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Parent’s Guide To a Child’s Sleep

When your kids don’t sleep, you don’t sleep. Healthy rest for the entire family is essential for a healthy and happy home. So if your midnight hours feel more like the night of the living dead, take comfort in knowing there are solutions out there.

Our parent’s guide to a child’s sleep can help you and your children achieve the rest you deserve. We go over some of the problems parents are facing and some common and highly researched solutions.

But before we dive in, it might be comforting to know you are not alone in your endeavors.

50 percent of children have problems sleeping at some time during their childhood, says Zheng (Jane) Fan, MD, of the UNC Department of Neurology.

[1] UNC Health Talk

Before we can realize the full extent of childhood nighttime problems, we need to know how much rest our kiddos need.

Source: “How Much Sleep Do I Need?” – [2] CDC

Sleep Problems and Solutions for Infants and Toddlers

If babies and toddlers need to rest so much, why do so many of them put up such a fuss at night?

There are several reasons why our kids might not want to fall asleep. In the case of my two-year-old daughter, she finds a pair of dirty socks stuffed behind her bed more entertaining than the back of her eyelids. And can you really blame her?

These babies and toddlers often spend all day with their parents and are then expected to spend 8 to 10 hours alone. This can cause anxiety, fear, boredom, hunger, etc. The list goes on, but let’s cover the most common reasons. NEED COMFORT


Whether your child is dealing with separation anxiety or has been unable to self-soothe, they may be up because they feel like they need mom or dad to fall asleep.“This is often a normal part of development called separation anxiety, when a baby does not understand that separations are temporary.”

[3] Columbia University, Department of Neurology

Expert Opinion:

“Consider a pacifier. If your baby has trouble settling down, a pacifier might do the trick. In fact, research suggests that using a pacifier during sleep helps reduce the risk of SIDS.”

[4] Mayo Clinic Staff



Toddlers have figured out they can think for themselves, and why go to bed when you can read a book or watch TV?

“The requests for an extra hug, kiss, story, and water are typical in children ages 3-5. Parents often feel frustrated when their child asks for their third glass of water after they’ve tucked their child in bed twice, given them an extra kiss.”

[5] Stephanie Wagner, PhD, NYU Medical

Expert Opinion:

“If the child postpones bedtime or tries to share your bed every night, he is taking advantage of your good nature. Tell your child what you want her to do: At bedtime, a good sleeper stays in her bed and doesn’t scream. During the night, a good sleeper doesn’t leave her bedroom or wake up her parents unless it is an emergency.”

[6] Barton D. Schmitt, MD



Infants might wake up at night to feed and toddlers may need a good hearty meal to help them rest through the night.“I tell parents to offer a snack high in protein or fiber.”

[7] Dr. Stephanie Jackson, MD

Expert Opinion:

Children should not have an empty stomach before bed. This actually is more important than what a child eats.”

[7] Dr. Stephanie Jackson, MD


Definition: Whether your baby is teething, they need a diaper change, or they wake up hungry, these stimuli can easily arouse them.

“There’s no question that teething wakes children at night and disrupts sleep.”

“Many infants who use a pacifier will wake up between 6-12 months of age when the pacifier falls out.”

[8] Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE, FAAP, Contributor for HuffPost

Expert Opinion:

“When your baby needs care or feeding during the night, use dim lights, a soft voice and calm movements. This will tell your baby that it’s time to sleep — not play.”

[4] Mayo Clinic Staff


Definition: Infants are not born with fully developed sleep cycles.

“At birth, infants lack an established circadian rhythm and hence sleep across multiple intervals throughout the day and night in short bouts, which may also be due to infants’ feeding needs.”

[9] National Center for Biotechnology Information

Expert Opinion:

Respect your baby’s preferences. If your baby is a night owl or an early bird, you might want to adjust routines and schedules based on these natural patterns.”

[4] Mayo Clinic Staff

School-Aged Children Sleep Habits

School-aged children share many of the same sleep-related problems as infants and toddlers, but they also have a unique list of concerns of their own. As they get older, adolescents struggle to juggle a social life, school, extracurricular activities, and healthy nighttime habits. SCREENTIME

Definition: As kids develop they gain more access to LED screens like TVs and smartphones, which can attribute to sleep deprivation.

“In conclusion, it appears that adolescents’ technology use before bed is a risk factor for later
bedtimes, and possibly shorter sleep.”

[10] Kate Bartel, PhD; Cele Richardson, PhD; and Michael Gradisar, PhD, Flinders University

Expert Opinion:

“Plan up to 1 hour of quiet time before bed… TV watching, heavy homework, or computer gaming should NOT be part of quiet time.”

[11] Cleveland Clinic


Definition: Most students have summer off, making for a difficult transition back to school.

“When school is out for holidays and summers, children usually adopt a less strict schedule and their wake times are often much later, resulting in more sleep time. Transitions back to school pose some challenges on Mondays, but may be particularly difficult at the start of a new school year.”

[12] Dr. Joseph Buckhalt, APA

Expert Opinion:

“Parents should start now, by easing bedtime back at least 15 minutes earlier each night, and then waking the kids up 15 minutes earlier in the morning. Do this – even on the weekends – until the child’s schedule is aligned with how early they will need to wake up for the start of a school day.”

[13] Dr. Timothy  Morgenthaler, AASM



This condition is more prevalent in children than adults and is often caused due to a lack of rest. It has even been linked to screen time.

“Sleepwalking (also called somnambulism) is a behavior in which a child appears to wake up during the night and walk or do other activities without any memory of having engaged in the activities.”

[14] Cleveland Clinic

Read More: Sleepwalking Facts

Expert Opinion: “Children are more likely to sleepwalk or experience sleep terrors when they are overtired or anxious. Provide a relaxing bedtime routine for your child. Follow it up with an early bedtime to help prevent sleep disturbances.”

[15] Harvard Medical School

General Sleep Solutions

Whatever the issue may be. There are several possible solutions that can help get you and your kiddo the rest you deserve. Develop a Sleep Routine

Studies show this is true for both adults and children. Setting and sticking to a habitual schedule can prepare you for bedtime.


My toddler’s bedtime routine is more in-depth, as this is what our daughter typically needs to fall asleep, so feel free to adjust this as you feel necessary.

We first eat a yummy dinner, pop bubbles in the bath, brush her teeth, put on cozy pajamas, pick up her toys, read a story (or 5), sing a fun song, tuck her snugly into bed, and she’s off to dreamland (hopefully). And that typically does the trick!

A bedtime routine for an older child could be, bathe, brush teeth, read a book, and fall asleep.“Allow your child flexibility within the routine, but keep things under your control by limiting the choices available. For example, let him choose different stuffed animals for bed each night, but keep him to a fixed number. Let him choose a story and a song, but not a whole book or CD. Try to keep the bedtime routine to no longer than 30 minutes.”

[16] American Academy of Pediatrics

Establish a Sleep-friendly Bedroom

A messy bedroom naturally calls children to come out and play. If they can see it, whether it be your toddler’s choo-choo train or your teenager’s Nintendo Switch, if the plaything is visible then it is a viable play option. With your child’s help, clean up each night and put the toys in a secure location, like a toy chest or closet where they should not be a distraction.

Though the room should be kept dark and toys not readily accessible, it is okay for a child to hold onto a security item, like a stuffed animal or blanket.

“It is fine to allow security objects, such as a special blanket or stuffed animal, to be a part of the bedtime routine.”

[11] Cleveland Clinic

Schedule Naps Strategically

Sometimes our kids are not ready to go to bed when we want them to be. Trim back their nap times, this should help them get tired just a bit earlier.

“If your child isn’t tired at bedtime, you might be fighting a losing battle. Try scaling back on any daytime naps.”

[17] Mayo Clinic Staff

Exercise Each Day

A daily workout can wear out your body so you are ready to hit the bed come night time. Children don’t need a gym membership to do this either. Toddlers simply need some time to crawl around, run, or dance, and older children can supplement a workout with sports, playing outside, or other recreational activities.

Though exercise is great, children should avoid it directly before bed. The body releases endorphins that can excite and energize your child’s mind, keeping them from sleeping. Best to schedule exercise at the latest 2 hours before bed.“Research has shown that kids who participate in more vigorous exercise are able to fall asleep much faster than those with sedentary lifestyles.”

[18] Dr. Jill Klein, MD, Cincinnati Children’s

Pediatric Sleep Disorders

If you’ve tried these solutions and shuteye continues to evade your child, it may be time to get them in to see their medical practitioner. You may even have some more serious concerns that require a doctor visit. When it comes to medical problems, nothing truly beats the hands-on experience a doctor can provide.


This is a type of parasomnia, an undesired nighttime behavior, and can quickly become a serious concern as children can fall and seriously hurt themselves or someone else.

Night Terrors

Often result in screaming and thrashing while asleep. This differs from nightmares, as the sleeper remains asleep during their episode.


This condition makes it hard for sleepers to not only fall asleep, but it also makes it very difficult to stay asleep. Children who suffer from insomnia often experience a continuous feeling of sleepiness.


This condition causes patients to have a hard time staying awake during the day. These children report being able to fall asleep at just about any time.

Sleep Apnea

This condition causes sleepers to have “mini awakenings” that are caused by a respiratory disruption while sleeping. Causing them to not get a truly restorative nights’ rest. If you have trouble with sleep apnea, take a look at our list of best beds for sleep apnea.

Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder

This condition causes patients to consistently wake and rise in an overly delayed schedule to normal solar wake and sleep cues. They fall asleep late and rise later in the morning than the average sleeper.

Circadian Rhythm Disorder

These conditions affect the body’s internal clock. People with this disorder often do not follow the most socially accepted times to be awake and sleep. These are your night owls and larks.

Frequently Asked Questions

When is it okay for my kid to take a nap?

Kids are okay to take a nap, especially from 0 months to 5 years old. As children get older they should typically nap less if they are on a healthy sleep schedule. A 30 to 90-minute nap could potentially be beneficial for older children if they live an active lifestyle.

What happens if your child doesn’t get enough sleep?

Toddlers: Could potentially have too much energy.
Children: Decreased awareness, bad mood, and poor academic performance.
Teenagers: Irritability and frequent mood changes.

Lead by Example

Parents, let’s face it. We need to rest, too. The best way to get it may be by showing our youngsters how.

  1. Show your kids that you have your own bedtime routine. They will likely recognize this and apply parts of it to their own schedule.
  2. Try having a full-blown technology shut down before bed. This can show your kids that this is something you just don’t do before bed.
  3. Do your best to have a consistent bedtime. As you establish this habit, it will make it that much easier to enforce your child’s bedtime because you will likely be feeling pretty tired soon after you tuck your kid in.
  4. Anything you can do, your kids can do better. Try to avoid all-nighters. If they hear you up watching Netflix at 2 a.m., they’re going to want to join in on the fun.


Children of all ages struggle to get adequate sleep and whether your child is in diapers or getting ready to head off to college, you should now have some tools to help him or her get some rest.

Go ahead. Give these things a try and if you find success be sure to share this info with friends and family. Hopefully as our kids begin to get sleep more, we can get more sleep too.

Sources and References:

[1] Why Won’t My Kid Sleep?, UNC Health Talk

[2] How Much Sleep Do I Need?, CDC

[3] What are the sleep needs of an infant?, Columbia University, Department of Neurology

[4] Helping baby sleep through the night, Mayo Clinic

[5] Simple Strategies to Conquer Bedtime Battles, NYU Medical

[6] Sleep: Bedtime Resistance, Summit Medical Group

[7] Food Before Bed: What to Offer Kids and When to Hold Back, Riley Children’s Health

[8] Why Do Babies Wake Up at Night?, HuffPost

[9] Infant sleep and its relation with cognition and growth: a narrative review, National Center for Biotechnology Information

[10] Sleep and mental wellbeing – Exploring the links, VicHealth

[11] Healthy Sleep Habits for Children, Cleveland Clinic

[12] School Year Means Sleep Challenges for Kids of All Ages, American Psychological Association

[13] Get the kids to sleep and ready for back to school, American Academy of Sleep Science

[14] Sleepwalking, Cleveland Clinic

[15] Sleepwalking and Sleep Terrors, Harvard Medical School

[16] Sleep: What Every Parent Needs to Know, American Academy of Pediatrics

[17] Child sleep: Put preschool bedtime problems to rest, Mayo Clinic

[18] 6 Tips to Help Kids Sleep Better and Longer, Cincinnati Children’s

Mark Mattei

Mark Mattei

Content Writer

About Author

Mark likes to study sleep health, write content, and produce videos on his findings. When he’s not, he’s likely writing the great American screenplay, growing out his beard, or spending time with his family.

Mark is an exclusive side sleeper with broad shoulders who looks for good pressure relief for his hips and shoulders.

Combination Sleeper