child sleeping

A good night’s sleep – 5 top tips to help children settle


We all know how important it is to get a good night’s sleep.  So when the bed preparation is taking too long, or your child has difficulty settling down for the night these tips may help.

1. Make sure your child is doing enough physical activity during the day

Doing an activity that will get your child’s heart rate up for about 15-30 minutes towards the end of the day can help get rid of excess energy. For example, jumping on the trampoline, skipping, scooter, bike, ball games, dancing, chasey, races, obstacle courses, brisk walking. Try doing this before dinner, or if you have early dinners, shortly afterwards. Make sure your child is not doing any rigorous exercise 2 hours before bed though as it can end up having the reverse effect and keep them awake.


2. Look at the timing of your meals before bedtime

  • Eat dinner about 2 hours before bed – this gives your child’s digestive system enough time to work on breaking down the meal, before starting to slow down the body for sleep. If you eat big meals too close to bed – especially sweet treats/desserts, this may give your child a surge in energy, so try not to eat them too closely to bedtime.
  • However, it’s also important not to send your children to bed potentially hungry. If you have early dinners, or your child doesn’t eat a lot at dinner time, you may be faced with some common delay tactics such as “But I’m still hungry” at bedtime. Sometimes this is exactly that – a delay tactic to stretch out bedtime. However, children can get hungry again if there is more than a 2 hour block of ‘awake’ time between their last meal and bedtime. If this is a common problem, perhaps try getting into the routine of offering a small snack 30 mins before bed, such as a banana, a small glass of milk, some yoghurt, or a piece of bread with peanut butter.


3. Create calm bedtime routines and a calm and slowed down family environment

If you want to help your child slow down their bodies for bed, there are a few things that may prevent this from happening, this can include:

  • Rushed routines
  • Arguments, yelling, anger, or stress in the household – this may raise a child’s level of arousal (make their central nervous system go from ‘awake’ to ‘hyper-awake!’)
  • Unpredictable or inconsistent bedtime routines. Children often feel calmer when they know the routine and they know what comes next.


4. Understand your child’s body clock– they only have one!

If your child has difficulty settling at night, have a look at what time you are getting her into bed, and what time she is waking. Most children require anywhere between 8-12 hours of sleep per night, depending on their age, level of activity, and individual needs. Try to determine roughly how much she requires, then try to keep bedtime and wake time around the same time each day. For example, if your child ends up staying up really late one night and has a history of difficulties with settling at night, do not compensate by allowing them to sleep in the next day as this may interfere with her sleep/wake cycle, and can create more difficulties trying to settle for sleep the following night.


5. Create  a sense of calm at bedtime

  • Reading a book in bed before lights out – this can be excellent body wind down time
  • Listening to music, or a story CD while trying to fall to sleep
  • If your child has worries on their mind, or lots to say at bedtime, try having a chat earlier in the night, so they don’t get into the habit of bringing up their concerns right before bed.
  • If your child often remembers things they need to do the next day when they are already in bed, they can put a little notepad and pencil next to their bed. Writing it down can help to let the thoughts go.
  • Try comfort objects to cuddle up to – teddies, blankets, one of your jumpers

Some children experience anxiety, distress, and worries at bed time. If you notice your child is particularly worried or anxious at bedtime, this may also be contributing to their difficulty in winding down into a sleepy relaxed state.

If you would like some further tips and strategies on managing your child’s anxiety at bedtime, or bedtime routines in general, contact Sensational Kids to make an appointment to see one of our psychologists.

Author: Shannyn Wilson, Psychologist, Sensational Kids


  1. Leanne Tucker — 22 July 2018 — 8:56 pm

    I need help to settle my daughter at night . she sleeps an hour then wakes crying and won’t settle.

  2. Fran Nicholson — 23 July 2018 — 4:52 pm

    Hi Leanne,
    I understand this can be a frustrating thing for many parents. There are lots of reasons why your little girl may be having trouble settling. If you have tried the tips on this page and they haven’t worked, please call our clinic on (03) 9578 7560 and we can discuss the possibility of speaking with an Occupational Therapist or Psychologist to see if we can help. Thanks, Fran

  3. Donna Wright — 23 January 2019 — 9:40 pm

    Hello there, I care for our 20 month old granddaughter, she has very poor sleeping habits. I struggle to get her to sleep for longer than 1 hour after a very busy and active morning.she is visible tired however gets upset when it’s rest time. Her parents stand and nurse her until she is asleep, however I find this physically difficult, she becomes upset if I sit down or attempt to place her in the cot while she is still away. I have always practice a calming down period before rest time and give plenty of cues that it is approaching, any suggestions of what else I can try, thank you

  4. Fran Nicholson — 3 February 2019 — 11:14 pm

    Hi Donna,

    Sleep issues with small children is normal but if you are very concerned one of our Occupation Therapists may be able to assess and provide some strategies. Feel free to call our clinic in Ormond or Moonee Ponds. Kind regards, Fran

  5. Jacinta — 16 April 2019 — 10:39 am

    Hi 🙂
    My 18 month old has difficulty settling in cot on his own we have tried everything and end up holding him as he just cry’s and looses it when we put him in the cot! Once he is asleep he is fine during the night when he wakes and mostly self settles and may cry / call out once or twice! We are just at a loss as to how to break the bad association with the initial getting into bed part?

  6. Sensational Kids — 16 April 2019 — 10:49 am

    Hi Jacinta,
    This is a common problem with small children. Separation anxiety is a normal part of childhood and is at it’s peak during these months. Your Maternal Child Health Nurse or a Sleep School may be able to provide some help here along with some useful resources. Kind regards,Fran