Sleep hygiene for kids

Sleep hygiene is the habits put in place to help your child have a quality night of sleep. Some sleeping concerns or bad sleeping habits can be improved by good sleep hygiene.

The sleeping environment

Parents should encourage good sleep practices from an early age. The sleeping environment is very important to make sure your child feels relaxed and restful. 

Here are some tips:

  • ensure your child's bedroom is quiet, comfortable and dark enough for them to sleep

  • monitor the room temperature to help your child sleep deeper and longer - a suitable temperature range is 20°C to 22°C

  • avoid using their room as a second loungeroom - play and entertain in other areas of the house so that psychologically, your child associates their bedroom with sleep. 

It’s common for young children to be afraid of the dark or scared of monsters or fictitious characters, particularly when they’re transitioning to sleeping in their own room.  Try reassuring your child and talk to them about their concerns. 

In some situations, your child may want a night light. If using a night light, select a dim, warm (red) coloured light globe to minimise interference with children’s melatonin levels.  

Bedtime routines

Having the same bedtime routine that you follow as a family every night helps prepare your child for sleep.

A bedtime routine can have positive effects on sleep, language development, emotional relations, family functioning and more.  

Good bedtime routine activities

  • having an early dinner 

  • bathing 

  • oral care 

  • putting on pyjamas  

  • saying goodnight to family members  

  • reading 

  • singing lullabies  

  • low volume and low energy interactions  

  • physical contact such as cuddling.

For children over 12 months old, it is recommended to put a child to bed without a bottle to prevent tooth decay. If your child needs a bottle after 12 months to go to sleep, fill it with water only.

Improving your child’s sleep patterns

For many families, bedtime can cause dread, frustration or disagreement between parents and children. Consistent sleep patterns are imperative to a child’s growth and development so showing patience with yourself and your child will help your family in the long run. Understanding normal behaviour in your child and when to seek help is an important aspect of any development, especially with any changes in sleep patterns. 

Progress and consistency are key. Over time, your child will learn to adopt these practices with your support so they can maintain healthy sleep patterns all the way through into adulthood. 

Some ideas on how to improve your child’s sleep patterns include:  

Use a bedtime routine leading up to sleep

Establish a calming routine before your child’s bedtime to allow them to wind down. This gives your child the mental prompts that it’s almost time for bed and may include:

  • bath time 

  • brushing teeth 

  • putting on pyjamas 

  • saying goodnight to family members 

  • reading a book 

  • practising slow breathing or relaxation exercises.

Having a good bedtime routine that is not too prolonged allows children to become more independent as they get older. They get used to the routine, and it becomes a part of their nighttime habit. 

Use a sleep schedule 

In addition to a bedtime routine, having consistent sleep and wake times help your child establish their internal body clock. Try not to vary these times by more than an hour or two even if your child has to wake up early the next morning. 

 Some children can challenge their bedtime. Stay calm and keep taking them back to their bed. If you have any concerns about your child’s sleep schedule, talk to your family health professional or other support services.  

Avoid screens at least one hour before bed 

Avoid using electronic media including television, computers, gaming devices and mobile phones for at least an hour before bedtime and avoid using these in the bedroom.  

Screens such as television, phones and tablets release blue light which blocks the release of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that is released by your brain in response to darkness. This hormone helps your child feel sleepy and fall asleep. 

Children under 2 years are not recommended to have any sedentary screen time. See Screen time for more information on the recommendations for each age group. 

Remove screens from the bedroom

Bright light from screens can affect melatonin levels that help your child go to sleep. Screen-free bedrooms reduce temptation and time spent on screens before bed allowing for a more restful sleep and better engagement the next day. 

Having screens outside of the room allows you, as a parent, to: 

  • ensure screen time doesn’t occur late into the night 

  • adhere to sleep schedules

  • have some more control or oversight as to the content they are engaging with.

Avoid caffeine 

Caffeine is a stimulant that increases activity in the brain and body. It can impact your child’s sleep routine, contribute to restlessness and sleep problems and make your child more tired the next day.  

Adolescents under 14 are not advised to consume any caffeine. For teenagers aged 14-17, intake should be below 100mg of caffeine per day.  

Avoiding caffeine four to six hours before bed is advised as this is the half-life of the chemical component, for example, a person would still have 45mg of caffeine in their system at 6pm after consuming a 90mg cup of coffee at midday. 

Caffeine can be found in coffee, tea, cola soft drinks, energy drinks and some chocolate.  See Energy drinks and caffeine levels for more information. 

Encourage physical activity throughout the day 

Exercising each day is not only good for your child’s physical and mental health, but it also helps your child’s sleep quality and duration at night. Sleep and physical activity both have strong positive health outcomes and a strong link to one another. 

Avoid any strenuous exercise just before bed as you will likely want your child to wind down and get into their bedtime routine.  

See the Movement Guidelines page for more information on how much physical activity your child should be getting each day.  

Maintain a healthy diet

Eating a healthy, balanced diet contributes to better sleep in children.  

A healthy breakfast can give your child the energy to perform at their best throughout the day. Maintaining that healthy eating pattern throughout the day with water, wholegrain carbohydrates, lean protein sources and plenty of fibre through fruits and vegetables will help your child’s sleep quality. 

Try to consume a family dinner meal a few hours before their bedtime. A heavy meal right before bed can have an impact on digestion and sleep quality. 

See Healthy eating for kids for more information. 

Obtain natural light throughout the day

Try getting natural light for your child in the daytime. Natural light helps regulate your child’s circadian rhythm and will help your child be more alert and awake during the day, boosting their mood and concentration.

With natural light exposure throughout the day, when it comes time for the sun to go down, your child’s circadian rhythm drops to a lower level to start preparing your child for sleep. 

See Hot weather and sun safety to make sure your child is getting safe levels of natural light throughout the day without risking other conditions like heat stroke or sunburn. 

Reassure your child

Sometimes your child may have genuine concerns or anxiety about the environment around them as they go to bed. Addressing these and reassuring your child they are in a safe space in the home with doors locked and support nearby will help ease them to sleep. 

Avoiding scary television shows or games before bed will also prevent their brain from obsessing about certain topics before they fall asleep. 

Last updated Monday 6th May 2024