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How to sleep better: nine tips for children

1-15 years

Getting a good night’s sleep is important for children’s health, learning and wellbeing. Our tips on how to sleep better can help your child get to sleep, stay asleep and get enough good-quality sleep.

You can read this article in a selection of languages other than English.

About good sleep for children

A good night’s sleep is about getting to sleep, staying asleep and getting enough good-quality sleep.

Getting to sleep
Most children fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed. How long it takes to get to sleep can depend on how sleepy your child’s body is, and also on her daytime and bedtime routine. Some bedtime routines help your child wind down before bedtime, so she can fall asleep more easily.

Staying asleep
During the night, your child’s body cycles between light sleep and deep sleep. He wakes up briefly after periods of light sleep and probably doesn’t even notice. To stay asleep, he needs to fall back to sleep quickly after these brief waking episodes.

Getting good-quality sleep
Good-quality sleep is about getting enough deep sleep and not waking too often. Your child needs deep sleep because it’s more restful than light sleep. Your child will spend more time in deep sleep and probably wake less often if he can relax before bedtime.

Read more about how much sleep children of different ages need: newborn sleep, baby sleep, toddler sleep, preschooler sleepschool-age sleep and teenage sleep.

How to sleep better for children: tips

1. Keep regular sleep and wake times
If your child is six months or older, help her go to bed and get up around the same time every day. Keep wake-up times on school days and weekends to within two hours of each other. This can help get your child’s body clock get into a regular rhythm.

2. Avoid daytime naps for older kids
If your child is five years or older, avoid daytime naps. Daytime naps longer than 20 minutes can make it harder for children over five to get to sleep at night, to stay asleep, and to wake up in the morning.

3. Relax before bedtime
Encourage your child to relax before bedtime. A regular bedtime routine of bath, story and bed helps younger children feel ready for sleep. Older children might like to wind down by reading a book, listening to gentle music or practising breathing for relaxation.

4. Make sure your child feels safe at night
If your child feels scared about going to bed or being in the dark, you can praise and reward him whenever he’s brave. Avoiding scary TV shows, movies and computer games can help too. Some children with bedtime fears feel better when they have a night light.

5. Check noise and light in your child’s bedroom
A dark, quiet, private space is important for good sleep. Check whether your child’s bedroom is too light or noisy for sleep. Blue light from televisions, computer screens, phones and tablets might suppress melatonin levels and delay sleepiness. It probably helps to turn these off at least one hour before bedtime.

6. Avoid the clock
If your child is checking the time often, encourage her to move her clock or watch to a spot where she can’t see it.

7. Eat the right amount at the right time
Make sure your child has a satisfying evening meal at a reasonable time. Feeling hungry or too full before bed can make your child more alert or uncomfortable. This can make it harder for him to get to sleep. In the morning, a healthy breakfast helps to kick-start your child’s body clock at the right time.

8. Get plenty of natural light in the day
Encourage your child to get as much natural light as possible during the day, especially in the morning. This will help her body produce melatonin at the right times in her sleep cycle.

9. Avoid caffeine
Encourage your child to avoid caffeine – in energy drinks, coffee, tea, chocolate and cola – or avoid offering them in the late afternoon and evening.

It’s always a good idea to praise your child when you notice he’s trying to make changes to sleep patterns or is trying out a new routine.

When worries affect your child’s sleep

If your child has worries and anxieties that stop her from relaxing at bedtime, there are a couple of things you can do.

If there’s a quick and easy answer to your child’s problem, you can deal with it straight away. For example, ‘Yes, you can have Emma over to play on the weekend even though Grandma is staying with us’.

But if the problem needs more time, it’s probably best to acknowledge your child’s feelings and gently plan to sort things out in the morning. For example, ‘I understand that you’re worried about whether you can swim 50 m at the swimming carnival next week. Let’s talk about it in the morning and work out what to do’.

Problems with sleep can affect your child’s mood, schoolwork or relationships. You should seek help from your GP if sleep problems go on for more than 2-4 weeks.

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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