.
  • The advice from sleep experts is to get natural light or via a SAD lamp in your house/office. If you have a SAD lamp, it’s beneficial to use it sometime between 6 and 8am as this is the best time to reset your circadian rhythm.
  • Have a bath before bed as this will drop your body temperature.

If you come and see me with a sleep concern, in order for me to diagnose a sleep disorder, I will ask you to fill in a sleep diary for a week to get an overall picture of the problem and to help me with a strategy for tackling the problem.


For those people I have not yet met, my name is Julia Headland and I am a registered health visitor and registered general nurse with a degree in public health and over 20 years of experience.  I am very pleased to work alongside the Norfolk House Nursery team.

You can arrange to meet me for confidential advice or guidance about your child’s health or development; during the pandemic these consultations are being conducted by Zoom or telephone.

My consultations are free of charge and they are confidential.

You can book an appointment with me via the Norfolk House Nursery staff.