Tips For Helping Children Get To Sleep

Baby sleeping on Mother's Shoulder

How much sleep a child is getting can be a real cause for concern for parents.  Sleep is so important for healthy development in babies and children and it would be a dream if things went smoothly in this department.  As an adult I really value my sleep, but sometimes children don’t feel the same way and there could be any number of reasons for this.

My first baby slept beautifully.  It was like he read the textbook on ‘how should babies behave’ before he arrived.  I have a distinct memory from the hospital when he was born, where I had fed and changed him, and popped him in the crib to go and wash my hands.  I was looking forward to sitting back down and having a cuddle with him, but by the time I got back he was fast asleep.  It very much set the scene for things to come.

Baby sleeping on Mother's Shoulder

The girls have both had some issues with their sleep routines, and it’s taken a calm attitude and consistent approach to get them into good habits.  Some babies and children struggle with falling asleep, and the whole concept of losing consciousness can feel quite strange to them.  At some point in your child’s life you might be faced with some challenges around getting them to bed, but having a good strategy will benefit both you and your child when it comes to overcoming these issues.

How Much Sleep Should My Child Get

A common question that parents ask is how much sleep should my baby or child be getting.  I do firmly believe that babies and children are individuals when it comes to things like this, but there is also a healthy amount of sleep they should be getting.  As a guide this is how much sleep your little one should be getting in a 24 hour period:

0 – 3 Months Old  – 14 to 17 hours

4 – 11 Months Old – 12 to 15 Hours

1 – 2 Years Old – 11 to 14 Hours

3 – 5 Years Old  – 10 to 13 Hours

6 – 13 Years Old  – 9 to 11 Hours

14 – 17 Years Old  – 7 to 9 Hours

Helping Babies To Establish A Sleep Routine

It’s safe to say that newborn babies don’t really have a bedtime routine.  They need to feed regularly as their stomachs are so tiny and will probably only sleep 2 or 3 hours at a time.  Sometimes they will sleep less than that, and breastfed babies often cluster feed during growth spurts and it might not feel like they sleep at all.

There is no point in trying to establish a sleep routine during this phase, but there is value in bathing baby at the same time every evening and helping them to understand the difference between day and night.  This will help no end when a more established pattern of sleep begins to emerge.

Sleeping baby

If your baby is having trouble going to sleep, using a soothing baby bath may help calm them so they feel ready for sleep.  In the early days you may find they prefer to lay on you than the sleep in their moses basket or rocker.  They are used to the comfort of the womb and the constant sound of your heartbeat, and getting to sleep without these ‘aids’ can be a challenge.  If you have a baby comforter, place it on your chest for a while so that it smells of ‘Mum’, and this might help baby get to sleep in their cot.

When it comes to babies, or children for that matter, if you have tried everything and baby is still struggling to get to sleep, talk to your health care professional.  If baby cries a lot, or is pulling their knees up to their tummy they maybe experiencing colic for example.  You can get products to relieve these symptoms, but do seek medical advice first.

How to Get a Toddler to Sleep

By the time your child is a toddler, hopefully a sleep routine will have emerged but even the best laid plans can go out of the window when small people are involved.  When my children have struggled with getting to sleep, the first thing I look at is their daytime naps.  They might be getting a little bit too much sleep in the day, and cutting back nap time can be a very effective way of helping sleep to get to bed at night.  Start with reducing naps by half an hour and see if that makes a difference.


Having a good bedtime routine in place will also help with getting your child off to sleep.  An hour or so before bedtime start dimming the lights and thinking about turning off the TV or tablets as a signal that it’s time for bed.  Taking a bath, and then snuggling down for a bedtime story is a great way of winding down for sleep.

If you suspect your toddler is feeling a little anxious about the dark, a bedtime night light can be a great distraction.  All of my children have had one at one time or another, whether it’s a light or a bedtime toy, but either way they can be incredibly effective.

How to Cope With Disruptions in a Child’s Bedtime Routine

If disruptions in bedtime routine can be avoided, that’s great, but it’s not always possible.  My children are young enough for us to maintain the bedtime routine whether it’s school time or the holidays.  We find that if they don’t go to bed at the regular time, they can become very upset.  Over tired children can be very difficult to do anything with, and getting them to bed can be a very stressful affair.

Older children expect to be allowed to stay up later during the holidays and this can be quite a challenge for parents when it comes to going back to school and establishing the routine again.  A few days before they are due back to school, start to get them used to going to bed at the usual time again.  This may mean setting some parental controls on the computer or tablet, and leaving mobile phones downstairs so they can’t be used in bed.  Getting them up in the morning will also help in establishing the correct time to go to bed.

sleeping child

Common causes of disruption in a young child’s bedtime routine can be when they are unwell or if they have been experiencing nightmares.  If they have been poorly, and this has effected their sleep, as soon as they are feeling better it’s time for them to sleep in their own bed and get back to the normal routine.

If your child is experiencing nightmares, providing them with comfort and reassurance is going to be key in helping them settle back off to sleep.  When they wake up from a nightmare, the emotions they experienced in the dream can still feel very real.  Talking to your child about what nightmares are and that they aren’t real will help them to process what they have experienced.  Their favourite teddy bear could stand guard and help keep the bad dreams away so they can get back to sleep.

If they are worried about their nightmares coming back, make a magic dream spray with some lavender, witch hazel and water, and spray it around the room at bedtime.  The relaxing aroma will help them drift off thinking happier thoughts.

Final Thoughts on the Bedtime Routine

Whatever problems your child is experiencing with getting to or staying asleep, it probably is just a phase.  Stay consistent with your approach and have patience as things may not change overnight.  A common problem is that a child isn’t sleeping in their own bed, but for me it’s the one that worries me the least. There will definitely come a point when they do not want to sleep with their parents anymore.


Whatever problems you are experiencing with your child’s sleep, I hope you found these tips both comforting and reassuring.  If you have any other tips you would like to share with parents who are experiencing these issues please do leave them in the comments below as I’m sure they will find them helpful.

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Zena Goldman

Zena Goldman is a UK based travel, family & lifestyle blogger who left her 9-5 job behind in the not-for-profit sector to follow her creative dreams and enjoy a more flexible family life. She began writing Zena’s Suitcase in 2011 and shares the holidays and adventures she goes on with (and without) her 2 young daughters. She wishes her son would join them more often but he’s carving out his own dreams now and enjoying university life. Since beginning Zena’s Suitcase she has worked with a number of brands and also has a regular monthly feature in the ASDA Good Living Magazine feature, ‘Ask The Expert’ where she shares helpful parenting tips. In 2018 she was also a finalist in the prestigious BIBs Awards for Social Media.

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14 Discussion to this post

  1. Laura Dove says:

    That chart is so helpful! I had no idea of the different sleep requirements of children! My youngest is terrible at going to sleep, this is really useful thank you!

  2. Katy Stevens says:

    I always think myself lucky that my daughter got into a routine really young and loves her sleep. At 21 months she’s asking to go to bed sometimes! You’ve got some great tips here.

  3. Thankfully my kids have never had much issue with sleep. Now the boys are teens it’s the waking them up that’s the issue!! Lol

  4. Clare says:

    I totally jinxed it at the weekend by telling my brother that we’d finally reached the stage where all three kids sleep really well, cue the toddler having a huge panic at bedtime – doh! Great tips here 🙂

  5. Nadia says:

    I needed to read this. We are struggling a little with our boy. Thanks for sharing these tips xx

  6. Sandra Bald says:

    Our daughter has a learning disability & fortunately we haven’t had any problem getting to sleep since she was small.
    Unfortunately she has always woken during the night, sometimes 2 or 3 times & then disrupts all our sleep. She can’t explain why she wakes & we’re hoping it’s a phase that she’ll eventually grow out of.
    So exhausting for her & the rest of us too.
    It is was it is however.

  7. Margaret Gallagher says:

    So many variables
    Interesting read – disruption to sleep routine Or No sleep routine at all can have severe concequences on family LIFE

  8. Kira says:

    Some great tips ! I am going to try the comforter one as Nila will not sleep unless I settle her first! I’ll keep you posted 🙂 thanks Hun x

  9. Taryn says:

    A great read! It’s amazing how different each child can be with there sleep routines. Thankfully we seem to be over the worst with ours ?

  10. We definitely need all the help we can get, so will be following your tips. I don’t breed children that sleep!

  11. Leila Benhamida says:

    My children are great sleepers. A routine is essential but not easy to establish depending on the child.

  12. Emma Lymn says:

    Funny that your article reminds of the things kids put us through. When they were infants, getting them to sleep was difficult. As they get older, it’s easier to get them to ‘sleep’. Problem is 10 minutes later you hear them jumping on their beds or talking and laughing in their rooms.

  13. Erika Parker says:

    Such a shame when kids don’t get off to sleep easily. Parents have my sympathy!

  14. mytr says:

    hello You couldn’t have picked 5 better things! I love that you cut things down to the essentials. Sometimes we overthink and overcomplicate things.

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