All babies wake at night. As children get older, they wake less and sleep for longer periods.
Here are some ways to help your child sleep longer at night and wake less often.
Decide what time you want your child to go to bed, and what time you want them to wake up. You might not make that happen straight away, but it’s good to have a plan.
Establishing a bedtime routine
Choose a bedtime routine to suit your household. It might be dinner, followed by a bath, a quiet game or a story, then clean teeth, toilet and bed.
There should be times for cuddles, but not rough and tumble play. Make sure the last 30 minutes before bedtime are quiet, without TV or other electronic devices. Children need to wind down before going to bed.
Start your new routine at a time that suits. Don't try to establish a new routine if you are going to be out for a couple of nights or if your child is unwell.
Helping your child to settle
There are different ways to help your child to settle to sleep. You can stay in the room, you can cuddle them off to sleep, you can check on them regularly or you can close the door and stay away. All have their advantages and disadvantages, and it’s important that you choose an approach that suits you and your child. If they are old enough to understand, tell your child what is going to happen, and what you expect.
Before leaving the room, check your child is comfortable and has all that they need. Remind your child to stay quietly in bed. Once you’ve left the room, try to stay away. If you go back in, your child will want you to go back in later, and the next night, and the next night.
If your child gets out of bed, calmly but firmly take them back to bed. Keep doing it. Don’t offer food or conversation or anything that your child might see as a reward. Just take them back to bed.
Use a nightlight if it makes your child more comfortable. But make sure it is dim, so that if they wake in the night they don’t think it’s morning.
When your child sleeps through the night, give them praise or a special reward.
What you should avoid
- Letting your child decide when they are ready for bed.
- Letting your child have a late afternoon nap (unless they are very young). If they’ve missed their daytime nap for some reason, keep them up and awake if possible and just put them to bed half an hour earlier than usual.
- Giving your child food after bedtime.
- Allowing yourself to be distracted by your child’s protests. If the child is not co-operating with the routine, proceed calmly and firmly.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: March 2021