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 family (3)


Ask Malia: Handling the Anti-Bedtime Brigade

Hello Malia. I have two children, a 3 year old girl and a an 18-month-old boy. We have found over the years that having a consistent nap and bedtime routine is extremely important to our children's wellbeing, happiness, behavior, and health.

But we have a large extended family that comes from a school of thought that children should be made to move their schedule around the needs of the family. We've recently been confronted by angry family members for leaving early, showing up after nap time, or not coming at all if the children need more rest because they are overtired or sick. They've actually told us that if kids are acting up because they're overtired, they should be spanked (instead of put to bed).

In the past year, I think we’ve only missed one birthday party and had to leave a family holiday around 8 p.m., which doesn't seem unreasonable to us. However, the family is actually very upset about this. I would welcome any words of encouragement or advice on how to stand our ground. Thank you very much.


Thanks for this excellent question. I was very happy to get your email and hear how you're prioritizing your children's sleep and health! Way to go!

You're definitely not alone. I've also had to leave family gatherings early and miss out on things because of my children's naps and bedtimes. When people balk at that, I say "Oh, she's a complete bear if she misses her naptime. Trust me, you don't WANT to be around her if she's overtired—she'll just scream and ruin the party for everyone else." 

Playing the magnanimous card—"I'm doing this so you, my friends and family, don't have to be around a crying, overtired child"—usually works well.

But if that doesn't work, you can also hit them with some science. New studies are showing that naps actually help babies learn and retain new information. And that missed naps put toddlers are risk for mood disorders. As I mentioned in my last blog post, proper sleep also supports kids' immune systems and keeps them from getting sick. This is all new science that your parents and older relatives didn't have access to as parents, so these are things they may not be aware of.

If your family places a lot of faith in medical experts, you can say that your pediatrician is big on naps and bedtimes for health reasons and leave it at that: "Oh, there are some nasty bugs going around and their doctor says one of the worst things I could do right now is keep them up too late."

But ultimately, what it often comes down to is a clash of values. When you prioritize your child's sleep routine over parties or socializing, others may interpret your actions as a judgment of their parenting style (even if they raised their kids 30 years ago). It’s a shame. As if parenting weren’t difficult enough—sometimes doing the right things for your kids rubs other people the wrong way. Keeping the tone light and staying firm yet friendly about your parenting decisions goes a long way toward communicating that your parenting decisions aren’t a critique of anyone else’s; you’ve simply figured out how to keep your kids happy and healthy. You can say something like, "Yes, your style worked great for your kids, but these are my kids and we’ve figured out what works best for them."

Or take a cue from my friend S., who just cuts off difficult family members criticizing her parenting decisions with “Really, this conversation, again?” It takes guts to be that bold—but it works every time.

Hope this is helpful! I applaud your willingness to stand up for your kids' best interests. You are doing a great job. Eventually, your relatives will see the concrete results of your parenting decisions in your kids' demeanor and well-being. (Wow, they don't melt down over the slightest thing! They aren't constantly sick! They're actually...good natured!) Over time, they might (grudgingly) start to see things your way. Even if they don't admit it. So keep it up. You're doing the right thing, and don't let anyone tell you differently. After all, you've got the happy, healthy kids to prove it.


Sugar Shakeup: Should Sugar Be A Controlled Substance?

Because this is a blog about family health, occasionally I’ll post about topics besides sleep. As a journalist I’ve written about family nutrition for a number of publications, and I’m always searching for ways to keep my brood well-fed and healthy. With a cookie-loving toddler and a highly picky 5-year-old, that can be quite a challenge.

When my first daughter started eating solid food, it seemed like we entered the world of sugar. And I got a new role: Chief of the Sugar Police. Cookies at the grocery store, lollipops at the dry cleaners, candy machines lining the entrances of every store and restaurant—it seemed like sugar was constantly on offer, and believe me, she noticed. Every day, I’d keep a mental tally of the healthy foods she’d eaten to determine whether she could have the treat she wanted. I said no more than I said yes. But I still said yes more than I wanted.

So I was interested to see the recent news that scientists are recommending societal control of sugar. Researchers would like to see sugar regulated like tobacco and alcohol, to raise public awareness of the risks of over-consumption, and to ease the public burden of obesity and chronic illness.

I’m not sure how I feel. On one hand, I believe that sugar is addictive and that our kids eat far too much of it. Tighter regulations on sugar might make people think twice about soda, candy, and other empty calories that contribute to the exploding diabetes epidemic. Here are some scary stats: According to 2011 US government reports, 35 percent of adults 20 and older and half of adults 65 and over have prediabetes.

On the other hand, I think the burden to make healthy, informed choices rests with the consumer, not with the government. More education, less access to sugary foods in school lunches and vending machines, and a greater emphasis on low-sugar snack choices for kids would be good first steps.

For more information on breaking your family’s sugar habit, see my article Beat the Sweets in Carolina Parent magazine. It features some tips from TODAY show nutritionist Joy Bauer and other experts on slowing shutting off the sugar tap in your home.

What do you think? Should sugar become a controlled substance?


Sleeping Well In Winter

Temperatures are dancing around freezing at night, hats and mittens have been unearthed from storage bins in the garage, and we’ve woken up to frosted landscape all this week. Yes, winter is officially on its way.

The long, cold nights of winter make me think of flannel sheets, hot cocoa, and snuggling in bed. Winter is a great time to rest, recharge, and catch up on sleep (if you can!). The short days and dark, long nights cue the production of melatonin, and trigger more tiredness, earlier at night. (No wonder I’ve been craving an earlier bedtime lately!)

To keep your brood well-rested this season, take a peek at these tips for sleeping well during the winter

Light Up the Dark

The short, dark days of winter may be a boon for kids’ bedtimes; it’s easier to put kids to bed when the sun isn’t blazing outside. But it’s also important to remember to get adequate sunlight during the morning hours, because strong morning light sets our internal clock and helps us to feel sleepy at bedtime. Maximize the light coming into your home in the morning by opening drapes and uncovering skylights. If it’s truly dark outside in the morning, consider a dawn lamp to help get your body ready for the day.

Don’t Over-Bundle

Keep an eye on your child’s bedroom temperature in the winter, and don’t overheat her with loads of nighttime layers or heavy PJs. Sleeping in a space that’s too warm makes it difficult to doze off, increases the likelihood of nightmares, and is a risk factor for SIDS. If the bedroom is between 60 and 68 degrees at night (the ideal sleeping temperature for most), then your kiddo probably won’t need excessive winter bedding to stay warm—regular pajamas and bedding will be fine.

Ward Off The Cold

Wintertime colds and coughs can be cause big sleep disruption, so make an extra effort to keep everyone in the family healthy. Practice careful hand-washing hygiene, eat well, and encourage appropriate bedtimes (sleep deprivation hurts immunity and makes you more susceptible to illness). For my children, I swear by a daily probiotic supplement—one a day seems to keep the cold and flu bugs at bay. Dry, over-heated indoor air can contribute to or worsen coughs, so consider placing a humidifier in bedrooms at night.

Holiday Help

Holidays often mean later-than-normal bedtimes for kids. If your child will be staying up late for a special occasion, don’t allow him to sleep more than one hour past his normal wake-up time the next morning. Snoozing all morning will make it difficult to fall asleep at bedtime that night—creating a cycle of too-late bedtimes that can be difficult to break. Avoid excessively long naps, as well. If he’s extra tired the following day, an earlier bedtime is in order.

What about you—does your family sleep better in the winter, or during another season? Do you have any tips for sleeping well in the winter?

Note: I'm looking forward to speaking tonight at the Holistic Mom's Network meeting at Bates Technical College at 6pm. I'll be sharing a speech called "Five Reasons Your Kids Aren't Sleeping, And Five Compassionate Ways to Help." If you're a local parent, I'd love to see you there!