What are some key factors I should keep in mind to help my child sleep well?

What are some key factors I should keep in mind to help my child sleep well?

by Angela Youngs, Psy.D.
Supervised by Vicki Chiang, Psy.D. (PSY21136)


There are several factors to consider when attempting to support your child in obtaining adequate and effective sleep. The ABCs of SLEEPING is a mnemonic device developed through the support of empirical evidence on pediatric sleep recommendations. Keep each point in mind as you think about how to best support your child (and family) during bedtime [1].


  • Age-appropriate Bedtimes and wake-times with Consistency
    • The following are sleep recommendations from The National Sleep Foundation based on age [2]:
      • Toddlers (1-2 years old): 11-14 hours per night
      • Preschoolers (3-5 years old): 10-13 hours per night
      • School-children (6-13 years old): 9-11 hours per night
      • Teenagers (14-17 years): 8-10 hours per night
      • Young adults (18-25 years): 7-9 hours per night
    • It is also important for children to maintain regular and consistent sleep schedules. Bed and wake times should vary no more than 30-60 minutes – yes, even on the weekend.
  • Schedules and routines
    • Try and keep day-to-day routines consistent and predictable.
    • Establish a bedtime routine that involves quiet, calming activities. A bedtime routine may consist of bath time/shower, reading a book, meditating, saying goodnight, using calming scents (e.g., a special lavender lotion), or soft singing.  Work with your child to create a special routine that’s calming and something he/she can look forward to.
  • Location
    • Do your best to make sure your child consistently has a distraction-free place to sleep. That is, the bedroom should be associated with sleep and not with other exciting (e.g., video games) or emotionally activating activities (e.g., time outs). The room should be comfortable, in a familiar place, cool, and dark.
  • Exercise and Diet
    • Daily physical movement is important for many aspects of one’s health – including sleep. However, to promote relaxation and winding down for the day, the activity should not take place within 1-4 hours of bedtime.
    • Soda or other caffeinated items can make it challenging to fall asleep. Further, it is not recommended children go to bed hungry or immediately following a large meal.
  • No Electronics in the bedroom or before bed
    • Electronics should not be used at least an hour before bedtime as the use of such devices stimulate the brain, rather than help it ease into a state of rest.
    • Electronics should not be kept in the bedroom to limit access at/after bedtime and to ensure the bedroom continues to be associated with sleep.
  • Positivity and relaxation
    • Do your best to maintain a positive attitude towards sleep, which can be difficult if bedtime is challenging. However, this positive attitude can help children also feel positive about going to sleep. Exciting or frustrating activities or tasks (lively games or difficult homework) should not be done right before bed if possible.
  • Independence when falling asleep
    • It is important to help children learn to fall asleep independently to promote healthy sleep. This can be done by helping your child learn how to soothe his/herself and relax independently. Doing so can improve sleep duration and reduce the number of times your child wakes during the night. This can be a challenge in many families, and sometimes the support of a therapist trained in behavioral sleep interventions may be warranted.
  • Needs of child met during the day
    • These needs include both physical and emotional. Children should have enough access to healthy food and clean water during the day. Children should also be supported in regulating their emotions, managing internalizing symptoms – like worry or anxiety, navigating peer relationships, etc. during the day.
  • Great sleep
    • By considering and addressing these recommendations, you will be promoting great sleep, both quality and quantity, for your child.


What do I do if I try these suggestions and still find bed/nighttime to be a challenge?


Sometimes the additional support of a therapist can be helpful in addressing sleep challenges. A therapist can help implement behavioral changes that make falling asleep easier and less stressful. A therapist can also help to address underlying issues associated with sleep trouble (i.e., anxiety). Regardless of what is making sleep difficult for your child, you do no have to try and solve it all on your own.


[1] Allen, S. L., Howlett, M. D., Coulombe, A., & Corkum, P. V. (2016). ABCs of SLEEPING: A review of the evidence behind pediatric sleep practice recommendations. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 29, 1-14.

[2] Hirshkowitz, M., Whiton, K., Albert, S. M., Alessi, C., Bruni, O., DonCarlos, L., Hillard, A. (2015). National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: Methodology results summary. Sleep Health, 1(1), 40-43.

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