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Good sleep habits for infants and children

4-minute read

Children grow and develop rapidly, so it's important they get enough sleep to give them the energy they need for active play and good health. Having good sleep habits, such as routine sleep times, and ensuring a relaxed, safe sleep environment can help your child get the sleep they need.

What is a good sleep habit?

A good sleep habit means behaviour and habits that can lead to a good night’s sleep. It is often referred to as good sleep hygiene.

How much sleep does a child need?

Newborn babies' sleep varies a lot. After a month or so, most babies are sleeping 14 to 17 hours over both day and night. Gradually, your baby will sleep more at night and less during the day.

Toddlers and preschoolers need 11 to 14 hours of sleep each day. Most of it should be at night, but often they need a nap during the day as well.

Try to keep daytime naps to 1 to 2 hours, to avoid delaying evening bedtimes, although an individual child’s needs may vary. Primary school-age children need 9 to 11 hours a night.

Our body clock and sleep cycle

Sleep patterns are controlled by our body’s internal clock, which keeps us awake during the day and promotes sleep at night. Our body clock helps to coordinate the release of a hormone called melatonin, which tells our bodies that it’s time to sleep.

Most children fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed. It’s important to establish routine times for your child’s night-time sleep and daytime naps. This helps maintain their body clock to release melatonin, which helps them get to sleep more quickly. Once asleep, we cycle through periods of deeper and lighter sleep throughout the night.

Good quality sleep means your child sleeps deeply and doesn’t wake up too often. Deepest sleep usually occurs before midnight, so getting your child to bed early will help them make the most of this period for good sleep.

Learn more about body clocks and sleep cycles.

How to improve your child’s sleep habits

Nutrition and physical activity

Good nutrition and exercise will help your child to get good sleep. Where possible, try to time meals so your child isn’t going to bed either hungry or too full, as this may make them feel uncomfortable and prevent them from settling down.

Physical activity and play during the day will also help your child use up energy so they’re less likely to be restless at bedtime. Encourage some playtime outdoors, as exposure to sunlight helps to synchronise their body clock, which helps regulate sleep.

Avoid daytime naps if your child is aged over 5. Make sure your child avoids caffeine, for example in soft drinks and chocolate.

Wind-down time

A wind-down period before bedtime can help your child transition from playtime to sleep. Quiet activities, such as looking at books, telling your child a story or playing some soft music, can help them feel calm, relaxed and sleepy. Wind-down periods may be particularly helpful if you’re having difficulties getting your child to settle down to nap during the day. Avoid using electronic media including television, computers and mobile phones for at least an hour before bedtime.

Bedtime routine

Following a set routine at evening bedtime, such as bathing and cleaning teeth followed by a final goodnight, can help your child associate these activities with sleep. It’s also important that they feel safe and relaxed in their sleep environment. Some children may become distressed if left alone in a dark room to sleep. Using a night light, or leaving the door open, may be comforting. Make sure your child can’t see a clock if they are checking the time often.

Once your child is in bed, if you need to attend to them to get them to settle, try keeping the lights dimmed and the room quiet to not disrupt the bedtime mood.

Find more information and tips for keeping your child settled in bed.

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Last reviewed: March 2021

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