Sleep information in this section has been developed for use with primary school age children. By this age children may have developed good sleep patterns, however life events can make sleep difficult to achieve.
The right sleep environment will help your child relax and fall asleep and back to sleep. Below is a checklist for the things to consider.
- A dark enough room. Use blackout blinds to reduce the amount of light in the room.
- For children afraid of the dark, use a small red-based night light.
- Keep the room calm and tidy. A child needs to associate their bedroom with sleep and bedtime. Avoid distractions in the room like lots of toys, too many posters on the walls.
- Avoid screens (phones, tablets, TVs) in the room.
- Have a teddy or soft toy.
- A comfortable bed with appropriate bedding to ensure your child is neither too hot or cold.
- Consider noise. Are there any distracting sounds in the room?
- Put a family photo in the room so they know you’re not far away.
Getting the timings right and bedtime routine
The right bedtime routine will act as a clear signal to the brain that it’s time to sleep, and an appropriate bed time will ensure your child is sleepy enough to fall asleep and stay asleep. Below is a suggested routine and sleep duration recommendations.
Example bedtime routine:
- 1 hour before bedtime dim lights and turn down the noise
- close curtains and engage in calming activities
- bedtime snack and drink ideally not sugary or sweet
- bath and pyjamas
- read a story together in child’s bedroom (be clear how many stories you will read or for how long story time will last)
- child into bed, lights out
If your child struggles to accept bedtime, you can use visual prompts like a bedtime routine story.
Recommended sleep durations, including naps:
- 1 to 2 years, 11 to 14 hours
- 3 to 5 years, 10 to 13 hours
Rewards help to motivate and encourage a positive behaviour and can be used alongside sleep strategies. It is really important to try sleep strategies for up to 4 nights at least. It takes this amount of time for a child to adjust.
- Think of a reward that will motivate your child. This could be stickers, small prize, lucky dip bag or an activity.
- Young children often need an instant reward and aren’t capable of waiting to fill a chart. Make sure you choose something age appropriate.
- Explain to your child what the reward is for.
- If they managed to fulfil the expectation, they get the reward and lots of praise.
- If they didn’t manage to get the reward, acknowledge the tricky night, that they don’t get a reward, and carry on with your day.
- Once a reward is given it should not be taken away. Your child has earnt it.
- Don’t give rewards for unwanted behaviour or for only partially meeting the set expectation. You will teach your child that they may do whatever they please.
- You may need to change the rewards if they stop working.
Sleep strategies: If your child is reliant on you being there when they fall asleep
If your child is reliant on your presence to fall asleep, they will look for this throughout the night. You can move away, in stages, over several nights, so they become less dependent on your presence over time.
- After the bedtime routine, turn out the lights and sit next to your child whilst they settle to sleep.
- You are a comforting presence but do not get actively involved. Possibly keep your head down and hands in your lap.
- Whenever your child wakes in the night sit in the same position until your child is asleep.
- Over several nights move further away from your child until you are out of the room and can come away completely.
- Keep moving in one direction: once you have moved away don’t move back. Make sure they are settled with you in each position before you move on.
Sleep strategies: Reassuring young children when they wake
This involves leaving your child at sleep times and coming back at timed intervals to reassure. If your child is in a bed, make sure the room is safe and a visible boundary like a stair gate can be better than closing the door.
- Say goodnight and come out of the room.
- If your child cries wait for 2 minutes before going back to briefly reassure.
- Avoid too much interaction.
- Increase the time by a minute and repeat. Increase up to 15 minutes. Repeat until they go to sleep.
- Respond the same way whenever they wake in the night.
This is slightly different and involves leaving your child at sleep time and putting them back to bed when they try to get out.
- Consider use of an alarm system, for example wind chimes, ball with bell, tin containing cutlery or box with noisy toys at the door. So the parent can hear the child coming out of their room.
- If the child gets out of bed and cries or calls out: leave for 5 minutes.
- Then go to the child, take back to bed and say good night and leave. Do not engage with the child in any way.
- Keep repeating after every 10 minutes.
- Return the child immediately to their bed, every time the child leaves their room.