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 kids (3)


Ask Malia: Do Nightlights Help Kids Sleep?

Dear Malia,

Your ebook has been amazingly helpful for our family. We’re all sleeping better. But I have a question. You recommend keeping kids bedrooms pitch-black during naps and bedtimes and we’ve followed your suggestions. But my 3-year-old son is having trouble in a super-dark room. He seems more anxious with no light in there, and since we recently moved him to a big-kid bed, we’re worried he might fall and hurt himself at night. Is some light OK?


In general, nighttime light exposure is a no-go. At night, light exposure shrinks melatonin production, making it difficult for your child to fall asleep and stay asleep. A darker bedroom nearly always equals better sleep. It makes sense, when you consider that a century ago, before the advent of electronic clocks, alarms, and the nightly news, a darkening sky was the primary sign of the day’s end.

Even pinhole-sized beams of light can disrupt sleep patterns. Sleep doctors say that the ideal bedroom is so dark that you can’t see a hand waving in front of your face. In my ebook Ready, Set, Sleep, I recommend darkening bedroom windows, removing nightlights and lighted electronics, even blocking light spilling in under bedroom doors.

But there is a bit of wiggle room on the black-bedroom thing. In some cases, kids may sleep better with a small amount of bedroom light.


At night, light hinders the body’s natural production of melatonin, so nighttime light should be avoided. But naps are another story—older toddlers and preschoolers may appreciate a naptime nightlight that allows them to play quietly before sleeping. Case in point: at naptime, my 2.5-year-old repeatedly requests “one more minute” of playtime in her crib before lights out. With a nightlight’s soft glow, she’s free to play for a few minutes before snoozing, which means she's happier to go down for a nap. She usually zonks out within minutes. (The nightlight is equipped with an on-off switch, like this one, and it’s switched off at night.)

Toddler beds

When kids graduate to a "big kid bed," they love to revel in their newfound freedom by climbing in and out of bed during naps and at night. A small amount of light can help protect these kids from stumbling in a pitch-black room.  

Nighttime fears

Please note: A nightlight will not cure separation anxiety or help babies sleep better. Infants and young toddlers aren’t scared of the dark. But genuine nighttime fears can appear during the preschool years. If your child balks at a blacked-out room, a dim light can help keep the boogeyman at bay.

In many cases, a nightlight isn’t needed—ambient light from clocks, windows, and doorframes provides enough glow to quell fears and illuminate hazardous corners. If you do choose a nightlight, pick the dimmest light possible and place it in a spot where it won’t shine directly on your child’s face.


Say Good-night to Getting Sick

Get more sleep, and you may not need this (cute) hot water bottle.Summer’s right around the corner—I spent my weekend getting my kids’ summer gear washed up and ready for play (hooray!). But all the sunshine and springtime fun makes it easy to forget that there are still plenty of nasty cold and flu bugs circulating this time of year. In fact, until the end of May, we’re still officially in flu season. (Yep, that’s right, it runs October through May.)

Want to keep kids healthy enough to enjoy spring? Time-honored tactics like hand washing and vitamin-popping can help, but here’s a little-known secret to a superstar immune system that’s simple, enjoyable, and free: sleep. And all the hand sanitizer in the world won’t make up for lost hours in the sack. That’s because adequate sleep supports a healthy immune system—and sleep deprivation handicaps your immune response, leaving you (or your kids) more susceptible to the virus du jour.

An increasing body of research (including this study) is highlighting sleep’s vital role in immune function. Just how does sleep pump up the immune system? During sleep, the body releases infection-fighting proteins called cytokines that play a role in fighting infection and inflammation. During periods of sleep deprivation, infection fighting cells are reduced.

Is your kiddo getting enough sleep to ward off bugs? Take a peek at these general guidelines. If your child is falling short, move bedtime earlier by 20-30 minutes per night. This small change adds up to a couple extra hours of sleep per week, which may put your family on the path to a healthier summer.

One to Four Weeks Old: 15-16 hours per day

One to Twelve Months Old: 14-15 hours per day

One to Three Years Old: 12-14 hours per day

Three to Six Years Old: 10-12 hours per day

Six to Ten Years Old: 9-11 hours per day

Ten to Eighteen Years Old: 8-10 hours per day


The Best Bedtime Snacks for Kids

In most homes with young children, bedtime snacks are a must (no parent wants to hear “Mom, I’m staaaaarving!” in the middle of the night, right?). But all bedtime snacks aren’t created equal. Many parents have learned the hard way to avoid caffeine, salt, and sugar at bedtime. As I mentioned in last week’s post, caffeine and salt are linked to bedwetting. Sugar isn’t much better: many a sleep doctor has informed me that too much sugar can make bedtime a battle (though it affects each child differently).

So we know what not to serve kids at bedtime. Now for the good news: certain foods in certain combinations can actually make bedtime easier and more peaceful. If you’re feeding your kids anyway, why not serve up a snack that makes bedtime less of a hassle and more of a breeze?

The trick is to pair tryptophan, the sleepy superhero, with complex carbohydrates. Why? Tryptophan helps kids feel calm and sleepy by aiding in the production of serotonin and melatonin. But tryptophan alone won’t summon the sandman. This where the carbs come in. Eating carbohydrates triggers a release of insulin, which helps tryptophan enter the brain and cast its sleepy spell. (That’s why Thanksgiving dinner is so notoriously sleep-inducing; most T-day dinners include turkey along with heaping helpings of carbohydrates in the form of potatoes, stuffing, and rolls. Hello, food coma.)

Foods rich in tryptophan include meat, poultry, and seafood, dairy and soy products, whole grains and lentils, peanuts, sesame and sunflower seeds, and eggs.

Here are some super sleepytime snacks for kids:

  • Peanut butter spread on a banana
  • Hummus on a whole-grain tortilla
  • Whole grain cereal with milk or soy milk
  • Apple slices and cheddar cheese
  • Wholegrain toast with almond or sunflower seed butter
  • Turkey and cheese on whole-grain crackers
  • Plain yogurt with honey and dried fruit
  • Egg salad in a whole-wheat pita
  • Popcorn (a whole grain!) and peanuts (non-salted)

What are your family’s favorite bedtime snacks? Happy snacking—and sweet dreams!