Healthy Sleep Patterns

From Term 1 2017, Victorian government and Catholic schools will use the new Victorian Curriculum F-10. Curriculum related information is currently being reviewed and may be subject to change.

For more information on the curriculum, see:
The Victorian Curriculum F–10 - VCAA

Main points:

  • Getting a good night’s sleep helps your child stay settled, healthy, happy and ready for school the next day.
  • Positive habits and routines will assist children to feel sleepy and ready for bed at the right time.
  • Helping your child relax before bedtime may reduce the frequency of bad dreams and nightmares.

Promote healthy sleep habits

Children are usually tired after school and might look forward to bedtime from about 7.30pm. Your child needs about 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night. Some children fall asleep very quickly; others sleep lightly at first, moving and fidgeting before settling into a deep sleep. 

While every child is different and the way they sleep will be different as well, in most children the first half of the night is made up of deep sleep. Closer towards morning their sleep will change to a lighter sleep, making it easier to wake them up.

Some children may experience more problems with sleep and settling down to sleep than others, such as children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Bedtime routine

A bedtime routine is very important for your child as it helps them wind down at the end of the day and settles them prior to going to sleep.

Getting ready for bed at the same time each day is important. The predictability of going to bed at the same time each night helps children develop a positive sleep routine and feel secure. Allowing children to stay up late, even on weekends, is not recommended as it disrupts this routine.

Assist your child to wind down about an hour before bedtime by turning off the television and computer games, and encouraging quiet activities. Reading to or with your child is a great activity to incorporate into their bedtime routine. Quietly and calming chatting about what happened during their day at school will also help your child to express any events or worries they may have prior to going to sleep.

Wake up your child up at the same time every morning. Like going to bed at the same time each night, getting up at the same time each morning establishes a good sleep habit and helps them feel secure.

Sleep talk

Some children talk during their sleep, especially if they are excited or worried about something. Talking to your child calmly and quietly about the things that are going on in their lives might help reduce night-time chatter.

Bedwetting

Bedwetting happens when your child has a full bladder but they don’t wake up because they’re sleeping soundly or they’re not aware of their need to go to the toilet.

About 20% of five year olds and 10% of six year olds wet their beds. Most children can’t control bedwetting, but they do grow out of it.

If your child does wet their bed, reassure them that everything is okay and that they have nothing to be ashamed of. Telling them a story about when you wet the bed and how you grew out of this can help reassure your child. Explaining in simple terms what is happening and why can also be very helpful.

Nightmares

Most children experience nightmares from time to time. Frightening dreams can start in children as early as two years old, and reach a peak between the ages of three and six years. Nightmares usually occur later in the sleep cycle from 4am to 6am, but the frequency differs from one child to the next.

Your child may have only a few scary dreams a year or could be troubled by nightmares much more often. About one quarter of children have at least one nightmare every week. A common theme is being chased by a frightening person or animal.

The cause of nightmares isn't known, but it is thought to be the ordinary stresses and strains of growing up. For example, children who experience a traumatic event tend to have frequent nightmares for the next six months or so.
  
Suggestions for coping with your child’s nightmares include:

  • Go to your child as soon as you can. If your child's bedroom is far from yours and you can't be sure to hear them when they call or cry, consider installing a baby monitor.
  • Cuddle and reassure your child. Talk calmly and gently.
  • Appreciate that your child's feelings are genuine.
  • Be prepared to stay with them until they have calmed down. If your child is particularly frightened, you may need to soothe them with a favourite but relaxing activity, such as reading a book together.
  • Your child may want to talk to you about their nightmare. Encourage them to come up with alternate endings that are happy or funny.

It isn't possible to stop your child from ever having another nightmare, but you may be able to reduce the frequency of bad dreams. Suggestions include:

  • Consider your child's daily routine. Is anything troubling them? Stressful events that could trigger a spate of nightmares include a new sibling, moving house or starting school.
  • Ensure your child is getting enough exercise. This is vital for restful sleep and for maintaining your child’s general health
  • Make sure your child doesn't watch frightening shows on television or read scary books, especially just before bedtime.
  • Reading or listening to relaxing music may help your child wind down and get ready for sleep.
  • Minimise noise near your child’s bedroom. Some children can sleep through loud sounds while others wake up at the slightest noise.
  • Check to see if there is too much light in the room at night. Block out street lights and make sure any LED displays on clocks are not too bright.
  • Talk about dreams together and explain that everyone has dreams and occasional nightmares.
  • If your child is troubled by a recurring nightmare, help them to explore its meaning through drawing, writing or play acting. Thinking about the nightmare creatively – especially when the child comes up with a happier ending or 'makes friends' with the nightmare character – can help defuse the power of the dream.

If you continue to have concerns about your child’s sleeping and night time routine, speak to a health professional for further advice.

 Related links:

  • Raising Children Network’s School-age sleep: in a nutshell – a good night’s sleep is important for your child’s growth and development
  • Better Health Channel’s Sleep – sleep is essential for good health
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