There are a number of strategies to manage your child's sleep problems. This guide explains some common sleep problems with some safe and clinically backed strategies to improve your child's sleep.
How to use this screener
- Look at the common problems many children have with falling asleep, staying asleep or waking early.
- Click on the relevant sleep problem your child is experiencing.
- Click on the strategy and get a detailed plan of what to do to help your child sleep.
- Read the "good sleep habits" section below
My child is anxious and worries about things at bedtime
My child may need help with anxiety related insomnia.
My child tries to leave their room after I put them to bed.
My child may need help with setting limits and sticking to their bedtime.
My child needs a specific item or person present
My child may be need help with learning how to fall asleep by themselves.
My child takes longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep.
My child may need help in setting a regular bedtime routine and preparing for sleep.
My child seems terrified but not really awake
My child becomes agitated, may cry or scream, look panicked, sweating and inconsolable but does not wake up.
My child has bad dreams and wakes up.
My child has frightening dreams that wakes them up.
My child sleep walks/ sleep talks
My child partly wakes up from their sleep and walks around, yet they still look asleep.
My child wakes up before 6am
My child may need help with waking up at an appropriate time.
Good sleep habits
All children (and adults!) benefit from good sleep habits, also known as ‘sleep hygiene.” These habits are vital for achieving healthy sleep timing and quality.
Make sure you have these good habits in place before making any other changes.
1. A calming bedtime routine: Try to do the same things each night, choosing calm and enjoyable activities to help your child wind down. e.g. dinner, bath, quiet play or read, then into bed.
- Regular sleep and wake times (within 30 minutes)
- Avoid daytime naps (for children 5 and over).
2. A calm, quiet sleep environment: Your child’s sleep environment should be cool, quiet, and relatively dark. It should be the same at bedtime as it is throughout the night. For example, the same lighting, and no music unless it will play all night.
3. A media free bedroom: Avoid watching electronic screens such as computer games, iPAD and TV for at least one hour before bed.
4. Get morning light: Getting natural light during the morning, by opening the curtains or going outside, helps keep the body clock on the right track.
5. Avoid caffeine from late afternoon: Remember, caffeine is in chocolate bars as well as cola, tea and coffee.
6. Encourage exercise (but not just before bed): Avoid exciting, high-energy activities, just before bed - such as playing outside or running around.
Being consistent will increase your chances of success with improving your child’s sleep patterns. It is important to stick to good sleep habits, even on weekends and holidays, otherwise, your child’s sleep patterns can get confused.
Sleep is important for
- The development of children's learning and development
- Restoring physical and mental health
- Maintaining our immune system so we don't get sick
- Brain development
Children who do not get enough sleep may be at risk of underperforming when compared to their peers.
Normal sleep duration
The diagram below shows that normal Australian children vary greatly in how much they sleep each night.
- Most 3 year old children sleep around 12 hours each night, however some may happily sleep as little as 9 hours while others may need as much as 15 hours each night.
- Most children starting school sleep around 11 hours each night, but anywhere between 8 and 14 hours may be right for your child.
- Studies have shown that it is likely to be the timing of going to bed and rising, as well as the quality of sleep overnight, which has more impact on how the child functions during the day, rather than the actual number of hours slept.
- If your child appears happy and healthy, they are probably getting enough sleep for them, even if they sleep less than the average child their ages.
Effects of the lack of sleep
Emotional: Not enough sleep may cause your child to be moody and irritable. They may become frustrated or upset more easily.
Behavior: Children who do not get enough sleep are more likely to have behavior problems, such as not being able to concentrate, being restless, or not doing what is asked of them.
Thinking and Learning: Not enough sleep may result in problems with paying attention, memory, decision making, reaction time, and creativity, which are all important in school.