5th Aug 2020

The Ultimate Baby & Child Sleep Guide

Sleep plays a role in maintaining our general health and wellbeing (1). But, for babies and children, it’s particularly important for them to rest after a day of learning, growing and exploring (2).

Unfortunately there’s no rule book when it comes to baby sleep. But, if your little one experiences restless sleep, it may impact the sleeping patterns of other members of the family.

So, understanding some common sleeping cues and equipping yourself with a toolkit of tips to help temporarily settle them may make bedtime more manageable.

What Are the Recommended Sleep Times For Babies and Children?

The amount of sleep your child gets and how frequently they wake will change over time as they grow and develop (1). It’s important to remember that every child is unique, especially when it comes to their sleeping habits. If you have any concerns about your child’s sleep, talk to your health professional.

However, As A General Guide, The Sleep Foundation Recommends:

  • Newborns (0-3 months old): 14-17 hours per day (3)
  • Infants (4-11 months old): 12-15 hours per day and naps decreasing (3)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years old): 11-14 hours per day and morning naps stopped (3)
  • Pre-schoolers (3-5 years old): 10-13 hours per day and daytime naps decreasing (3)
  • School-aged children (6-13 years old): 9-11 hours per night and napping stopped (3)
  • Teenagers (14-17 years old): 8-10 hours per night (3)

Why Might Some Babies and Children Experience Restlessness?

When it comes to their sleeping habits, no two babies are the same. While some drift off with relative ease, others may experience disturbed sleep.

Some Babies May Experience Disturbed Sleep Because:

  • They don’t want to miss out on an activity (4)
  • Their daytime routine doesn’t include naps (4)
  • Their sleeping environment is light and noisy (5)
  • They’re hungry or thirsty (4)
  • They’re overexcited (6)

At around 6-12 months old, some babies may also experience separation difficulty at sleep time. This may mean they resist falling asleep and wake frequently during the night.

If your baby cries when you leave the room, it may upset them if you try to sneak out (6). Instead, it may help them feel more secure if you stay with them until they are calm (6).

If you’re looking for ways to help reduce your child’s separation difficulty, you may like to try the stepladder approach.

What Are Some Baby Sleep Cues to Look Out For?

By identifying your little one’s signs of tiredness, you may be able to help settle them for sleep before they become overtired or too agitated. Try settling your baby as soon as you notice them displaying sleeping cues. If they become too tired, it may be more difficult for them to settle.

Some Common Sleeping Cues:

  • For newborns: may include staring, jerky arm and leg movements, clenched fists, frowning, yawning (4)
  • For older babies: may include loss of interest in playing, fretfulness, yawning, eye rubbing (4)
  • For toddlers: may include clumsy physical movements, taking longer to perform tasks, emotional tension, yawning, eye rubbing (4)

Tips for Supporting A Healthy Sleeping Pattern

There are some practices you can incorporate at bedtime to help support your little one’s healthy sleeping pattern. Whatever their specific nap times or favourite bedtime stories, the main thing to remember is that consistency is key.

Establishing a good routine at sleep times is important for encouraging a healthy sleeping pattern. After all, how your baby sleeps during the day influence how they sleep at night (4).

With this in mind, try your best to ensure that the time your child goes to bed and the time they wake up doesn’t vary by more than 30 minutes from day to day (2). Remember to implement this for both night-time sleeping and daytime naps.

For young children, differentiating between day and night feeds may also help establish a regular sleeping pattern. Try keeping daytime feeds social and energetic and reserve calm, quiet feeds for the darker hours.

How Can I Help Settle My Baby?

Setting a bedtime routine is one aspect of helping your little one recognise when it’s time for sleep. Creating a consistent routine may help make the bedroom a familiar, calm and pleasant place for them to wind down.

The activities you include in your child’s bedtime routine should be tailored to reflect those that calm them.

Try to do similar activities in roughly the same way every night. Remember, the aim is to keep the atmosphere relaxing and positive.

Some Possible Bedtime Routine Activities Include:

  • Having a bath
  • Brushing teeth
  • Getting into pyjamas
  • Reading a book or listening to a story
  • Having a brief cuddle

It may also be useful to try turning off technology one hour before bedtime (2,5) and reserving the bedroom for sleeping, not for entertaining.

Swaddling, massage and baths may be other ways you can help to relax your little one before bedtime. But, the most important thing to remember is that every baby has their own preferences (1), so try to be sensitive to their cues.

If you want more tips to help your child get to sleep and stay asleep, you can find more handy hints here.

How May You Help Relieve Your Baby’s Disturbed Sleep?

Do you find your little one wakes frequently during the night and struggles to doze off again? There are some strategies you can keep in your toolkit that may help to temporarily relieve their restless sleep.

One way to help lull your restless baby back to sleep may be a gentle massage. They may find your touch reassuring, creating a safe and comfortable atmosphere for them to feel comfortable drifting off again.

When babies are comforted, it helps them learn how to become calm (1). It’s not recommended to leave a baby to cry (1).

In time they can learn self-soothing strategies to calm themselves. Would you like to learn more about self-soothing? You can find more information here.

What Are the Safe Baby Sleep Positions?

Although every baby differs when it comes to their sleeping habits, ensuring they’re in a safe position is important for all children come bedtime.

Red Nose recommends that the safest position for babies to sleep is on their backs in the cot (7).

Other steps for safe sleeping include sleeping in the same room as your baby for the first 6-12 months and ensuring their mattress is well fitted (7).

Would you like to learn more about safe sleeping? You can discover the 10 tips to putting your baby to bed safely here.

Can My Baby Sleep with a Toy or Dummy?

Red Nose recommends keeping soft toys out of the sleeping environment until your baby is 7 months or older (8).

Once your little one reaches 8 or 9 months old, they may become more aware of the separation between parent and child at sleep times and may appreciate a small comfort or ‘transitional’ object such as a soft toy (8).

Alternatively, offering your baby a dummy may be a helpful infant settling method. If you wish to use a dummy, Red Nose recommends:

  • Talking to your health professional to receive evidence-based advice, including the advantages and disadvantages of dummy use (9)
  • Only offering a dummy for sleep and phasing out use entirely by their first birthday (9)
  • Not forcing the dummy if the baby refuses (9)
  • Not reinserting the dummy if it falls out while they are sleeping (9)

When Can My Baby Sleep by Themselves?

For the first 6-12 months of their lives, Red Nose recommends children sleep in the same room as an adult-caregiver, in their own sleeping space (10).

The safest place for your little one to sleep during this time is in a cot next to their parents’ bed (10).

In the first six months, it’s particularly important that babies sleep in their parents’ room as this is a time of rapid and dynamic development (10).

Once they reach toddlerhood, if they’re happy and safe in their cot there’s no need to move them to a bed (1). But, if they look as though they may climb out of their cot, it’s time to move bedtime to a low bed or firm mattress on the floor.

What's Next?

Have you found this information useful? If so, you might enjoy the following:

How To Put Your Baby To Sleep Safely 

How To Create A Child’s Bedtime Routine In 5 Simple Steps


  1. Department for Education. (2020). Sleep 0 to 6 years – parent easy guide. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Feb. 2020].
  2. Queensland Health. (2019). Exercise, sleep, and screen time – what do kids need?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Feb. 2020].
  3. Sleep Health Foundation. (2015). Sleep Needs Across the Lifespan. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Feb. 2020].
  4. (2020). Sleep – children and naps. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Feb. 2020].
  5. (2020). Sleep tips for children. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Feb. 2020].
  6. (2020). Sleep 6 months – 3 years. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Feb. 2020].
  7. Red Nose Australia. (2019). Why should you sleep your baby on their back?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Feb. 2020].
  8. Soft toys in the cot. (2017). [ebook] Melbourne, Australia: Red Nose Australia, pp.1-4. Available at: [Accessed 14 Feb. 2020].
  9. Using a dummy or pacifier. (2014). [ebook] Melbourne, Australia: Red Nose Australia, pp.1-8. Available at: [Accessed 14 Feb. 2020].
  10. Red Nose Australia. (2020). Room Sharing With Baby. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Feb. 2020].