I’m a nationally published sleep expert, journalist, and the mom of three young kids. I’ve been helping tired families sleep since 2007 (more about me here). Subscribe to The Well Rested Family for fresh news and tips on keeping your bunch happy and healthy. Thanks for stopping by!


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Entries in bedtime (8)


Ask Malia: How Long Should Bedtime Take?


I’m curious about how long it takes you to get your kids to bed at night. My son’s bedtime routine takes at least an hour, every night. I’ve tried many times to get the routine under control, but he doesn’t cooperate. I’m starting to lose hope. Help!


Two-year-old Mia at a pumpkin patch corn boxWhen it comes to bedtime, my two girls are as different as night and day. My almost-three-year-old’s routine takes about 15 or 20 minutes (not including bath). She puts on her pajamas, we read two or three short books, brush her teeth, she turns off the light, I help her climb into bed with her blankie, and it’s off to dreamland.

Until she was about 18 months old, she didn’t have patience for books before bedtime, and her routine took about five minutes (pj’s, hug, kiss, and lights out). She asked to be plopped in her bed before I was done snuggling her—some nights, I was miffed!

My spunky five-year-old has always needed a bit more wind-down time than her sister. Her routine takes about 30-35 minutes, because we read longer stories, and because she has a more involved nighttime tooth-brushing/skincare routine. She would gladly drag the routine out longer if sheFive-year-old Bianca could, so we gently redirect her back to the routine when she starts to stall. But I appreciate the longer routine—and she actually lets me sing her a lullaby, something my youngest stanchly forbids (“No, mommy! NO SINGING!”) I love spending a few minutes before bed listening to her talk about her day, too.

Bedtime shouldn’t be excruciating—it should be a peaceful end to your child’s day. Anywhere from 15-45 minutes is a good routine length to shoot for, but as my experience proves, it will vary from child to child and may flex as your child grows. If your bedtime routine isn’t working, it’s time to change things up. Check out past posts Building a Better Bedtime, Eight Tips for Bedtime Success, and Great Expectations: Thinking Your Way to Bedtime Success for tactics to help you get back on track.

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Need more sleep? My e-book Ready, Set, Sleep: 50 Ways to Help Your Child Sleep So You Can Sleep Too is chock-full of mom-tested solutions to help babies and toddlers start sleeping well, tonight!


Eight Tips for a Better Bedtime

It's bedtime again...and the bed's empty.Is bedtime a battle? Here are eight easy tips that have helped many of my reader's and client's kids sleep easier. Put them to work at your house, and see if bedtime doesn't get a whole lot better.

Play with Timing

For babies and toddlers, a better bedtime is often a matter of timing. Overtiredness may be causing your child’s bedtime shenanigans; try moving bedtime earlier by 15-20 minutes.

Later, gator

Alternately, your child may need to be awake longer before hitting the sack. If your child seems amenable to sleep (i.e. she isn’t crazy-hyper, but she just.can’t.sleep, and keeps calling you back into her room endlessly) try moving bedtime 30 minutes later.

Toy story

Toddlers love the delay bedtime in any way possible, and a bedroom filled with toys and books provides the perfect opportunity. If your child is throwing fits at bedtime for just one more story or just one more plaything, it’s time to move these distracting items someplace else. Keep 2-3 books and a few cherished comfort items in the bedroom, and move the rest.

Step it up

Exercise makes falling asleep easier and promotes deep sleep, says Dr. Richard Seligman of Presbyterian Sleep Disorders Center. To help your child fall asleep faster, add more activity to his day—running, jumping, park time, or just plain old walking. Every step he takes is one step closer to a better bedtime.


A bedroom full of gadgets can make bedtimes tough. Electronic toys get the brain jazzed up just when it should be winding down for sleep. That includes handheld video games, talking stuffed animals, even that electronic sleep sheep. For a better bedtime, ditch them all.


Complex carbohydrates (like those found in whole grains) help summon the sandman by aiding the brain’s production of serotonin and melatonin. To get kids yawning at bedtime, serve a snack like whole-grain cereal and milk or soymilk, whole-wheat toast and nut butter, whole-grain crackers and cheese, or popcorn.

Toasty tub

After a very warm bath, bedtime beckons. That’s because a warm bath raises the body’s core temperature, which drops quickly after the bath ends. This up-then-down temperature pattern helps cue sleepiness. So say goodbye to lukewarm baths (brrrrrrrrrrrr!) and don’t be afraid to bathe your child in comfortably warm water.

Turn it down

Another place to play with temperature is in your child’s bedroom—it should be cool, between 60 and 68 degrees. Warm temperatures are linked to poor, disrupted sleep, and cooling the brain has been shown to be an effective treatment for insomnia. So turning that thermostat down could help your child drift off to sleep quicker.


Ask Malia: Handling "Special Treat" Bedtimes

Dear Malia,

Since I’ve started reading your blog, I’ve created an earlier bedtime for my two kids (a 4-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl). They used to stay up until 10, but now they’re in bed by 8 p.m. most nights, and it’s great. They’re less moody and much happier in the morning, and my daughter’s more attentive and happier in school. But my parents are visiting from out of town next week and we’ll be eating in restaurants and visiting all week. I know they’ll be up later than I want them to be. How should I handle this—and other “special occasions” that keep my kids up?


Though I’m a devoted fan of earlier bedtimes for young kids, late bedtimes happen. I liken them to special desserts. They’re for special celebrations and holidays (making them all the more cherished).

If kids get special treats every day, they’re not so special anymore (and they cavities and stomachaches to boot). Think of your child’s standard, early bedtime like his normal, healthy diet. Later bedtimes are once-in-a-while treats.

Here’s how to make “special treat” late bedtimes work for you:

  • Vacation and holiday bedtimes should be no more than one hour later than your child’s normal bedtime.
  • After a “special treat” later bedtime, don’t allow your child to sleep in more than one hour past his normal wake-up time. Doing so throws off that day’s routine and bedtime.
  • Flexibility is great. But something is flexible only if it goes back to its original state. Otherwise, it’s just broken. So when you bend your routine to allow for a late bedtime, make sure to bend it back. A late bedtime that occurs more than three nights in a row is becoming a habit. Return to your regular routine as quickly as you can.
  • If your child goes to bed ultra-late (for example, after a wedding or New Year’s), compensate with an early bedtime the following night. Do not allow him to “nap it off” with an overly-long daytime nap the next day.


Boost Kids' Math Skills At Bedtime

Turns out, that old-timey tactic for summoning the sandman—counting sheep—might actually benefit kids’ math skills. Especially if you throw in a little sheep addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication (just keep it PG!).

A bedtime math problem might be the answer to our kids’ lagging math skills, according to Bedtime Math, a new non-profit organization that urges parents to give kids a new math problem each night at bedtime. The “bedtime story” tradition is firmly entrenched in our culture that emphasizes literacy, and that’s all well and good. But today’s kids need mathematic literacy, too. A daily math problem is an excellent way addition to a solid bedtime routine.

The folks at Bedtime Math are right on the money, science-wise. According to a new study from University of Notre Dame, learning new material right before sleep makes it easier to recall the material later. So after working on a bedtime math problem, your kids can actually get better at math while they sleep!

So how can you give Bedtime Math a whirl? Simple: just give your kids a bedtime math problem. No need to get fancy. You could probably come up with limitless story problems using the objects in your child’s bedroom.

  • “If there are seven days in a week, and you only have three clean pairs of socks, how many more clean pairs will you need?”
  • “It’s eight o’clock now. How many hours until you get up at 7?”
  • “We have 10 crackers. If we make three equal piles for you, your brother, and me, how many will we have in each pile? Will we have any left over?”

I’m sure you can come up with better ones, and you might even have fun doing it! Better yet, you’ll be planting the seeds for mathematic literacy that will take root while your child sleeps, and pay dividends when she’s awake.


Ask Malia: Traveling With Kids

Dear Malia,

Next week my family is flying from Seattle to Hawaii. We’re taking our two boys—ages 3 and 1—and we’re wondering how to handle their sleep routine on the 5-hour flight, and once we get there with the two-hour time difference. They’re pretty good sleepers at home but we’re worried that we won’t get any sleep on vacation. Any suggestions?


Hi Lauren,

Yep! If you're going to be vacationing for a week or longer, it's best to get kids adjusted to local time instead of trying to keep them on their home time zone. Going to Hawaii, the sleep adjustment is actually fairly simple. On the plane trip, maintain their normal Pacific Time nap routine, if possible. If they normally nap from 1pm to 3pm and that time window occurs on your flight, encourage them to nap on the plane by bringing their sleep aids (special toys, blankets, and comfort items). Don’t let them sleep the entire trip, tempting though it may be. Wake them after an hour or two.

They will likely be zonked when you arrive—at 6pm Hawaii time, their bodies will think it's 8pm. It’s best not to push their sleep schedule more than one hour per day, so once you’re on the island, put them to bed within an hour of their normal, Pacific Time bedtime. So if they normally tuck-in at 8pm PST, put them to bed by 7pm Hawaii time, which is 9pm their time. Of course, this all flies out the window if you're getting into Hawaii late, but do the best you can.

Bedtime shouldn’t be too tough, because they’ll be tired. The challenge will be keeping them from rising at dawn—7am Pacific Time is 5am Hawaii time. Over the course of the next 3 days, gradually move their bedtime later so that they’re bedding down at their regular bedtime (say, 8pm). That will keep their wake-up time in line with their regular routine.

(When you return to Seattle, follow the same routine in reverse: Adjust their schedules back to PST over the course of several days. Remember, a child’s wake-up time helps program their body for the rest of their day. Waking them up a bit earlier than normal on departure day and on the first day home will help their bodies adjust back to their PST routine.)

Above all, enjoy your vacation without getting too worked up over the sleep routine. Just try and encourage them to nap each day, without letting their naps go longer than 2 hours. During vacations, it’s easy to let kids nap longer than you might otherwise. After all, kids will be tired from the excitement, and some babies will snooze in their strollers and packs as you trek around town. Letting kids nap all day is a recipe for staying up all night, so watch out for that. Have fun! Aloha!

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