In this section
fall asleep and waking up many
times through the night is very common in babies and toddlers. It can be very
distressing and exhausting for their parents and caregivers. There are many
strategies that can help improve baby and toddler sleep, and families will need
to choose which one(s) suit their child and family best. Caring for babies and toddlers with sleep challenges can
be exhausting and it is important to seek support for yourself through family,
friends and your community. Please talk to your GP if you have concerns about
how you are coping with the situation.
problems in older children, see our fact sheet Bedtime problems –
Sleep is made up of sleep cycles, which
consist of periods of light and deep sleep. When we go to sleep at the start of
the night, it takes around 20 minutes to pass from light into deep sleep. We
then spend some time in deep sleep, coming up into light sleep again. This is
called a sleep cycle. In adults, a sleep cycle lasts about 90 min. In children aged six months to 18 months,
sleep cycles last about an hour. In newborns, sleep cycles are even
shorter. It is normal for children to wake when a sleep cycle comes to an end,
when they are in light sleep. Many children can easily resettle themselves,
while others will call out or cry at this time.
Like adults, different children need
different amounts of sleep to feel rested and happy during the day. More
information on how much sleep to expect in babies and toddlers can be found at:
Babies less than 6
months usually wake regularly during the night. They need regular feeds
overnight, and they need time for their body clocks to adapt to the differences
between daytime and nighttime (circadian rhythm). During the first 6 months,
parents learn about their baby’s cues of tiredness, hunger and
overstimulation – although for many babies, it may be hard to work these out. Behavioural
sleep interventions in babies younger than 6 months old are not recommended. There
is no evidence behavioural sleep
interventions are beneficial for these babies in these early months, so it is
important to respond to your baby’s cues when they wake.
More information on
settling and sleep for newborns and babies less than 6 months old can be found
at: https://raisingchildren.net.au/babies/sleep and https://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Crying_and_unsettled_babies/
family and every child are different. Some children naturally settle and fall
asleep more easily than others, who may need help to fall asleep. It is common
for parents and caregivers to soothe or settle their child to sleep using
techniques such as feeding, patting, rocking or holding the child until they
fall asleep in their arms. If a child is used to getting help from their
parents to fall asleep, this can become a habit, called a sleep association.
Specific preference to one parent or caregiver can also be a sleep association.
associations are usually not a problem in the first few months of life.
However, at around 4-5 months of age, babies start to realize that their
parents are still around even if they cannot see them. This normal
developmental milestone is called ‘object permanence’. During
this time, babies may start to cry out for their parent at the end of each
sleep cycle. Babies who do not need help to fall asleep at the start of a night
or nap may be able to soothe themselves back to sleep. However, babies who have
sleep associations are likely to need help from their parents to fall back to
associations are not a problem for all children and families. Children who
don't settle easily are more likely to become dependent on sleep associations
to fall asleep, and may wake up frequently. This may be a cause of distress to
some parents and caregivers. For parents and caregivers who need more support
with their child’s sleep, below are some
strategies to promote good sleep habits.
The Sleep with Kip https://sleepwithkip.com/strategies
is an evidence based resource for sleep strategies:
The Raising Children Network is an evidence
based parenting resource: https://raisingchildren.net.au/babies/sleep/solving-sleep-problems/changing-sleep-patterns
These strategies promote good sleep habits,
which can help babies to fall asleep more easily and wake less frequently
overnight. Every family and their baby are different, and some strategies may
work for one family/baby but not for the other. Talk to a health professional,
for example a maternal and child health nurse, to ask for help. When working to
support a baby over 6 months of age to sleep separately from their caregivers,
it is important that it is done gently. Sometimes, plans may need to be put on hold if your baby is unwell or needs extra
support for another reason.
By the age of around 6 months, children can
anticipate and respond to positive routines. It is beneficial to have a
positive routine to ‘wind’ down
in the evening. This will help your child to expect and anticipate that bedtime
You can tailor the routine to suit your
family, here are some suggestions:
More tips to promote healthy sleep routines
can be found here https://raisingchildren.net.au/babies/sleep/settling-routines/bedtime-routines
Once your child has learnt to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the
night, be wary of times of change. Illness or unexpected changes for the child
or household can upset your child's routine and may lead to a recurrence of
night waking. If your child is sick, it is OK to give yourself a break from the
usual sleep strategies and go back to them when things have settled. When you return
to the sleep routine, it is common to feel things seem worse than before.
Things are likely to get better again with time.
I've tried the suggestions for good sleep routines but
nothing seems to help. Should we go to sleep school?
Speak to your Maternal and Child Health Nurse. They may be able to provide you with some other useful advice for getting your baby to sleep better. If nothing seems to help, they will be able to recommend a sleep school (otherwise known as an early parenting centre). Sleep schools have
expert staff who can teach you how to help your baby self-settle. They may have day-stay programs or residential programs where you stay overnight. A sleep consultant may also be able to perform a home-visit and provide a tailored plan for settling your child.
I've been told to try controlled crying to teach
my baby to self-settle, but I am not comfortable with this technique. What are
some other effective options?
There are a number of different techniques for settling children. These include controlled crying, pat-and-shush and camping-out. You should discuss these with your Maternal and Child Health Nurse, sleep specialist or doctor to determine which is suited best to your family.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Centre for Community Child Health (CCCH). We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed May 2023.
This information is awaiting routine review. Please always seek the most recent advice from a registered and practising clinician.
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.