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Your Child's Sleep 3-5 Years

3 to 5 Years
Find a positive, short phrase that signals sleepytime; use to reassure, to encourage sleep, or to avoid "delay tactics”

At a Glance

  • A regular and consistent bedtime routine continues to be beneficial for your child’s sleep and recharging
  • Some children may stop napping during the day when they reach three years (or may have stopped before), others may continue until the age of four or five
  • If napping stops, quiet time is still important and useful for both you and your child
  • Children sleep on average 12-13 hours around age three and on average 11-12 hours around age 4-5
  • With increased development of imagination, your child’s sleep may be interrupted by fears, nightmares, night terrors and even sleepwalking

Your Baby’s Story

Girl NappingAs your child is entering pre-school age, you are likely to see some changes in her sleep needs and sleep patterns. Around age three, many children still sleep between 12-13 hours in total, with some of that time including a nap during the day. If she no longer naps during the day, she will still benefit from quiet time around the same time she used to have a nap. She may just relax by herself with a favourite cuddly toy, or she may prefer a nice story. Also, if she no longer takes naps, evaluate her bedtime in the evening to see whether she needs to find her way to dreamland a little earlier. Look for signs that she is tired and how she acts when she may be getting overtired.

Around the age of 4-5 the average sleep is 11-12 hours, often all of it night time sleep. (Some children still naps at this age, even if it’s not every day). Your child will have his own sleep patterns and sleep needs, so try to read the signs and find ways to support rest time for your child according to what seems to help him.

You may very well face some challenges around bedtime as your child is getting older. She may start feeling she is missing out on what is going on, and with a very active day it can be hard to switch off. She needs your support and guidance regarding the best bedtime and winding down routine for her individual needs and preferences. Consistency remains important, as children find comfort in knowing what happens. Your child’s evening routine will help her prepare for calming down and going to bed.

Imagination is developing further between 3-5 years, which means that night time fears and awakenings due to nightmares, night terrors or even sleepwalking are common. Common fears include fear of the dark, "monsters” under the bed, or frightened of being left alone or separated from you. Let your child talk about his fears and nightmares, and find ways of reassuring him that he’s safe.

Other challenges can include your child’s rather impressive skill in finding ways to delay bedtime, such as suddenly feeling very thirsty or hungry, needing the toilet, or having something very important to tell you. Keep any interaction to the minimum rather than engaging with her, and it can be a good idea to have a night time phrase you always say so it becomes a strong cue for sleepy time.

What You can Do to Support and Encourage Your Child's Sleep

It remains important to maintain a consistent bedtime as well as bedtime and routine. Make the time you have together before bed relaxing and positive: perhaps talk about what’s been happening that day and what he really enjoyed; pick what to wear in bed; read a story or even make up a story together. The best thing is to have the last calming activity to take place in the bedroom. When you have found something that works well for your child, stick to it every night. This also means you can apply rules and limits more easily, as he more easily accepts your explanation if it happens every night. If you have agreed one story, stick to that even when he asks for one more, and one more…. Stick to what you are saying so he knows you mean it.

As your child is so active during the day (which actually helps sleep because her body will need the rest), it’s also important to keep the time leading up to her bedtime routine calm. TV and computers are too stimulating at this time, making sleeping more difficult. Engage her in quiet activities and remind her that bedtime is "creeping closer”. Some children also find it easier if they have 5-minute preparation times, giving them a cue to prepare for the start of going to bed (e.g. having a bath). You can involve her in talking about what you tend to do before bed, she may feel it’s more fun and that she has more control.

If your child starts delaying sleep and trying to engage you by asking for food, water, the toilet, or wanting to tell you a "very big secret”, keep your responses short and boring so as not to encourage him. Make sure he has had a drink and been to the toilet before he’s in bed. Or if he always asks for a drink you can make sure there is a drink in his room. It can be helpful to introduce a phrase you always repeat at night time, such as "sweet dreams, see you tomorrow” or "time for sleep now”. This can be a good thing to use consistently whether it’s to respond to delay tactics or after calming down from a nightmare.

For night time fears, encourage your child to talk about it with you, accept his fears and help him find ways to deal with what is going on. Explain that he is safe and talk about the situation in a way that he understands. Also, he may want a night light, or leave the door open or closed, or have soothing music or sounds in the background to help him settle. If he has a favourite cuddly toy, this is just as comforting now as in the earlier years. Of course, if your child is currently experiencing big changes or something difficult in his life, he may need you much more than usual to get to sleep.

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