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Parents

15 min read

getting your child into a healthy sleep routine

written by Liz Tabron

updated 08.02.2024

Child sleeping peacefully in bed

Helping your little one get into healthy sleep patterns can seem like an ongoing battle. From middle of the night wakeups and hopping into your bed, to waking up before the birds, the exhaustion is real. Whilst it can be frustrating, there are plenty of tips and tricks to help a child struggling to sleep. Whether they’re having bad dreams, fighting bedtime, or can’t sleep unless you’re with them, you can form healthy habits and invest in budget-friendly things to help your child sleep. Before you know it, you’ll all be enjoying seamless slumber.

Before we get into it though, let’s see how many hours your child should be sleeping over a 24-hour period.

how much sleep do children need?

  • Toddlers of 1–2 years need between 11 and 14 hours over a 24-hour period, including daytime naps. 

  • Preschoolers of 3–5 years need between 10 and 13 hours over a 24-hour period, including daytime naps (if they still have one) 

  • School-age children of 6–13 years need between 9 and 12 hours. 

  • Teens of 14–17 years need between 8 to 10 hours per night.

When considering your child’s routine, think about the time you want them to wake up and work backwards. Depending on your child’s age, you may have already established the rough number of hours they sleep each night based on their typical bedtime and the time they naturally wake.

To get your child into a routine that works for you, work backwards from the time you’d like them to start waking in the morning to figure out what time you should get them to bed.

how to help children sleep: getting through the roadblocks

So, you’ve decided what time they should go to bed, now for implementing the routine. This part isn’t always easy but trust us when we say, consistency is key here.

Getting into a new sleep pattern and forming healthy sleep habits takes time. It’s hard enough for adults to switch up their routine, never mind children. So be patient here, dig deep, and stick to your guns.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to settling into your new routine.

how to get your child to sleep

Setting a bedtime routine from an early age helps to ensure your child develops long-term healthy sleep patterns. Even if you haven’t mastered this in the very early years, it’s never too late to start. Whether your child is 6 months or 6 years old, the top tips below can help you get your child to sleep every night.

  1. Bathtime: A nice warm bath with child-friendly bubbles - even better if the ingredients are proven to encourage sleep. You might want to only bathe your child every other night, that’s fine, just keep everything else the same. In winter, you might also want to invest in a cosy electric blanket for their bed. Pop it on around 30-minutes before they get in bed. Children tend to feel the heat more than grown-ups so start with a lower heat setting and see how they like it. We’d recommend turning it off once they’re in bed. There’ll be residual heat that will cool down as they drift off but leaving it on all night will likely be too warm for them.

  2. Pyjamas on and cuddles/chat about their day. Let them tell you what they liked about their day and what wasn’t so great, offloading these thoughts and feelings before bed may help prevent bad dreams or reduce anxieties your child may have.

  3. Bedtime story: There are numerous studies that suggest a bedtime story helps with children’s sleep. The bedtime story is the signal to your little one that it’s time to prepare for sleep and can help to calm and relax them, especially when told by someone they love.

  4. After the bedtime story you might want to sing a lullaby or put on calming bedtime songs for children. Alternatively, a white noise machine can cancel out external noise such as traffic or heating systems if needed. Some children prefer the quiet, you know your child best though.

However, and this part is vital…

Before you even start the bedtime routine, give your little one a 15-, 10-, and 5-minute countdown and set their expectations before you ask them to drop what they’re doing to start the bedtime routine. Even as a grown up, you wouldn’t like it suddenly sprung on you that it’s time to stop what you’re doing and go to bed. Children need time to adjust their minds from what they’re currently doing to what’s happening next. This will greatly help you implement your bedtime routine without too much fuss.

how to get your child to sleep in their own bed

If, like many millions of other parents, you’ve got into the habit of letting your little one snuggle up beside you, this can be a hard habit to break. It can feel so much easier to just let them in so you all get some shut eye, but as they get older and bigger, you might feel like you’re sleeping on a postage stamp.

As little limbs become longer (and stronger!) and space becomes less and less, sharing a bed with your child isn’t an option anymore. So how do we break the habit? Follow the below tips and remember, be consistent:

  1. Create a comfortable sleep environment: Make sure your child's bedroom is designed to promote sleep. This means providing a comfortable children’s mattress and bedding, maintaining a cool and dark environment, and minimising distractions such as electronics.

  2. Try to avoid using a child’s bedroom as punishment such as threatening bedtime if they misbehave. This only serves to reinforce their bedroom as a place they go when something negative happens. Your child should love their bedroom and enjoy spending time in there playing, reading, and sleeping.

  3. Make it a gradual transition: If your child is used to sleeping in your bed, an immediate switch can be challenging. Start by allowing them to fall asleep in your bed, then gently move them to their own bed once they’re asleep. Over time, gradually increase the amount of time they spend in their own bed until they’re sleeping through the night.

  4. Positive reinforcement: Encourage and praise your child for sleeping in their own bed. Use small rewards or a sticker chart to make the experience more rewarding. Positive reinforcement can help motivate them to stay in their own bed and reinforce the desired behaviour.

  5. Address any fears or anxieties: Sometimes children resist sleeping in their own bed due to fears or anxieties. Simply talking to your child about their worries and facing them together can help them see there’s nothing to be afraid of. A calming nightlight is a must-have accessory in any child’s bedroom, if you think about it, even adults get scared of the dark, so make sure your child’s bedroom isn’t too dark. Alternatively, leave the hallway light on to provide them with a little light.

  6. Check on them: Once your child is settled in bed, tell them you’ll come and check on them at incremental stages such as in two minutes, then in 3 minutes, then 5. Telling them you’ll come back to check on them and then actually following through with this gives your child a sense of security and trust that you’re there for them and will come back, even if they can’t see you. Try not to engage in conversation each time you check on them but let them know how many minutes until you’ll be back. If they’re still awake at the 5-minute check in, extend this to 10 minutes and after that, tell them you’ll come back later and it’s now time to go to sleep.

how to get your child to sleep through the night

Getting your little one to sleep through the night can be tricky as there are several factors that could be contributing to nighttime wakeups. Here are some of the most common reasons children wake through the night:

  • Room temperature: Try to keep a consistent temperature. 18 degrees centigrade/65 degrees Fahrenheit is the best temperature for sleep but in the winter and summer months this can be hard to maintain. Make sure your little one has the right duvet for the season.

  • Noise pollution: Noise such as road traffic or boilers installed in bedrooms can disturb children’s sleep and even scare them, consider investing in a white noise machine, having window seals checked or getting your boiler boxed in or serviced to reduce potential sources of noise.

  • Allergies: Allergies can cause nighttime awakenings due to symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, itchiness or nasal congestion. Anti-allergy bedding and hypoallergenic children’s mattresses are a must if your little one is prone to allergies. If your child suffers from nighttime coughing but doesn’t cough during the day, this could be a symptom of childhood asthma which is the enemy of sleep and can result in constant nighttime wakings. If you have concerns, make sure you raise them with your child’s GP.

  • Bad dreams: We all have them, even as adults, and they can be really upsetting. As grown-ups we know it’s just a dream but for children a nightmare can feel very real, even when they’ve awoken. Be patient with your child if they suffer with night terrors, they need you to be their safe haven when they’re afraid. A cuddle and some reassurance before tucking them back in should help.

  • Discomfort: Is your child sleeping in the right sized bed? If they’ve outgrown their cot or toddler bed, it might be time to invest in a lovely new single bed for them. This will make them feel very grown up. Get them excited for the arrival of their new bed and they’ll be encouraged to sleep in it.

  • In younger years, sleep regressions and teething pain are an unavoidable cause of nighttime wakings. Sometimes you simply have to ride the storm when it comes to babies and toddlers, you’re in the thick of it at that stage but it’ll soon pass.

why does my child fight bedtime?

It’s the end of a long day, you’re tired, everyone’s had a busy day, surely they’re tired too, right? So why do children fight sleep?

There are several reasons children fight sleep and when you understand those reasons you can better empathise with your little one. The worst thing you can do is shout at them, all this does is increase their - and your - cortisol (the stress hormone) levels, making it even harder to nod off. Here are some of the most common reasons children fight sleep:

  1. Going to Bed Too Early: If your 4-year-old has been going to bed at 6pm since they were tiny but it’s now taking them a lot longer to fall asleep, it might simply be that they need a slightly later bedtime. When you consider that a 4-year-old needs as little as 10 hours of sleep, you could be setting yourself up for a very early wakeup call if you put them to bed too early. Remember to change the time your child goes to bed as they get older, even if you do miss that extra hour of child-free relaxation, it’ll make bedtime less of a battle.

  2. Going to Bed Too Late: If a child is overtired, they simply won’t fall asleep. Using the recommended sleep hours above, work out the optimal time for your little one to go to bed. If you’re having to force them to wake up in the morning so they get to school on time, they might be going to bed too late.

  3. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO): Children may resist sleep because they don't want to miss out on any fun activities or exciting moments happening around them.

  4. Separation Anxiety: Some children may feel anxious when separated from their parents or caregivers, making them resist sleep as they want to stay close to them.

  5. Overstimulation: If children are exposed to too much stimulation before bedtime, such as engaging in exciting activities or playing with stimulating toys, it can make it difficult for them to calm down and fall asleep. Try to ensure tablets or mobile phones are away at least an hour before bed – blue light can have a big impact on sleep. Jigsaw puzzles can be a great wind down before you start the bedtime routine (in fact, this is true for both adults and children!)

  6. Developmental Milestones: Children who are going through developmental milestones, such as learning to crawl, walk, or talk, may resist sleep as they are excited about their newfound skills and want to practice them.

  7. Lack of Routine or Consistency: If children don't have a consistent bedtime routine or sleep schedule, they may resist sleep as they may not understand or anticipate when it is time to sleep.

We hope these tips have given you some inspiration to getting into a healthy routine that the whole family will benefit from. Remember, consistency is key. Helping your child get used to a new routine won’t be an overnight success, but if you stick with it, it’ll greatly improve both yours and your little one’s lives.

Good luck!

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