Bedtime problems and frequent night wakings are common in young children. Here are ways you can help your child develop good sleep habits.

If you child is an infant (<1 year old)

  1. Teach your baby to sleep on his own from five to six months, by using a routine

  2. Have a consistent bedtime and soothing routine: Read him a story, listen to quiet music, or give him a bath and gentle massage

  3. Keep the bedroom quiet and dark, and at a comfortable temperature

  4. Put your baby to bed when drowsy but still awake. This will help your baby learn to fall asleep on his own in his own bed

  5. Use a familiar soothing musical lullaby

  6. Repeat this same routine at the same time every night

  7. Avoid holding, rocking or feeding your baby to sleep, as he will expect you to do the same again every time he wakes up during the night

  8. Comfort your child without picking him up

  9. Keep your baby calm and quiet if you need to feed or change him during the night, and keep the lights low

How to help your infant sleep safely

Infants less than a year old are at greatest risk of something called Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) during sleep. It is sometimes referred to as 'cot death'. The cause is not known, but certain risk factors have been identified, such as smoking or sleeping prone (lying on the stomach).

Other risk factors include prematurity, too high or low a room temperature, excessive bedding, clothing or stuffed toys in the cot. Co-sleeping or bed-sharing with your baby also increases the risk of SIDS.

It is therefore advised that babies sleep in a separate cot, without pillows, soft toys or cot bumpers, until one year old. Your baby should also be put to sleep on his back, not front. If using a blanket. make sure that it only covers up to the baby's chest and the arms are exposed, and put your baby's feet touching the end of the cot so that he cannot wriggle further down under the blanket during sleep.

If you child is a toddler / pre-schooler (2 to 5 years old)

  1. Establish a consistent bedtime routine as for an infant

  2. Show your child the clock and have a fixed bedtime and wake up time on school and non-school nights

  3. A light snack high in tryptophan may help to induce sleepiness (eg. milk, bananas)

  4. Give your child a 10-minute reminder before bedtime. Once the 10 minutes is up, take him/her to pass urine and brush teeth

  5. Allow your child to take a favourite item to bed each night, such as a teddy bear, special blanket, or some other favourite toy

  6. Use a bedtime routine: Read a story together, kiss and hug your child, put on a familiar lullaby, turn the lights down and leave the room

Other ways to help your toddler / pre-schooler sleep

  • Keep the bedroom free of a TV or video games

  • Avoid letting your child watch TV, play computer games, use smartphones and gadgets at least one hour before bedtime

  • Do not use the bedroom for time-out or punishments

  • Avoid giving your child foods containing sugar and caffeine for several hours before bedtime. These include chocolate, sodas, coffee and tea

  • Avoid feeding your child a heavy meal two hours before bedtime

  • Avoid letting your child sleep in the same bed with you. This could make it harder for your child to fall asleep when alone

How much sleep does a child need?


  • 16 to 20 hours

  • Newborns usually will wake every three to five hours a night for necessary feeds

Infant (<1 year old)

  • 13 to15 hours

  • From five to six months of age, most healthy babies do not need overnight feeding and are able to sleep about nine to ten hours through the night or only wake once. They will still need two to three naps during the day.

Toddler / Pre-schooler (2 to 5 years old)

  • 11 to 12 hours

  • Toddlers should be able to sleep nine to 10 hours through the night, and may need one to two naps a day. To achieve this, most children this age should have a bedtime at around 8pm to 9pm.

School age children

  • 10 to 11 hours

Frequently-asked questions about children's sleep

1. What should I do if my child cries for me at bedtime or in the night?

Even after you have established good sleep habits, your child may have night-time waking due to nightmares, as active dreaming begins at toddler age. Comfort your child as necessary and encourage him to go back to sleep in his own bed.

If you are keen to establish sleep routine or teach your toddler to sleep independently, you may try the following:

  • Wait several seconds before answering and make your response time longer each time your child calls

  • Remind your child each time that it is time to go to sleep

  • Check on him, but do not tum on the light, pick him up, or play with him. Give him a chance to fall asleep on his own

  • If your child is still unable to settle himself, consider what else may be bothering him. He may be hungry, wet or soiled, or otherwise not feeling well. If so, address this and put him back to bed

  • Praise your child the next morning for staying in bed

2. When should I seek help for my child?

ConsuIt a doctor if your child has:

  • Problems going to bed/falling asleep

  • Excessive sleepiness during the day

  • Frequent night-waking

  • Night terrors or sleepwalking

  • Snoring or difficulty breathing at night

Ref: K21