In this section
Many families have problems getting their children to bed, especially preschool and primary school-age children. Many children will use excuses to avoid going to bed such as 'I need to go to the toilet' or 'I just need to tell you something', which can often delay sleep time significantly.
It is not unusual for children to have night-time worries or fears, which can prevent them from getting to sleep easily. There are a number of strategies that can help them overcome their night-time worries.
Whatever the cause of the bedtime problems, it is important that the family decides on (and sticks to) clear rules about a bedtime routine. Praising your child and reinforcing good behaviour will also help to improve bedtime problems.
For sleep problems in younger children, see our fact sheet
Sleep problems – babies and toddlers.
What a child wants is not always what they need. Although your child may want to stay up, they may not understand the importance of sleep. As the adult, you need to decide what is reasonable bedtime behaviour and be clear about the behaviours you expect. Setting limits often benefits
children in more ways than just improving sleep, as they feel secure and contained.
Behaviour change can be challenging and it may take some time before you see improvement.
If your child calls out:
If your child comes out of their room:
Positive reinforcement and rewards are an important part of any behaviour change.
Some children have difficulties getting to sleep because they are worried or anxious, and they start to think too much about their worries when they go to bed. The following strategies will help them overcome their night-time worries, and teach them skills they can use in other areas of
Talk to your child about what is worrying them. Young children may say they fear the dark or monsters. Older children may not be able to explain what they are worrying about, or they are simply worried about not being able to fall asleep.
It is important not to disregard your child, but at the same time you shouldn't place too much importance on irrational fears.
It is important to give your child the message that you have confidence in them to deal with their worries. It is a good idea to discuss them during the day, away from bedtime. During the day, your child is more likely to be feeling confident and can listen to reason.
It's important to stick to your child's bedtime routine, even if they seem very worried or upset. Your child may need reassurance and support, but try to avoid getting into a routine where your child depends on you to fall asleep (e.g. you need to lie with them, or they need to sleep in
Setting limits and being gentle but firm will help your child to feel safe. It also tells your child that you have confidence in them to manage this. Giving in to your child's requests may give them the message that there really is something to worry
There are various creative ways to help your child to deal with their fears and worries. Plan your strategy ahead of time and talk about it during the day, when your child feels confident, and this will help them feel confident at night.
Even young children can learn relaxation techniques, which will not only help them feel more calm and relaxed, but will distract them from any worries.
Children often get lots of attention for having fears or worries, and this can encourage the undesirable bedtime behaviour. Positive reinforcement is important for children who are affected by worries at night time.
How much sleep does my child need?
Children vary in how much sleep they need each night (or day if they have naps), but as a rough guide: one to three year-olds need 12–14 hours, three to six year-olds need 10–12 hours and seven to 12 year-olds need 10–11 hours.
I've tried many different strategies to help my child sleep
better but nothing is working. Should we try melatonin?
Behavioural strategies should always be tried before using a medication such as melatonin, but melatonin may be considered when other strategies are not working. Melatonin is a hormone that has been used successfully to treat sleep problems in children who need help to regulate their sleep pattern. Melatonin
requires a prescription in Australia – always discuss melatonin use with your doctor as part of managing your child’s sleep problems overall. The melatonin products available on the shelves in pharmacies are homeopathic versions, so to get an effective dose, you should see your doctor for a prescription.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital General Medicine department. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed July 2018.
Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.