How much sleep does my child need?

By Youthrive Occupational Therapist Portia Gunn

Sleep plays a very important role in our development, physical health and mental wellbeing. It is so important, that on average, we sleep for one third of our lives! But, it is in our early years when sleep is vital, and unfortunately this doesn’t always come easy…


Average hours of sleep

Here is a simple guide to help you determine how many hours your child should be sleeping each day:

Infants: 18 hours

2 – 3 years: 14 hours

5 – 9 years: 10 hours

14 -18 years: 8 hours



10 tips for settling, bedtime routines and healthy sleep practices

  1. Use structured routines – Create structured routines close to bedtime that commence when the sun starts to go down. Visuals may support independence in young children.
  2. Incorporate movement – If your child requires movement regularly, incorporate movement that is rhythmical closer to bedtime to support calming.
  3. Encourage deep pressure activities – Deep pressure or proprioceptive input is calming and can lower arousal levels to facilitate healthy sleep. For example, massaging, blowing bubbles, making shower-drying time longer and wrapping up in a blanket for a hug.
  4. Play music – Playing calming music during a bedtime routine aids in calming the body ready for sleep and supports building sleep association.
  5. Reduce technology – Reduce technology where possible 1 hour prior to bedtime.

  6. Consider their sensory environment – During sleep, we have natural wake periods as our body moves through its natural cycle. Children and teens who are sensory sensitive may wake more easily and require more consideration of the sensory environment.
  7. Get daily exercise – Daily exercise supports effective sleep habits.
  8. Take them to bed before they’re asleep – Children should go to bed sleepy but awake. This supports their association with falling asleep alone.
  9. Use a consistent communication approach – At bed time, this may include visuals, simple sign language or simple verbal prompts.
  10. Prepare for changes in season – You can prepare for the new season by adding extra block out curtains or spending more time in a darker environment at bedtime during summer.


8 tips for dealing with nightmares

  1. Listen and reassure your child that you are there for them and they are safe.
  2. Talk to your child about what a nightmare is and that it is over.
  3. Listen to what your child is having nightmares about as it may relate to daily events such as:
  • Advertisements they have seen on YouTube
  • A story someone else has told them
  • Movies, TV or books
  • Fear following an event
  1. If the nightmare is about fictional characters, you can talk about characters such as monsters being ‘make believe’.
  2. Don’t bring up nightmares if the child does not remember their dream.
  3. If your child is able to recall their dream and it is a reoccurring nightmare, help them come up with things to do in their dream such as a magic wand or potion to shrink a monster or take away a dragon’s fire.
  4. Changes to the sensory environment may support calming after a nightmare and help your child learn to self soothe.
  5. If nightmares are persistent, consider consulting with a Paediatric Psychologist.

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