Need to talk? Call 1800 882 436.
It's a free call with a maternal child health nurse. *call charges may apply from your mobile

Is it an emergency? Dial 000
If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately.

beginning of content

Sleep problems in children

5-minute read

What are sleep problems in children?

Children need enough sleep to grow and develop properly. Good sleep habits mean they will be able to fall asleep and stay asleep.

All children occasionally have problems falling asleep or staying asleep. Often you can fix this by ensuring they have a good bedtime routine and sleep environment, with healthy eating, or ensuring they do enough physical activity. You might need to adjust your expectation of what is normal for your child.

However, sometimes children develop sleep problems. These may need special attention and sometimes treatment by a healthcare professional.

The common sleep problems children may experience are:

  • insomnia
  • sleepwalking
  • night terrors
  • sleep apnoea
  • hypersomnia
  • teeth grinding


Most children go to sleep within 20 minutes of being quiet in bed.

But some children regularly have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or not going back to sleep if they wake. If it is a regular problem, they may have insomnia.

Insomnia in children is not usually a serious problem. However, it can cause difficulties for the child if they are tired and irritable the next day. For parents, insomnia can cause problems if their child is getting up a lot at night.

Tips for dealing with insomnia

Usually, insomnia can be addressed by following an improved sleep routine for 2 weeks.

A good sleep routine includes regular sleep and wake times and encouraging your child to relax before bed with a bath and a story. Avoid daytime naps for older children.

Make sure your child feels safe at night and check there is not too much noise or light in their room (though they should get plenty of natural light during the day). Avoid any drinks containing caffeine.

Occasionally, insomnia can be a symptom of depression, an anxiety disorder or hyperactivity. If your child has insomnia a lot, see your child’s doctor.


Sleepwalking is fairly common in children aged 2 years to the early teens. There is no obvious cause of sleepwalking but it can run in families.

Sleepwalking can be more likely if your child is overtired, has a high temperature or is feeling stressed or anxious.

Some children have only mild episodes and may only sit up in bed, whereas some get out of bed, walk up and down stairs or even try to leave the house. Other children may try to eat, drink or use the toilet while asleep.

A sleepwalker usually:

  • has a blank, staring expression
  • is very difficult to wake up
  • does not seem to hear or notice anyone
  • can’t remember the episode the next day
  • may be confused when they first wake up

Read more about sleepwalking in children.

Night terrors

Children with night terrors usually wake within the first few hours of going to sleep and scream or call out. The terror may last for several minutes, or sometimes up to half an hour or more. Usually the child’s eyes are wide open, but are staring and not focused. Night terrors can frighten parents, but they are harmless for the child and are a normal part of sleep.

If your child has night terrors:

  • don’t wake them during the terror
  • be calm and stay with your child, and wait for it to pass (don’t try to wake them)

Night terrors can make children anxious about going to bed and might make sleep problems worse. If you are worried, talk to your doctor as counselling or sometimes medications can help.

Read more about nightmares and night terrors.

Sleep apnoea

A child with sleep apnoea usually snores and stops breathing for a few seconds when sleeping. This signals the brain to wake them up. The sequence of not breathing followed by briefly waking up may happen many times during the night. While children seldom remember waking up, they may be tired or cranky during the daytime. A common cause of sleep apnoea in children is enlarged tonsils or adenoids (lymph nodes located in the throat behind the nose).

If you think that your child has sleep apnoea, talk with your child's doctor.


Hypersomnia is a condition in which your child sleeps far more than is normal for their age. A child who has hypersomnia is always tired, even after a good night’s sleep. A young child with hypersomnia may often be whiny and irritable. Other symptoms are lack of concentration and poor memory.

If you think your child has hypersomnia, set a clear routine of bedtime and nap times for several days. If things don’t change, see your child’s doctor.

Teeth grinding

Some children grind or clench their teeth while asleep. The medical term is ‘bruxism’. Children who do this may also grind or clench their teeth when angry, upset or anxious.

It’s not a problem it happens once in a while, but repeated grinding or clenching of the teeth can damage the teeth or the jaw.

If you child grinds or clenches their teeth during sleep, try reducing their stress. Plan a quiet time of at least half an hour before bedtime no matter how old the child is.

If the grinding happens often or is violent, talk with your child’s doctor and dentist. Special tooth guards may need to be used for naps and night-time sleep.

Read more about teeth grinding.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2021

Back To Top

Need more information?

Sleepwalking in children

Sleepwalking can be a fairly common sleep disorder in young children. Find out more about sleepwalking.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Sleep and your child

Common sleep disorders include nightmares and night terrors and sleepwalking. Bedwetting in children can also be a problem in early childhood.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Sleep Problems and Sleep Disorders in School Aged Children

Sleep problems in school age children There are a number of common sleep problems and sleep disorders that are known to affect children.  These include: You find it hard to get your child to settle into sleep at a reasonable time in the evening or your child wakes you more than once at night. Your child mig

Read more on Sleep Health Foundation website

Sleep & children 3-5 years: what to expect | Raising Children Network

Preschoolers need 10-13 hours of sleep a night. Some still nap during the day. If preschoolers are having sleep problems, a bedtime routine can often help.

Read more on website

Preschoolers sleep | Raising Children Network

Preschooler sleep problems? Here’s all you need on preschooler sleep with articles, videos and resources on sleep, nightmares, sleepwalking and more.

Read more on website

Preschoolers: nightmares, night terrors & sleepwalking | Raising Children Network

Nightmares, night terrors and sleepwalking are fairly common among preschoolers. Get information and find out what to do about these issues.

Read more on website

Insomnia in children and teenagers | Raising Children Network

Insomnia is when children have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep. If insomnia doesn’t go away and is affecting your child’s wellbeing, see your GP.

Read more on website

Bad dreams and nightmares in children | Raising Children Network

Many children have nightmares. Comfort your child in the night. And if your child has a lot of nightmares, look into the daytime triggers of the nightmares.

Read more on website

Sleepwalking: children and teens | Raising Children Network

Sleepwalking is when your child gets out of bed and walks around as if awake. Sleepwalking doesn’t hurt your child. Most children grow out of sleepwalking.

Read more on website

Night terrors in children | Raising Children Network

Night terrors can be scary to see, but they don’t hurt children. Don’t wake your child during a night terror. Let it finish, then help your child settle.

Read more on website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.