ZZZs, Please! Bedtime for Preschoolers

Getting enough sleep is important for your child’s mental and physical development. A sleepy child is more irritable, more accident prone, and less able to pay attention than a well-rested child. Children vary, but most preschoolers need to sleep about 10 to 12 hours during each 24-hour period. Although there isn’t one sure way to raise a good sleeper, the key is to try from early on to establish healthy bedtime habits.

How can I help my child develop good sleeping habits?

  • Set fixed times for going to bed, waking up, and taking naps.
  • Set aside some quiet time during the day for a nap. Explain that you want your child to start out in bed, but that it’s OK to play in the bedroom quietly if he can’t sleep.
  • Stick to a regular bedtime, alerting your child both 30 minutes and 10 minutes beforehand.
  • Include a winding-down period a half hour or so before bedtime. Offer a small, healthy snack. (Remember tooth brushing afterward!) Avoid stimulating games or television. Develop a relaxing bedtime routine that ends in the room where he sleeps.
  • Let your child choose which pajamas to wear, which soft toy to take to bed, etc.
  • Put him to sleep in the same quiet, cozy, sleep environment every night.
  • Use the bed for sleeping only. Keep televisions and computers out of the bedroom.
  • Play soft, soothing music if it helps your child relax.
  • Tuck your child into bed for a feeling of affection and security.
  • Kiss him goodnight and leave the room.

What if my child has difficulty falling asleep or gets up during the night?

  • Keep things quiet at bedtime to ease the transition. If your child can hear talking, laughing, or sounds from a computer or TV, it’s easy to see how she might feel left out.
  • Let her have a night-light or leave a door slightly open if she dislikes the dark.
  • Encourage your child to fall asleep alone. Lying down with a child until she falls asleep can be a hard habit to change. If your child gets up, reassure her that she is safe and return her to her bed.

What can I do if my child isn’t tired at bedtime?

  • Increase active, outdoor play (though not within 3 hours of bedtime).
  • Scale back daytime naps.
  • Wake her earlier in the morning.

Bedtime battles can test a parent’s resolve. If your child is pushing the limits, state your expectations clearly but calmly and stick to the routine. Eventually, your consistency should pay off in a good night’s sleep for everyone. If it doesn’t and you’re worried about your child’s sleeping patterns, talk with your doctor.

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About this Resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Home

Intended audience(s):
  • Parents / Family
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
  • Preschoolers (Age 3 Through Age 5)
Reviewed: 2010