Sleep: what babies and toddlers need
Babies and children need sleep to grow and develop well. Good sleep is also important for their health and immunity.
But babies and toddlers can have trouble settling to sleep by themselves, so they cry. This can happen for many different reasons:
- Some babies or toddlers cry when they’re tired or overtired and can’t settle to sleep.
- Many babies or toddlers cry when they need help to settle back to sleep after waking in the night.
- Many babies or toddlers cry when they’re getting used to a new or different way of going to sleep.
- Sometimes happy, healthy babies or toddlers develop rapidly, which means they find it harder than usual to settle.
Babies and toddlers who are crying while trying to settle also need comfort.
It’s important to respond to your baby’s or toddler’s needs for:
- sleep – for example, by putting a baby to sleep when you see baby’s tired signs
- comfort – for example, by not leaving a crying baby alone for long periods.
Consistently responding to your baby’s or toddler’s needs for both sleep and comfort is an important part of bonding with your baby and helping your child grow up feeling safe, secure and cared for.
Babies cry for many reasons. Before trying to settle your crying baby, it’s a good idea to first check whether your baby is hungry, uncomfortable or sick.
Adult sleep: what you need
You need sleep for your health and wellbeing.
Learning what helps your child to sleep and settle can mean that you get more sleep. And this can make a big difference to your health and wellbeing.
When you’re physically, emotionally and mentally well, your child is more likely to grow, develop and thrive.
Our grown-ups section has a lot of articles on maintaining your wellbeing and coping with stress if the way your child sleeps and settles is making things hard for you.
Working out how to meet your child’s needs and your needs
There are many ways to meet your child’s needs for both sleep and comfort, as well as your own need for rest. You might have to try a few different approaches to sleep, settling and comforting to work out what’s right for you and your child.
It might help to know that all the strategies on this website are thoroughly researched. The evidence says that these strategies are safe. And if you have plenty of warm and loving interactions with your child while they’re awake, these strategies can support your child’s wellbeing and development, and also your relationship with your child.
How can I tell when my child is ready for sleep?
How can I make it more likely my child will settle and sleep?
I’m OK with settling my child to sleep. What might work for me?
I’d like to help my child learn to settle to sleep independently. What might work for me?
- Phasing out sleep habits: baby and child sleep strategy
- Camping out: baby and child sleep strategy
- Controlled comforting: baby and child sleep strategy
- Teaching dummy independence
I’d like to understand or change my child’s bedtime behaviour. What can I do?
- Body-rocking, head-rolling and head-banging at bedtime
- Calling out and getting out of bed
- Dummies: helping your child let go
Getting help with baby or toddler sleep and settling
If your baby’s or toddler’s sleep and settling is causing you concern or stress, it’s a very good idea to get professional help with sleep and settling, especially if you’re not sure what the problem is or how to put a sleep strategy into action.
If your baby or toddler has difficulty settling, it’s a good idea to talk with your GP or child and family health nurse. This can help to rule out any underlying health concerns that might be causing unsettled sleep.