Help! My child won't sleep

09 Nov 2018

Sleep – or lack of it – is commonly cited as the biggest challenge of parenthood, particularly in the first few years. Children differ in their sleep patterns and also in the amount of sleep they need during the day and night, and your child’s stage of development will also affect their sleep. A relaxed, regular bedtime routine will help your child to settle and sleep well at night so you can rest and relax more during these intense early years. 

We all know that lack of sleep is stressful for parents. At PlunketLine, we often get calls from the sleep-deprived parents of sleepless children! Here are some common-sense tips about sleep patterns and expectations.

Settle, petal

Try to settle your child into bed awake or drowsy. By falling asleep in their own bed, they learn that bed is a familiar place. If they wake during sleep, they may settle back to sleep on their own.

Quiet and calm

Treat night-waking in a quiet, gentle, and efficient manner with no talking, singing, or playing. Keep lighting low and move around your child's room as silently as possible.

Can’t stand it

By the age of six to 10 months, children typically try to pull themselves up to stand, and often do this in their cot. It can then take them a while to lie down and go to sleep. If they become upset, you may need to settle them back down gently and calmly.

Close to you

Separation anxiety becomes more common between six and 12 months. This may make them more difficult to settle, as they want to be with you.

Tummy time

From around six to 12 months, children can roll onto their tummies, and some choose to sleep on their fronts. To protect
them at this wriggly stage of development, it continues to be really important for their cot
to have no pillows, toys, or loose covers so they are free and safe when they move about. While the risk of cot death is reduced by this age, consider discussing cot safety with your Plunket Nurse or PlunketLine (0800 933 922).


Around eight months, children often become attached to an object such as blanket, toy, or a piece of their mother’s clothing. Others may suck their fingers or thumb. This can help them calm down and relax. Aim not to have soft toys or other objects in the cot; however, if they do become attached to something, it is important to check that the object is safe. Soft toys should not be too small or have pieces that can be pulled off that can cause choking, or too large that could cause suffocation. Also avoid having too many toys in bed; use one soft toy at the most if they need one to settle.

Keep it natural

Blankets should be made of natural fibres such as cotton and wool as they breathe and allow your child to keep an even temperature, while artificial fibres such as mink blankets do not. Check that blankets and clothing cannot strangle or suffocateby making sure there are no ribbons and ties, and that they cannot cover their face with them.

Under the weather

Your child’s sleep patterns may be unsettled when they are unwell, teething, or away from home; at these times they may need extra cuddles and care. When your child is well or at home again, try to settle back to their normal routine. If your child has been having extra feeds when away or unwell, try to settle without these feeds and get them back into their normal routine as soon as they are well again.

Sleep someday

Finally, there is not always an easy answer to sleep problems, and what works for others may not necessarily be the answer for your family. If all else fails, try and enjoy the extra hours that you spend with your child during the night, and remember that eventually they will sleep through the night!

If you are unhappy or struggling with your child’s sleep pattern, ask your Plunket nurse or PlunketLine
(0800 933 922), for suggestions that may help.