Common sense is best for getting kids to sleep - expert

The old advice is still the best advice when it comes to getting kids to sleep, according to a visiting expert.

Assoc Prof Honey Heussler of the University of Queensland is in New Zealand for a child health conference. She spoke earlier this week on children's sleeping difficulties, particularly those with neurodevelopmental disabilities.

While every child has different needs in terms of how much sleep they get, successfully getting them into bed and off to the land of Nod boils down to common sense.

"A lot of it is around routine," she told The AM Show on Friday.

"Probably the most important thing is making sure there's a consistent wake-up time, and that kids don't sleep in. That kids who need naps actually get them, and you have a nice, clear calming routine for going to bed, so kids know what to expect, when to calm down and get into bed, and it's the same every night."

Assoc Prof Heussler acknowledges it's old-fashioned advice that hasn't changed for centuries.

"Night needs to be different to day. Daytimes can be busy and bouncy and light, but night times need to be the opposite."

Some kids only need eight-and-a-half hours' sleep, Assoc Prof Heussler explains, while others need as much as 11. There's an easy way to tell how much your child needs.

"If they haven't got a daytime problem, they haven't got a sleep problem."

Not getting enough sleep - either at night, or by forcing children to give up naps before they're ready - is the primary cause of night terrors, she says. And though they can be terrifying for parents too, the last thing they should do is wake them up.

"If you wake them up, you increase the length of time and the distress - just calmly talk to them and guide them back to bed, that's the best way of managing them. Kids won't remember a thing in the morning."

The NZ General Paediatric Forum takes place this week at Auckland City Hospital.