In some families, children simply go to bed when they’re ready. In some families they go at the same time as their parents. In others, children go to bed early, giving their parents some child-free time. Some parents are happy to cuddle their children to sleep every night, whereas others want their children to be able to fall asleep on their own.
All these approaches can work but you’ll probably find it helps you and your child to establish a regular routine (sometimes called good ‘sleep hygiene’). Getting your child calm and ready for bed will help everyone to enjoy a peaceful night.
Establishing a bedtime routine
Getting your child into a simple, soothing bedtime routine when they’re a baby can help prevent sleeping problems later on. The routine could consist of having a bath, changing into night clothes, feeding and having a cuddle before being put to bed.
Your baby will learn how to fall asleep in their cot if you put them down when they’re still awake rather than getting them to sleep by rocking or cuddling them in your arms. If they get used to falling asleep in your arms, they may need nursing back to sleep if they wake up again.
As your child gets older, it can be helpful to keep to a similar bedtime routine. Too much excitement and stimulation just before bedtime can wake your child up again. Spend some time winding down and doing some calmer activities, like reading.
An example of a routine could be:
a bath, then put on night clothes
supper or a milky drink
brush their teeth
go to bed
put their comforter (dummy, cuddly toy or security blanket) nearby, then
a goodnight kiss and cuddle
How much sleep is enough?
Just as with adults, babies’ and children’s sleep patterns vary. From birth, some babies need more sleep or less sleep than others. This list shows the average amount of sleep that babies and children need during a 24-hour period, including daytime naps.
Birth to three months: most newborn babies are asleep more than they are awake. Their total daily sleep varies, but can be from eight hours, up to 16-18 hours. Babies will wake during the night because they need to be fed. Being too hot or too cold can also disturb their sleep.
Three to six months: as your baby grows, they’ll need fewer night feeds and be able to sleep for longer. Some babies will sleep for eight hours or longer at night. By four months, they could be spending around twice as long sleeping at night as they do during the day.
Six to 12 months: at this age, night feeds should no longer be necessary, and some babies will sleep for up to 12 hours at night. Teething discomfort or hunger may wake some babies during the night.
12 months: babies will sleep for around 12-15 hours in total.
Two years: most two-year-olds will sleep for 11-12 hours at night, with one or two naps in the daytime.
Three to four years: most will need about 12 hours sleep, but this can range from 8 hours up to 14. Some young children will still need a nap during the day.
Baby sleep tips
Common sleep problems
Parenting: sleep and tiredness