About preschooler sleep
Children aged 3-5 years need 10-13 hours of sleep a night. Some might also have a day nap of about an hour.
Sometimes preschoolers can take a while to settle and get to sleep. This is because they’re busy thinking about the day even after they go to bed.
Sleep is important for your preschooler’s health, growth and development. When children get enough good-quality sleep, they’re more settled and happy during the day. Getting enough sleep also strengthens your child’s immune system and reduces the risk of infection and illness.
A positive bedtime routine can help preschoolers feel ready for sleep, especially if you follow the routine consistently, both during the week and on weekends.
A bedtime routine for preschoolers might look something like this:
- 7 pm: brush teeth and go to toilet or put on night nappy if needed.
- 7.15 pm: quiet time – read a book, tell a story, sing a song and have a cuddle.
- 7.30 pm: get into bed and say goodnight.
Most preschoolers are ready for bed around 7.30 pm, especially if they’ve had a big day at preschool. You might want to establish a 2-3 book rule for bedtime, with the promise to read more during the day.
If your child takes a dummy to bed, you might consider encouraging your child to let go of the dummy around this time.
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 as well as watching TV and using computers, phones or tablets close to bedtime. These activities can make it harder for your child to settle.
- Establish a consistent, calming bedtime routine.
- Make sure your child’s room is quiet, dimly lit and neither too hot nor too cold.
- Before leaving the room, check that your child has everything they need for sleep, like a favourite cuddly toy or blanket. Remind your child to stay quietly in bed.
- If you want to establish a routine that doesn’t involve going in each time your child calls out, try to be consistent and respond only if you think they really need something.
- If your child gets out of bed, calmly ask them to go back to bed. Say that you’re just in the other room. Repeat this firmly and quietly until your child doesn’t get up again.
Sometimes your child might actually need something. For example, if there’s a spider on the wall, calmly remove the spider. If your child is scared of the dark, think about using a night-light. Your child might settle after you’ve taken care of what they need.
If your child is having sleep problems, it’s often best to deal with them using positive behaviour strategies like bedtime routines. Sleep medications aren’t usually the solution to children’s sleep problems.
Night terrors and nightmares
Night terrors and nightmares are quite common among preschoolers. Night terrors and nightmares happen at different times of the night, and they need to be managed differently.
Your child might be having a night terror if they get very distressed during the night but won’t respond to comforting or soothing. Stay calm and avoid waking or touching your child unless they’re at risk of hurting themselves. Night terrors can be distressing to watch, but they don’t harm your child, and your child won’t remember them in the morning.
If you’re worried about your child’s health or wellbeing or the night terrors seem prolonged or violent, see your GP.
If your child wakes up after a nightmare, explain that it was a bad dream. Let your child know that everything is OK and they’re safe. A kiss and a cuddle might help your child settle again. You could also think about things that are happening during the day – like watching a scary TV show – that might be causing the nightmares.
It can be a good idea to seek professional advice if your child is having recurrent or frequent nightmares and is also having a lot of anxiety during the day. Also seek help if your child has been through a traumatic event and is having nightmares about it.
Even if your child uses the toilet or potty during the day, they might still wet the bed at night.
Using a night-light and putting 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 they need it. You can also get night-time nappies or pull-ups for older children.
Most children grow out of night-time wetting by themselves. But if you’re concerned about your child’s night-time wetting, talk to your GP.
Sleep and autistic children
Autistic children can have particular sleep and settling problems, including:
- sleeping and waking at irregular times
- getting up and doing their favourite activity or making noise for one or more hours during the night.
You can manage many sleep problems in autistic children by using positive behaviour strategies and encouraging daytime and bedtime habits that promote sleep.