Getting your child into a sleep routine

Lead Nurse in Paediatrics at Bupa Cromwell Hospital
01 November 2016

By the time your child reaches the age of five, they should be getting a good night’s sleep. Every child is different, but most children between three and five years need 11 to 12 hours sleep each night.

If your four–year-old suddenly won’t go to bed, there’s no need to panic. This is normal behaviour for their age. It can be upsetting though, especially if it makes them irritable and affects their behaviour during the day. So how can you help them get back into a good sleep routine?

An image showing a sleeping child

Assess the problem

Keep a diary to check your child’s sleeping patterns for up to two weeks. Record what they do each day and when, such as when they eat, watch TV, play, have quiet time, go to bed and daytime nap. Make a note of when they wake up in the morning. Are they awake or asleep when you put them to bed? See if there are any bad habits, such as napping too much in the day. Then you may be able to work out what you can change. Also think about what happens when they refuse to go to sleep. Do they get extra cuddles? Do they watch more TV? Do you give them something to eat or drink?

Most children who can’t get themselves to sleep don’t have any underlying health problems. They just need encouragement to get into a better sleep routine. But it’s important to check that your child isn’t ill or worrying about something like nursery. Some children are afraid of the dark or have nightmares occasionally.

Get into a routine

There’s no right or wrong way to get your child to fall asleep – or sleep through the night. What works for one child may not work for another. But a regular half-an-hour routine in the evening will help your child wind down before going to bed. Healthy sleep habits are often called ‘sleep hygiene’.

A bedtime routine should start with quiet time – for example, having a bath, brushing their teeth, getting into their pajamas and then a short story. By the time you leave their bedroom, your child should feel sleepy enough to drop off on their own.

Here are some tips to encourage healthy sleep habits:

  • Choose a regular bedtime and wake-up time, even on a weekend.
  • Keep their bedroom quiet in the evenings.
  • Stick to the same activities in the same order before you turn the lights off.
  • If your child won’t go to sleep, don’t take them into your bed. This will reward them for being awake.
  • Limit the use of technology, such as tablets, smartphones and computers, in the evenings.
  • Make sure your child gets some exercise during the day, so they’re sleepy by the time they go to bed.

Seek help

Your GP or health visitor can offer advice and help if you’re struggling. They may refer your child to a paediatrician for a specialist opinion. This will help to find out exactly what the problem is and how it can be best resolved if a regular bedtime routine hasn’t helped.

Dieter Aretz
Lead Nurse in Paediatrics at Bupa Cromwell Hospital

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