Bedtime routines for children

Key points about bedtime routines for children

  • If you’re a parent or caregiver, getting your child to sleep and stay asleep is often a challenge. For many, bedtimes can feel like a battle. 
  • It’s hard when your child won’t go to sleep, especially if you’re tired or if you’ve got things to do once they are in bed.  
  • Bedtimes don’t have to be hard work. Here are our top tips for creating a stress-free bedtime.
Young boy asleep in bed with teddybear
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Good quality, consistent sleep is very important for kids’ growth and development. Without enough sleep (or if they have poor sleep), your child’s learning, health, behaviour and wellbeing could be affected.

Setting a bedtime routine can help form healthy sleep habits and make for happier families. 

Read more about the importance of sleep and sleep problems for children.

1. Set up a regular routine

Work on developing a bedtime routine from when your child is young. Babies and children feel safe and secure when they know what’s expected of them. A bedtime routine may include 

  • a bath 
  • brushing teeth  
  • a story 
  • a cuddle before lights out.  

Mum reading to son in bed

Image credit: Canva

2. Have the same bedtime and wake up time each day

Setting a good sleep schedule means being consistent with a regular bedtime. This will help your tamariki understand when it's time to sleep. Make sure you allow plenty of time for those pre-sleep activities so you’re consistently tucking them in at the same time each night. The amount of sleep your child needs will help you decide what is a good time for them to be in bed by. Recommendations for sleep are different for children of different ages:

  • Newborn to 3 months: 14 to 17 hours
  • Infant 4 to 11 months: 12 to 15 hours
  • Toddler 1 to 2 years: 11 to 14 hours
  • Preschool 3 to 4 years: 10 to 13 hours
  • 5 year olds: 9 to 11 hours 

3. Have a comfortable sleep environment

The place where your tamariki sleep should be quiet, warm (but not too hot) and dark (although some children might want or need a night light). In bigger whānau, or where children share a room, it might not be as easy to settle your child. But by talking softly and sticking to a consistent routine, you’ll be teaching all the family that bedtime is quiet time. If possible, close the bedroom door and try and keep the volume of the TV or conversation in another room low. 

4. Make bedtime special

Bedtime is likely to be more attractive to children if they feel like it's a special time of day – a chance to have some quiet time to snuggle and relax with mum or dad before going to sleep. Get kids involved – let them choose the story to read or a song to drift off to sleep to. Just be careful that your bedtime story isn’t scary or would cause them to have bad dreams. 

5. Wind down before bed

Even before you start the bedtime routine children should be starting to wind down. Limit the amount of screen and television time your child has in the hour before bed and don’t let them take devices into the bedroom. You could read a chapter from their favourite story with them if they are older. Letting them stay up ‘past their bedtime’ can lead to them being over-tired and make it harder to drop off to sleep. Read more about screen time and children.

6. Exercise can help – just not before bed

Being active during the day and spending time outside in bright sunlight can help promote good sleep – but don’t forget the sunscreen! Younger kids often don’t need structured exercise, just being outside playing in nature or at the park keeps them active.  

Children playing with water in the gardenImage credit: Canva

7. Watch what they eat and drink before bed

A big meal within a few hours of going to sleep isn’t recommended and sugary or caffeinated drinks won’t help either.  

8. Is there anything interfering with their sleep?

If your child isn’t well (eg, they have a cough or cold that causes them to be blocked up or hot) they might find it hard to have a restful sleep. This page on common symptoms and what to do(external link) might help. If they snore a lot or stop breathing for short periods while they sleep, talk to your healthcare provider. 

9. Be consistent

Even if it’s challenging, do your best to stick to the routine. If someone else is putting your children to bed, ask them to follow the same routine as you. It won’t always be perfect, but a solid bedtime routine can really help with your child’s sleep. Not enough good-quality sleep can impact on your child’s behaviour, learning and health, so make a consistent bedtime routine a top priority. 

Sleep tips for children(external link) Sleep Health Foundation, Australia
Sleep pages(external link) KidsHealth NZ


  1. Helping young children sleep better(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ, 2023 
  2. Sleeping(external link) Tākai NZ 
  3. Bedtime(external link) Tākai NZ 
  4. Sleep(external link) Plunket, NZ 

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