Sleep from age two to five: what to expect
Children aged between two and five years need between 10 and 14 hours sleep a night, and may also have a day nap of around an hour.
By this age many children are at daycare, preschool, or kindergarten, and just like adults, they often process the day’s events when they’re in bed. This can mean sleep comes slower than it used to. A consistent bedtime routine that lasts right through the week can help with this.
A consistent bedtime routine will help get your toddler or preschoolers ready for sleep.
Winding down before bed
Try these tips to make sure your toddler or preschooler is relaxed and ready for bed:
- avoid loud, energetic play before bedtime - this can make it harder for your child to settle
- turn off computers, tablets, phones, and the TV at least an hour before bedtime, and make sure your child doesn't watch exciting or scary shows close to bedtime
- set up a consistent bedtime routine
- check your child has everything they need before you leave the room, and remind them to quietly stay in bed.
Bedtime routine for two to five year olds
A consistent bedtime routine will help get your toddler or preschooler ready for sleep.
Toddlers and preschoolers have their deepest sleep between 8pm and midnight, so it’s good to get them into bed between 6.30 and 7pm. Most are ready for sleep by then, especially if they’ve had a big day at with you, or at daycare, preschool or kindy.
You could have a bedtime routine like:
- 6.30pm go to the toilet, put on PJs and a night nappy if needed, brush teeth
- 6.45pm story or book
- 7pm into bed, kiss goodnight, and time for sleep.
It’s quite common for toddlers and preschoolers to stall for extra time before sleep by asking you to read more and more books before bed. It’s a good idea to set a limit on the number you’ll read them from the start.
Some children might enjoy quiet music before bed, or some kids meditation to calm their minds.
Often children have become attached to something they take to bed like a special blanket or soft toy, and these help them feel safe, calm and relaxed for sleep.
Check their loved thing isn’t too small and doesn’t have pieces that could be pulled off and become choking hazards. It also shouldn’t be so big that it could smother or strangle them. It’s also a good idea to check there are no hazards on, near, or around their bed, like hanging blind cords.
If your toddler shares a bedroom, you might want to try getting your toddler settled and sleeping before your other child goes to bed.
Moving into a bed
Moving from a cot into a bed is a big milestone for kids. There’s no set age when this should happen, but many move between age two and three and a half.
It might be time to move them to a bed if they're:
- getting too big for their cot
- climbing over the sides of the cot and could fall
- starting to toilet train, and are noticing when they want to go to the toilet at night
- emotionally ready to move to a bed and physically able to get in and out of the bed safely.
Moving to a new bed can be unsettling, or even a bit scary, for a child. Getting them excited about the move is a good way to help them adjust. Let them be involved, see if they want to come and help choose their new bed or bedding, and ask them if they’d like to watch or help when you set it up. It’s an exciting step towards being a big kid!
To help them get used to it, you could try:
- putting them in their new bed for daytime sleeps.
- starting with a toddler bed or a mattress on the floor away from the walls.
- showing them the safety rails that stop them from falling out of bed. These rails should tuck tightly under the mattress, and leave no gaps your child can get wedged in. The rails keep them safe, but they can still get out of bed.
It may help to adjust your bedtime routine as well. You could try:
- having some calming time in their bedroom before sleep, quietly packing away toys and making the room ready for sleep.
- encouraging your child to climb into their bed themselves, if they can. They might like pulling up their own covers and snuggling themselves into bed.
- giving them a blanket or something from their old cot.
It’s common for children this age to call out from bed or get out of bed after you’ve said goodnight – especially if they’ve just moved into a big bed.
It’s a good idea to:
- make sure they have everything they need for sleep before you leave the room, remind them it’s time for sleep, and that they need to stay in bed
- be consistent, and try not to go in every time they call out. It’s a good idea to respond only if you think they really need something
- calmly ask them to go back to bed if they get up, reminding them you’re close-by in the other room, and repeating this process each time they get out of bed
- remember, sometimes they do need something. If your toddler is frightened of monsters under the bed, keep the light off but quickly that the room is free of monsters. If they're scared of the dark, think about using a night-light.
Toddlers and preschoolers may have other night-time problems, like nightmares, night terrors, and some may wet the bed if they’re learning to sleep without a night nappy. Remember they’re not doing these things on purpose, and be kind and patient with them.