Girl sleeping with mouth open

How to help your child develop healthy sleep habits.

Why is healthy sleep important?

Good quality sleep helps your child concentrate, remember things and behave well, which helps them be a successful learner. Children who don’t sleep well, or who don’t get enough sleep, are more likely to feel tired and have difficulties learning. If you notice that your child is have trouble concentrating, remembering things or learning, consider whether they’re getting enough sleep.

How many hours of sleep does a child need per day?

The amount of sleep a child needs varies according to their age. Generally speaking, from:

  • Five to 13 years old: Children need nine to 11 hours per night with consistent bed and wake-up times.
  • 14-17 years old: Youth need eight to 10 hours per night with consistent bed and wake-up times.

How do I help children develop healthy sleep habits?

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule: Help your child go to bed and get up around the same time every day. Ensure wake-up times on school days and weekends are within two hours of each other to keep your child’s body clock in a regular rhythm.
  • Avoid daytime naps for older kids: For children five years or older, avoid daytime naps. Naps longer than 20 minutes can make it hard to get to sleep at night, to get into deep sleep and to wake.
  • Relax before bed: A regular bedtime routine of bath, teeth brushing and a story helps younger children relax and feel ready for sleep. Older children can wind down by reading a book or listening to gentle music. Turning off electronics an hour before bed will also help your child fall asleep.
  • Make sure your child feels safe at night: If your child feels scared about going to bed or being in the dark, you can offer praise and rewards for being brave. Avoid scary TV shows, movies, computer games or books and consider a night light.
  • Check noise and light in your child’s bedroom: A dark, quiet, private space is important for good sleep. Turn off electronic stimulation in your child’s bedroom at least one hour before bedtime. This includes loud music, mobile phones, computer screens and TV.
  • Eat well and avoid caffeine: Serve your child a satisfying evening meal at a reasonable time. Feeling hungry or too full before bed can make it hard to fall asleep or have good quality sleep. Ensure children eat healthy and avoid energy drinks, coffee, tea, chocolate and cola in late afternoon.
  • Get natural light during the day and active play: Encourage your child to be exposed to natural light by getting outside during the day, especially in the morning. This will helps produce melatonin to regulate sleep cycles. Physical activity and exercise also help children sleep longer and better. However, avoid sports late night as stimulation and increase in body temperature can make it harder to go to sleep.
  • Reduce anxiety: Worries and anxieties can affect your child’s sleep. Talk about their worries together or encourage older children to journal their thoughts. Parents can also access mental health support.

When should I seek professional help for my child's sleep issues?

Up to 40 per cent of children and teenagers have sleep problems. These include having trouble falling asleep or having interrupted sleep. Lack of sleep can have a negative effect on behaviour, emotions, attention, social relationships and school or work performance. If you’re concerned sleep problems are affecting your child’s well-being, schoolwork or relationships for more than two to four weeks, seek advice from your doctor or public health nurse.

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