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Our body clock controls our sleep, keeping us awake during the day and making us sleepy at night. Sleep is important for all, but especially for children, who grow so fast. When a child is rested they are less likely to get upset easily.

Most children start sleeping better from the age of 12 months. Some toddlers resist going to bed, preferring to stay up with parents. This improves with age. You can trial different methods, such as being in the room but not interacting with your child while they fall asleep. You can gradually move further away until your baby can fall asleep by itself. You will need to work out what is best for you and baby. Consistency is the key. Forming good sleep habits early in life can help you maintain routines with your children as they grow.

How much sleep?

Toddlers and pre-schoolers need 11-14 hours of sleep each day. Most sleep should be at night but often they need a nap during the day. Keep daytime naps to 1-2 hours to avoid delaying evening bedtimes. Most children stop napping between 3 to 5 years.

Be alert for signs of tiredness, such as being clingy, crying, demanding constant attention, bored with usual toys and fussier with food. When you see these signs, it's time to put away toys, dim the light, play soft music or talk quietly and softly. The amount of quiet time needed may vary, but most children will fall asleep within 20 minutes.

Tips for promoting good sleep

  • Create an evening routine such as bathing, cleaning teeth, and bedtime story
  • Set meal times so your child isn’t going to bed either hungry or too full
  • Physical activity and play during the day will help your child use up energy and fall asleep quicker
  • Outside play with exposure to the sun will help their body clock regulate sleep
  • Create a quiet time to help children wind down before bedtime, allowing the transition from playtime to sleep time
  • Make sure the bedroom is a safe and comfortable place
  • The bedroom should be quiet and dark, but some children like a night light or leaving the door open can help your child feel safe
  • Aim for consistent sleep and wake times

If your child calls out or gets out of bed, this can be treated with behaviour strategies. Such a behaviour might be an attempt to keep you around. If they get up, return them to bed immediately and avoid talking or eye contact.  It may take a while but they will soon learn that this won’t work.

If you hare having parenting challenges, including sleeping, there are services offering support . See the links below for more information on services near you.

[Source: Royal Children’s Hospital Victoria; Pregnancy Birth and Baby; Raising Children Network]