girl asleep with teddy in bed having a good night's sleep

Good Sleep Habits for Children

March 21, 2016

Parenting forums buzz and books fly off the shelf on the topic of how to get babies to ‘sleep through the night’. However, when children get a little older their sleep routine is equally important. Expanding minds, especially those who are reaching school age and beyond need sufficient sleep for the brain to learn and develop appropriately. Good sleep habits for children are essential.

Studies have shown that even an extra 30 minutes’ sleep per day can improve school marks. So just how much sleep do children need? And how can you make sure they're getting it? We've rounded up some good sleep habits for children that will help you create a sleep routine that works.

Effects of Lack of Sleep on Children

A significant number of primary school children are having, on average, 30 – 90 minutes less sleep than recommended per day. Studies have shown that ongoing loss of sleep leads to changes in behaviour and concentration that can be akin to symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

Many of us are familiar with the ‘witching hour’ when children, an hour before bedtime, become increasingly cranky, irrational and tantrum prone with the onset of fatigue after a long day. With more chronic sleep deprivation (of a little as 30 minutes per day) this altered behaviour can extend to daytime hours with poor concentration and sleepiness thrown in.

So just how much sleep do children at this age need?

  • Pre- schoolers (3-5 years old) require somewhere between 10-13 hours per day
  • 6-13 year old still need 9-11 hours sleep per day

With busy lives, the temptation (or necessity) may be to allow children to stay up late in order for parents just to complete tasks, homework or spend a little time with their children after work. However, if you look at the time children need to get up in the morning to be in school and work backwards many children of this age may have a routine bedtime that is too late.

Good Sleep Habits for Children

Just like adults, certain things can throw off our sleep routine and we find it harder to nod off. Studies have shown:

  • 30% of pre-schoolers and greater than 40% of school children have a television in their room.
  • Amongst older primary school children up to 80% have smart phones and 3 out of 4 of these use them while in bed.
  • Research has shown that for adults and children alike, screen use - particularly the ‘blue light’ associated with tablets and smart phones disrupts circadian rhythms/melatonin production. This is worst when used within an hour of bedtime.

Removing these obstacles to a good night's sleep and sleep routine can make a big difference. Here are some good sleep habits for children to get on board with:

  • Ensure that there's consistency at bedtime - set an early bedtime between 7pm and 8pm. This is likely to lead to a better night's sleep and enough time for them to feel fully rested.
  • Cut out screens at least an hour before bed - this applies to TV, phones, ipads and computers. They can leave children feeling wired and can interfere with their ability to nod off.
  • Have a well versed routine for winding down - this way your child knows what to expect come bedtime. A bath, PJs and teeth and stories (no screen time) works just as well for older children as babies.
  • Make sure their room is cool, dark, quiet and comfortable to ensure they're able to sleep well - a night light can be handy if your child isn't a fan of the dark.

So if your children seem to be struggling through the day, or you're exhausted yourself due to the daily grind and interrupted sleep, adjusting the sleep habits of children and family members may just help.

Checked and updated: 2 September 2021