Sleep and your child: zero to six years

Sleep at six months to three years

By this age your baby or toddler might be sleeping through the night.

Some toddlers need lots of sleep, while others get by with much less sleep - both are okay.

Your child may wake once, or several times a night.

Sometimes they might roll over and go back to sleep, or they might cry because they are uncomfortable or afraid, or want to know you are there.

Settling your baby or toddler

Try the following ideas to encourage sleep time for your baby or toddler:

  • stick to regular mealtimes during the day with some snacks and one or two sleeps
  • give them plenty of activity when they are awake - visit the park or playground, or go for a walk
  • make the hour or so before sleep a relaxing time
  • keep to the regular settling pattern that you have established, such as a bath, quiet play, story, cuddles and/or song
  • put your child into their cot awake and let them drift off to sleep
  • sing a song, read a story or put on some relaxing music
  • pat or rock them for a while
  • wrap them in a thin cotton sheet or sleeping bag - if they like it and depending on the temperature.

Settling older toddlers

You can try these ideas to get older toddlers to sleep:

  • leave a soft light on
  • give them something to cuddle like a soft toy or something of yours, such as a t-shirt
  • if they still like a dummy, try putting several in the cot - if the child wakes, move their hand so they can find one and settle again.

Your child may need you to stay near while they go to sleep.

If you decide to do this, don’t sneak out without telling them - it can make them tense in case you do it again. 

You can whisper that you are going to another room and will be back soon. Make sure you do return soon. 

If your child copes with this you can start taking a bit longer before coming back, but make sure you always return before they get upset - this builds trust. 

Even if they have fallen asleep, give them a goodnight kiss and whisper ‘I came back’.

You can use this time as your relaxation time - take a book to read or a CD and sit in a comfortable chair near your child, without disturbing them. 

Over a few nights you could gradually move your chair nearer to the door, until you are outside the door - so your child can hear you but not see you.

This way your child gradually learns to settle when you are not there.

If your child wakes at night

Your child might still wake at night, but will probably grow out of it over time.

If you and your child are happy with the way things are, don’t feel pressured to change.

Your child might wake and cry at night due to:

  • being in a light phase of sleep so that something like a noise causes them to wake fully
  • not knowing how to settle back to sleep. Sometimes young children need to be fed, rocked or nursed to sleep
  • pain such as earache, a cold, or teething.

Separation anxiety

Some children wake and cry at night because of separation anxiety. 

By eight or nine months of age, babies have learned that their parents exist even if they can’t see them - they can get frightened when they wake and their parents aren't there. 

This is a common reason for children under three years to cry at night.

You can tell if your child is waking due to separation anxiety if they settle quickly when you are nearby to reassure them.

If your child has separation anxiety, you can:

  • put a day bed or mattress in their room and lie down near them so you both get to sleep
  • put their bed in your room near you
  • make sure they get plenty to eat during the day.

Print all pages in this section

Last updated: 11 March 2016

Give feedback about this page.

Share this page:

URL copied!