Experts offer advice after finding third of Kiwi toddlers not getting enough sleep

New research has found that around a third of toddlers in New Zealand aren't getting the amount of sleep recommended by the Ministry of Health. 

As part of the revolutionary Growing Up in New Zealand study, Massey University researchers examined the parent-reported sleep patterns of more than 6000 preschool-aged children to gather information about sleep duration and quality.

The research found around a third of toddler-aged kids were not meeting Ministry of Health (MoH) sleep guidelines.

The authors say it's a major issue. 

"Sleep is vital for children's healthy growth and development. If children are not getting enough sleep it can have implications for their health, including impacts on immune response, body mass, emotional regulation and learning," says principal investigator Leigh Signal. 

"Until this point, we've had limited data on how long New Zealand toddlers and pre-schoolers are sleeping and what factors may be impacting their sleep, so this is a really important study." 

According to the MoH, toddlers should get between 11 to 14 hours of sleep per day, while pre-schoolers should get between 10 to 13 hours of sleep per day.

The study found that nearly 12 percent of 24-month-old Kiwi kids were not getting enough sleep.

Girls; Māori, Pacific and Asian children; and children who spent more time on visual media were more likely to experience shorter sleep and wake at night.

Researcher and lead author Dr Dee Muller says when this information is statistically modelled for the New Zealand population as a whole, it shows that a third of toddlers and a fifth of pre-schoolers may not be getting the recommended amount of sleep.

Dr Muller says no two children are alike, but parents and caregivers could consider trying the following to help their children sleep better, depending on what works best for their family:

  • Create a sleep-conducive environment with dark or low light, a comfortable bed and bedding that's in a quiet space
  • Support children to make their sleep space their own, eg: have a special toy, blanket or duvet cover, or a picture on their bedroom wall in
  • Ensure the bedroom is at a good temperature - not too cold or hot
  • Carry out regular wind-down activities before bedtime eg bath, teeth brushing, and stories
  • Ensure the lights are turned out at a similar time during the week and on weekends
  • Stop screen time one to two hours before bed
  • Limit the amount of caffeine children have (such as in cola drinks and chocolate) and don't have caffeine late in the day
  • Implement regular wake times on weekdays and weekends
  • Ensure regular exposure to light first thing in the morning (ideally natural light outside)
  • Have regular meals and activities during the day.