Summary

  • Preschoolers normally sleep for 11 to 13 hours a day and some may still a daytime nap for about an hour.
  • By understanding and communicating with your preschooler you will learn their cues as they grow and develop. This will help to support positive relationships and sleep patterns.
  • When your child is tired, they show signs or cues that they are tired. If you learn to recognise these signs, you can encourage your child to go to sleep at the right time.
  • Bedtime routines help your preschooler develop positive sleep patterns and behaviour and can prevent sleep concerns.

Connecting with your preschooler

It is important that your preschooler feels secure and loved. You can do this by responding to them in a warm and positive way.

Positive interactions from people shows preschoolers that they are important and are valued by adults.

By understanding and communicating with your preschooler you will learn their cues as they grow and develop. This will help to support positive relationships and sleep patterns. 

Recognising your preschooler's tired signs

When your child is tired, they show signs or cues that they are tired. If you learn to recognise these signs, you can encourage your child to go to sleep at the right time.

Preschoolers from 3 to 5 years might be tired if they have had a busy day outside of normal routines.

Tired signs for this age group can include:

  • clumsiness
  • clinginess
  • being grumpy
  • grizzling or crying
  • demands for attention
  • boredom with toys
  • rubbing eyes
  • fussiness with food.

Creating a sleep routine and environment for your preschooler

Routines and environments play a big part in helping preschoolers get to sleep.

Preschoolers normally sleep for 11 to 13 hours a day and some may still a daytime nap for about an hour.

Children need a cue to tell them it is time to go to sleep. This is usually something in their external environment. 

It could be a dark room or having familiar objects around them.

Some routines might be difficult to keep doing for the long term as they may create a negative sleep behaviours and patterns for your child. Such as letting your preschooler fall asleep in your bed, as they may then only be able to fall asleep this way. It’s up to you to decide whether you can maintain these types of routines.  

Your preschooler's sleep environment

Some things you can do to create a good sleep environment for your preschooler include:

  • Darkened and quiet environments.
  • Having a bath at night.
  • Consistent and predictable bedtimes and wake times. 
  • Quietness and reducing stimulation, (such as screen time, mobile devices, television and boisterous play before bedtime).
  • Self-soothing objects (such as soft toys and special blankets). 
  • Positive bedtime routines including pre-sleep associations (such as reading, lullabies and taking your preschooler to where they usually sleep). 

Bedtime routines and your preschooler

Bedtime routines help your preschooler develop positive sleep patterns and behaviour and can prevent sleep concerns. 

Regular daytime and bedtime routines can help your child to fall asleep and stay asleep. They let your child know that sleep is coming.

They are predictable and calming for your child.

Some things you can do include: 

  • Keeping the routine short – no more than 30 to 45 minutes
  • Using the same relaxing activities before bed every day (such as a warm bath, a massage, reading stories or singing lullabies)
  • Creating a calm, quiet, dark and warm environment, with no television or mobile devices.

Use regular bed times, nap times and wake times to help your child develop a good sleep–wake rhythm.

Flexible daily patterns and your preschooler

Research shows that it’s good to keep using the same sleep routine as your child grows and develops.

Flexible daily patterns are a daytime routine you can use for babies, toddlers and preschoolers to encourage positive sleep patterns and behaviour early on.

Encourage play time during the day. Examples of play time for preschoolers include:

  • drawing
  • reading
  • singing
  • dancing
  • playing (such as kicking a ball)
  • running or walking
  • going to the park
  • climbing and jumping

Watch for the first tired signs and if your preschooler still has a daytime nap, put them to bed when they are tired, but still awake. 

Flexible daily patterns are most effective if done throughout the day. You should reduce play at night and provide a quiet and dim environment so that your child understands the difference between day and night.

Mealtime is a very important part of the routine. With a healthy and adequate diet, your preschooler will have energy for play, which in turn encourages positive sleep behaviours.

Helping your preschooler to sleep safely

Ways to sleep your preschooler safely:

  • Keep their head and face uncovered – it is never appropriate for your preschooler to settle for sleep wearing a hat
  • Ensure your preschooler is in a smoke free environment
  • Sleep your preschooler in a safe bed
  • Ensure that the whole of the sleeping environment is safe – including items within reach (such as electrical appliances and blind or curtain cords).

Moving your preschooler from a cot to a bed 

Once you notice your preschooler is attempting to climb out of their cot, it is time to move them to a bed. This is usually between 2 and 3 ½ years of age but can be as early as 18 months. 

It is important to make sure that your home and child's bed is safe. They shouldn’t have access to things like power points, blind or curtain cords and stairs as they could hurt themselves if they get up during the night. 

Maternal and child health nurse visits are important

Victorian parents have free access to the Maternal and Child Health Service. Specially trained maternal and child health will work with your family to help you care for your child until they are ready to start school.

As part of this service, you will visit a maternal and child health nurse in your local area at 10 key ages and stages in your child’s development. These visits are important because they you an opportunity to identify and address any issues and concerns early in your child’s development. 

Visits take place:

Families can access the service at other times by telephone or through a centre visit.

Don't forget your 'green book'

Make sure you take your My Health, Learning and Development – green book with you each time you see your nurse, health professional or immunisation provider so you can jot down any issues, and record information on your baby's growth and development. 

If you don't have a green book, let your nurse know.

Where to get help

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Last updated: January 2020

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