By Centre for Community Child Health, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne
spacer spacer PInterest spacer
spacer Print spacer Email
Baby not sleeping in cot
Children’s sleep habits and behaviours vary widely. It can be hard to tell whether your child’s sleep patterns are ‘normal’. Here’s some information to help you work out whether your child has a sleep problem.

How parents see sleep problems

Sleep problems in infants are common. By six months, many babies have the ability to go through the night without a feed and to re-settle themselves after night waking. But night waking still occurs in 36-45% of infants aged six months to one year to a degree that is considered problematic by parents.

Sleep problems are one of the most common reasons for parents consulting child health professionals. This is understandable, given the impact of sleep deprivation on parents. Some of the problems experienced by parents from lack of sleep include:

  • having trouble remembering things – being very tired can make it hard to think straight, and you might have trouble concentrating
  • lack of patience – it’s hard to stay calm and in control when you’re overtired 
  • getting run down – when you’re very tired, you might get sick more often
  • depression and anxiety – being tired all the time can make some people feel very depressed, or anxious, helpless, angry, teary and alone.

How professionals see sleep problems

Researchers and professionals who work with parents and children have come to think of sleeping problems as any difficulties related to sleeping.

These difficulties include:

  • difficulty falling or staying asleep 
  • falling asleep at inappropriate times 
  • excessive total sleep time 
  • abnormal behaviours associated with sleep.

For young children, the most common sleep problems are night waking and difficulties settling to sleep.

Severe night waking has been defined as waking that occurs five or more times a week over the course of three months. It also includes one of the following:

  • waking three or more times a night 
  • staying awake for more than 20 minutes after waking
  • going in to the parent’s or carer’s bed (when the parent does not wish it).

A settling problem is defined as taking more than 20 minutes to settle on five or more nights a week over at least two months.

All experts agree on the following. Regardless of whether your child meets a clinical definition for a sleep problem, if you’re concerned about your child’s sleep for any reason, you should discuss your concerns with a professional.
  • Content supplied by Centre for Community Child Health
  • Last updated or reviewed 19-05-2014
  • Acknowledgements This article was adapted from Settling and Sleeping, Research Based Professional Resource. Centre for Community Child Health, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne.