About good sleep for children and teenagers
A good night’s sleep is about getting to sleep, staying asleep and waking up feeling refreshed in the morning.
Getting to sleep
Most children fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed. How long it takes children to get to sleep can depend on how sleepy their bodies are. Also, daytime and bedtime routines can affect when children get to sleep. Bedtime routines help children wind down before bedtime, so they can fall asleep more easily.
Children wake briefly during the night, but they might not be aware of being awake. To stay asleep, children need to be able to fall back to sleep by themselves after these brief waking episodes.
Waking up feeling refreshed
Most children wake up by themselves in the morning if they’re getting enough good-quality sleep.
How to sleep better for children and teenagers: tips
1. Set up a bedtime routine
A regular bedtime routine starting around the same time each night encourages good sleep patterns. A bedtime routine of bath, story and bed can help younger children feel ready for sleep. For older children and teenagers, the routine might include quietly chatting with you, turning off digital technology, having a shower, listening to music or reading, and turning out the light.
2. Relax before bedtime
Encourage your child to relax before bedtime. Older children might like to wind down by reading a book, listening to gentle music or practising breathing for relaxation. If your child takes longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep, your child might need a longer wind-down time before turning out the lights to go to sleep.
3. Keep regular sleep and wake times
Keep your child’s bedtimes and wake-up times within 1-2 hours of each other each day. This helps to keep your child’s internal body clock in a regular pattern. It’s good to do this on weekends and during holidays, as well as on school days.
4. Keep older children’s naps early and short
Most children stop napping at 3-5 years of age. If your child is having bedtime struggles at night, try to keep the nap to no longer than 20 minutes and no later than early afternoon. Longer and later naps can make it harder for children to get to sleep at night.
5. Make sure your child feels safe at night
If your child feels scared about going to bed or being in the dark, you can praise and reward your child whenever they’re brave. Avoiding scary TV shows, movies and computer games can help too. Some children with bedtime fears feel better when they have a night light.
6. Check noise and light in your child’s bedroom
Check whether your child’s bedroom is too light or noisy for sleep. Blue light from televisions, computer screens, phones and tablets suppresses melatonin levels and delays sleepiness. Bright light in the hour before bedtime can have the same effect on young children.
Try these tips:
- Turn off devices at least one hour before bedtime.
- Keep digital technology out of your child’s room at night.
- Dim the lights an hour before bed for children of preschool age and younger.
If your child uses a night-light, choose a dim, warm-coloured globe, rather than a bright, white, cool-coloured globe.
7. Avoid the clock
If your child is checking the time often, encourage your child to move the clock or watch to a spot where they can’t see it from bed.
8. Eat the right amount at the right time
Make sure your child has a satisfying evening meal at a reasonable time. Feeling hungry or too full before bed can make your child more alert or uncomfortable. This can make it harder for your child to get to sleep. In the morning, a healthy breakfast helps to kick-start your child’s body clock at the right time.
9. Get plenty of natural light in the day
Encourage your child to get as much natural light as possible during the day, especially in the morning. Bright light suppresses melatonin. This helps your child feel awake and alert during the day and sleepy towards bedtime.
10. Avoid caffeine
Caffeine is in energy drinks, coffee, tea, chocolate and cola. Encourage your child to avoid these things in the late afternoon and evening, and don’t offer them at these times.
It’s always a good idea to praise your child when you notice your child is trying to make changes to sleep patterns or is trying out a new routine.
When worries affect sleep
If there’s a quick and easy answer to your child’s problem, you can deal with it straight away. For example, ‘Yes, you can have Emma over to play on the weekend even though Grandma is staying with us’.
But if the problem needs more time, it’s probably best to acknowledge your child’s feelings and gently plan to sort things out in the morning. For example, ‘I understand that you’re worried about whether you can swim 50 metres at the swimming carnival next week. Let’s talk about it in the morning and work out what to do’.
Breathing exercises or muscle relaxation techniques can help older children focus on their physical body and calm their thoughts.