By Raising Children Network
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Your preschooler’s rapidly expanding imagination can sometimes get in the way of a good night’s sleep. By listening to your child’s fears and helping overcome them, you can keep the bedtime monsters away.
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Children aged 3-5 years need around 11-13 hours of sleep a night. Some might also have a day nap of about an hour.

Sleep is important for your preschooler’s health, growth and development. When children sleep well, they’re more settled and happy during the day. Getting the right amount of sleep also strengthens your child’s immune system and reduces the risk of infection and illness.

Pills, potions and tonics aren’t usually the answer to solving children’s sleeping problems. If your child is having sleep difficulties, there are better ways to deal with them.

Night terrors and nightmares

As your preschooler’s imagination takes flight, your child might start having nightmares or night terrors. Night terrors tend to happen in the first few hours of sleep when your child is sleeping deeply. Nightmares usually happen between midnight and 4 am.

Here are some tips for dealing with nightmares:

  • Explain that it was a bad dream and reassure your child. A kiss and a cuddle might help your child settle again. If children want to come into your bed, that’s fine. Once they’re comforted, you might want to return them to their own beds. This will stop your child getting into the habit of sleeping with you.
  • If your child has dreamed about monsters, you could try explaining that monsters are only make-believe and can’t really hurt children.
  • If you notice a recurring nightmare, explore what could be causing it. Gently ask your child about encounters with other children, television shows or other daytime experiences. If you find the culprit, you can try to reduce your child’s exposure to it.

Bedtime routine

Some children fall deeply asleep very quickly. Others sleep lightly, fidgeting and muttering for up to 20 minutes, before getting into deep sleep. As your preschooler becomes more aware of the world, sleep might be a bit slower to come.

A positive bedtime routine can help, especially if you follow the routine consistently, both during the week and on weekends. 

A bedtime routine might look something like this:

  • 6.30 pm: brush teeth, go to toilet, night nappy if needed.
  • 6.45 pm: quiet time (read a book, tell a story, sing a song, have a cuddle).
  • 7 pm: into bed and kiss goodnight.
Most preschoolers are ready for bed around 7 pm, especially if they’ve had a big day at preschool. But some can demand more and more bedtime stories as a delaying tactic. You might want to establish a two or three book rule for bedtime, with the promise to read more during the day.
If your child takes a dummy to bed, you might consider losing it (literally) at around three years, if you think your child is ready. Read about how you can help her let go of the dummy.

Night-time pull-ups

Even if your child uses the toilet or potty during the day, it’s not time to throw away the nappies just yet. Often, children are 3-4 years of age before they’re dry at night. Some children don’t have dry nights until six or seven.

Putting a night-light on and a potty in your child’s room might prompt your child to wee there during the night. Let your child know that you’ll help if he needs it. If not, there’s no worry – most children grow out of night wetting all by themselves.

Getting up after bedtime

Your preschooler might go through a stage of calling out from bed or getting up after you’ve said goodnight. Try these tips:

  • Avoid boisterous play and watching TV before bedtime. These activities can make it harder for her to settle.
  • Establish a consistent, calming bedtime routine.
  • Make sure your child’s room is cool, quiet and dark.
  • Before leaving the room, check that your child has everything she needs for sleep, such as her favourite cuddly toy or blanket. Remind her to stay quietly in bed.
  • Try not to respond to your child’s calls after you’ve turned the light out. If you respond, she might try the same thing again next bedtime.
  • If your child gets out of bed, calmly ask her to go back to bed. Say that you’re just in the other room. Repeat this firmly and quietly over and over until your child doesn’t get up again.
  • Read more about how to deal with calling out and getting out of bed.

Sometimes your child might actually need something. If your child is scared of a monster under the bed, a quick check by you (with the light off) can confirm the room is monster-free. Your preschooler might then settle. If your child is scared of the dark, think about using a night-light.

In children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), problems with sleep and settling can be more severe than in other children. For information and help, read our articles on dealing with sleep difficulties in children with ASD and promoting good sleep habits in children with ASD.
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  • Newsletter snippet: Preschooler sleep: in a nutshell

    By Raising Children Network

    Your preschooler needs around 11-13 hours of sleep a night, with perhaps an hour’s nap during the day. Sleeping well is important for children’s health, growth and development.

    Your preschooler’s imagination is developing and your child might start having nightmares. Children need your reassurance and help to learn that monsters are make-believe.

    A regular bedtime routine can help improve sleeping patterns:

    • 6.30 pm: prepare for bed.
    • 6.45 pm: read a book or tell a story.
    • 7 pm: kiss goodnight.

    Tips for sleeping through

    • Avoid boisterous play before bedtime.
    • Make sure your child has everything needed, and that the bedroom is quiet and dark.
    • Try not to respond to your child's calls after lights out.
    • Remind your child that you are just next door.
    • Use a night light if your preschooler is scared of the dark.

    This article is an extract only. For more information, visit raisingchildren.net.au/sleep/preschoolers_sleep.html.

    Sourced from the Raising Children Network's comprehensive and quality-assured Australian parenting website, www.raisingchildren.net.au.


 
 
 
  • Last Updated 14-12-2011
  • Last Reviewed 25-04-2013