Sleep tips for children and teens

Boy sleeping soundly Boy sleeping soundly

Here are some tips to help your child get the best sleep possible. Following the tips below will help your child fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.

Tips for children aged 12 and under

Keep a schedule

Your child's body likes a regular schedule. Keep a regular sleep routine that allows your child to wake up and go to bed about the same time every day. Bedtimes and wake times should not vary by more than one or two hours from one day to the next, including on weekends.

Try to avoid letting your child sleep in late on weekends. Sleeping in can make it harder for your child to keep a regular schedule during the week. If your child is well rested, you can change the schedule once in a while for special events and they can recover from the occasional late night much faster.

No naps for children aged six and older

A healthy child over six years of age should not need a nap during the day. Daytime naps for older children can affect the time the child will fall asleep at night. This results in a later bedtime and may lead to poorer quality nighttime sleep.

If your child is under six years of age, allow them to have a nap if they need one.

Create a relaxing routine

Create a relaxing bedtime routine that your child can follow each night. It should involve 20 to 30 minutes of quiet time. Good wind-down activities include reading, looking through a magazine, listening to music or writing in a journal. Avoid and discourage stimulating activities such as playing videogames, using the computer, using a cell phone or exercising an hour before bedtime.

Comfortable sleep environment

Make sure your child's bedroom is cool and quiet. Keep the bed for sleeping only.

  • Make sure your child's mattress and pillow gives good support to their spine.
  • It is best not to have a television in the bedroom. Watching television at night can stimulate the brain rather than relax it. In addition, your child may get into the habit of turning on the television if they cannot stay asleep during the night.
  • Avoid cell phones in the bedroom at night. Their ringing or vibration may disturb your child's sleep.
  • Discourage your child from doing their homework or using a computer in bed. These activities can cause your child to link bedtime with stress or active thinking when they are trying to sleep.

Healthy habits

Help your child develop and maintain good lifestyle habits.

  • Encourage your child to get regular exercise.
  • Avoid or at least limit caffeine (from pop, energy drinks, coffee, tea or chocolate). Lots of people feel better when they cut down on caffeine even if they do not avoid it completely.
  • Offer regular, balanced meals based on the four food groups in Canada's Food Guide.

These good habits all help to make your child comfortable and ready for sleep.

Tips for teenagers

Here are some more tips to help teenagers get a good night's sleep.

  • Encourage your teen to keep a good sleep routine, with regular bedtimes and wake up times on weekdays and weekends.
  • No pills, vitamins or drinks can replace good sleep. Consuming caffeine close to bedtime can hurt a teen's sleep. Your teen should avoid coffee, tea, soda or pop, energy drinks and chocolate late in the day so they can get to sleep at night. Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol will also interfere with their sleep.
  • Encourage your teen to try keeping a diary or a to-do list. If they jot notes down before they go to sleep, they will be less likely to stay awake worrying or stressing.
  • If your teen is having trouble sleeping at night, encourage them to take some deep relaxing breaths, focusing on their breath as it goes in and out. Deep breathing for 5-10 minutes may help your teen become more relaxed and sleepy.
  • A drowsy driver is as dangerous as a drunk driver. Driving while sleep deprived causes many accidents each year. Advise your teen to call someone else for a ride if they ever feel sleepy before or during a journey.
  • If your teen hears their friends talking about their "all nighters", remind them how good they will feel after they get enough sleep. Staying up late to study does not usually help  much. In fact, it will usually leave your teen too tired to concentrate well during a test or exam.
  • Most young people experience changes in their sleep schedules as they get older. Your teen's internal body clock can make them fall asleep later at night and wake up later in the day. You cannot change this, but you can encourage your teen to take part in physical activities to help overcome sleepiness during the day. If they feel wide awake at night, make sure their activities at that time are relaxing to help make them more sleepy.

If you have concerns about your teen's sleep, either because they are not sleeping enough or are sleepy during the day, seek advice from your doctor.

Indra Narang MBBCH, MD, FRCPCH​