Image of Professor Colin Espie
by Professor Colin Espie

Newborns typically spend two thirds of their time asleep. By the time they get to school, most children have spent more hours asleep than awake. Sleep enables essential processes throughout childhood – it's an active time for physical growth and repair, as well as learning, consolidating memories and emotional maturity.

Unfortunately for their parents, most very young children – and even most teenagers – are not hardwired to think sleep is a good idea, and bedtime is often a battleground.

According to a large survey by the National Sleep Foundation in the US, 76% of parents would like to change something about their child's sleep. The most common concerns are getting a child to sleep, and staying asleep through the night.

When children don't sleep, neither do their parents, which can drive even the most patient of parents to anxiety, frustration, desperate measures and even depression. It's natural to have questions…

• Is it my fault?

• Will they get better on their own?

• Is there something seriously wrong?

• What can I do now?

The vast majority of sleep problems in childhood can be solved using behavioral methods. If you're a parent, or you're about to become one, the aim of this guide is to share some evidence-based techniques to help your child sleep through the night.

The focus of this guide is on the early years, when sleep problems are most common, but in the science section, we describe how you can expect sleep to change as your child gets older, and sleep tips for each age group. We've also included answers to frequently asked questions for common problems.

This guide is not a replacement for medical advice. If at any time you have concerns about your child's sleep, please speak to your doctor.

Next: Create a consistent daily schedule

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