Children and Sleep


Sleep is essential to a child’s overall wellness and development and plays an important role in supporting their functioning in everyday activities. Well-rested children are better able to focus at school, manage their emotions, regulate their behaviour, and make healthier food choices. Inadequate sleep is associated with many negative consequences including challenges with their mental health, school performance, increased risk-taking behaviour, and may impact their self-esteem. 

2-3% of school aged children and 80% of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experience sleep difficulties. Some of these difficulties include early awakenings followed by difficulty falling back asleep, trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, sleeping alone and having nightmares. 

Below are some strategies that may help to improve a child’s sleep!

Monitoring a child’s sleeping patterns:

  • Children or parents can record the child’s sleep habits over a 24-hour period for at least 2 continuous weeks to try and identify day-to-day challenges with sleep and the variability of their sleep schedule. This will help target strategies to better improve their sleep.
  • This can be done using a chart, checklist, journal or another method that works well for you and the child!
  • Things that you may consider tracking include what time they go to bed/get up in the morning, hours of sleep, how many times they got up in the night etc. 

Behavioural strategies

The aim of behavioural strategies is to help develop good sleep habits and avoid, replace or extinguish behaviours that prevent the child from sleeping well at night.

Below are some tips you can implement to help your child sleep better at night:

  1. This point is extremely important! Children should be engaging in activities during the day, in their bedroom and before bedtime that help to promote sound sleep. For example, being active during the day outside of the bedroom may help children sleep better at night and reading a book or taking a bath before bed may be more calming closer to bedtime. Developing proper habits such as having a consistent bedtime routine will also help to regulate sleep. 
  2. Limit activities in the child’s bedroom that are incompatible with sleep. For example, overly stimulating activities such as hide-and-go-seek, to prevent conditioning that associates their bedroom with these stimulating activities.
  3. Limit the time in bed to match desired sleep duration. Try and avoid performing other activities other than ones that promote sleep or sleep itself in the child’s bed. This way, they are only in bed for the amount of time they should be sleeping. 

Example strategies

  1. Self-soothing strategies: relates to the emotional regulation process of a child and provides them strategies to learn to calm themselves down independently
    • Bedtime basket: activities to do before bed while the child becomes drowsy enough to fall asleep
      • Activities should be calming 
      • Activities should focus on decreasing bothersome stimuli (e.g., lights, sounds)
      • Examples: colouring, jigsaw puzzles, cards, stuffed animals
    • Bedtime buddy: security object included in the child’s bedtime routine (e.g. special doll, stuffed animal, blanket)
  2. 5 B’s Bedtime Routine: collaborate with the child to create a visual schedule to prepare them before bedtime.
    • Bedtime bite: provide a healthy snack before bed only to be eaten in the kitchen
    • Bath: washing up and getting the child into pajamas for bedtime preparation
    • Brush teeth
    • Bathroom: provide one last opportunity to go to the washroom to avoid extra bathroom requests later
    • Books: reading time before bed; choose a specific number of books or set a timer to mark the end of reading time – this can also be included in their bedtime basket to eventually promote independent reading before bedtime 
  3. Create a sleep-conductive space
    • This may include keeping the child’s sleep space dark, quiet, comfortable, and cool – Try to limit interruptions, you may need to consider using blackout curtains, eyeshades, earplugs or devices that create white noise. 

Relaxation & Mindfulness Strategies

Relaxation and mindfulness techniques help children bring their attention to the present moment, enter a deep relaxation and help them regulate their bodies before bedtime. These strategies work well for all children especially those who worry about bedtime or who experience anxiety.

  1. Deep breathing exercises
    • 4-7-8 breathing: get the child to lie down, inhale through their nose for 4 seconds, hold their breath for 7 seconds, exhale through their mouth for 8 seconds and repeat this 4 times.
    • Box breathing: Breath in for 4 seconds, “breathe in like you are smelling a flower,” breathe out for 4 seconds, “breathe out like you are blowing out birthday candles.” Repeat this 4-5 times until the child begins to feel calm.
  2. Progressive muscles relaxation
  3. Grounding
    • Focusing on Your Five Senses: When feeling anxious at the moment, there are some techniques that exist to help kids focus on the present moment. 
      • Help guide the child to list: 5 things they can see, 4 things they can hear, 3 things they can touch, 2 things they can smell, 1 thing they can taste
  4. Guided meditation

Additional Resources



  • Become your Child’s Sleep Coach by Lynelle Schneeberg
  • What Do You Do When You Dread Your Bed: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Problems With Sleep by Dawn Hubner & Bonnie Matthews
  • What Do You Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Hubner & Bonnie Matthews


  • Mendoza, J. (2020). A good sleep. Retrieved from
  • Scheeberg, L. (2019). Becoming Your Child’s Sleep Coach (1st ed.). New York, NY: Lifelong Books.

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