What can I do if my child won’t sleep?

Toddlers and children don’t always find it easy to fall or stay asleep. Here are some of the most common reasons why, and what you can do about them.

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Things you can do

  • They’re not used to a bedtime routine. A predictable, consistent routine helps your child fall asleep quickly – but it takes practice. Decide what time you want your child to go to bed, then start a ‘winding down’ routine 20 minute before. Bring this forward by a few minutes each week until you get the bedtime you want. Set a limit on how much time you spend with your child when you put them to bed. For example, read only one story. If your child gets up, keep taking them back to bed with as little fuss as possible.
  • They need the toilet or are thirsty. Make sure they’ve visited the toilet before bed. Keep a beaker of water within reach.
  • They’re not sleepy. Avoid long naps in the afternoon or too close to bedtime. Make sure they get plenty of activity during the day so they’re tired by bedtime.
  • They’re hungry or too full. Check that meal and snack times aren’t throwing off your child’s sleep schedule.
  • Their sleep patterns are changing. Remember, it’s natural for sleep patterns to shift while your child is growing and developing.
  • Changes in the family routine. Try to stick to their bedtime routine even when you’re all away from home. This helps your child feel secure and at ease.
  • They’re anxious. Talk about their fears, and reassure them you’re close by. Using a night light and leaving the door ajar can help. Tackle nightmares and night terrors if they’re a source of anxiety.

Most children have trouble sleeping every now and then – it’s usually nothing to worry about. Talk to your doctor if you think illness or medication is affecting your child’s sleep.

Further reading

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Activity: use mindfulness to soothe nightmares

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