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 nap routine (3)


Ask Malia: Toddler can't fall asleep at night

My son Henry is 2.5 years old. As of two weeks ago he has had difficulties going to bed/falling asleep. He goes to preschool full-time. He naps at school 2.5 hours. On weekends he will sleep up to 3 hours for a nap. I put him to bed at 9 p.m. and he would typically fall asleep within 20 minutes. He now will take up to an hour to go to sleep. I am confused about this sudden change.

Henry has a strict bed time routine that starts at 8:15. We read books for a half an hour and then take a bath from 8:45-9:00. He has not had any life changes. I have wanted to potty train him but I am apprehensive because I want his bed time routine to stabilize again. He typically wakes up at 7 a.m. and averages 12 hours of sleep a day. Any advice you can give me to understand why this is happening and tips to get back to our original routine would be greatly appreciated.


I suspect what is going on has to do with an imbalance of day and night sleep, along with changing sleep needs.

At 2.5, it is not uncommon for toddlers to begin needing less daytime sleep (i.e. a shorter nap), and a longer, more restorative nighttime rest, as they begin the long transition to ultimately dropping their daytime nap altogether at age 3 or 4. However, when toddlers have a very long daytime nap, this process gets interrupted. A daytime nap of 2.5 to 3 hours is generally too long for toddlers of this age. It prevents them from falling asleep at an appropriate bedtime, which leads to shorter night sleep and more overtiredness. This is a vicious cycle, because an overtired child will want to nap even longer, which will result in later bedtimes, more overtiredness, longer naps, and on and on.

I recommend shortening his daytime nap to under two hours for 3-5 days. On those days, move bedtime earlier by 45 minutes to an hour. He'll be sleeping easier in no time.

I think you would find my ebook Ready, Set, Sleep very helpful. I encourage you to check it out, read the section on correcting overtiredness, and let me know if you have more questions.

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Ask Malia: Is it OK to Stop A Tot From Napping?

I’m confused about naps. Most of your posts say that naps are vital and that kids who don’t nap have problems sleeping at night. But my 2-year-old actually sleeps better at night when he doesn’t nap, or takes a very short nap. We were doing fine with that routine, but then I began to worry that I was hurting him somehow by not letting him nap as much as he wants. Now he’s napping more, but we’re back to nighttime sleep problems (lots of wakings, early wakeups, etc.). Is it OK to limit a child’s naps if they actually sleep better without them?


Naps are vitally important babies (and the vast majority of toddlers). They help him rest and process new information, and are important to his growth and overall health. Appropriate naps help prevent overtiredness and promote restful sleep at night.

But it’s vital to understand the goal of naps: naps should get your child through the day until bedtime without becoming overtired. Naps should not replace night sleep. The National Sleep Foundation reports a link between longer nap times and shorter night sleep.

It’s important not to impose a generic nap schedule on your child. Just because your sister’s baby naps for half the day doesn’t mean that your baby will (or should). It’s even more important not to encourage or allow overly long naps that rob night sleep. Lengthy daytime naps longer than three hours can rob night sleep and set up a vicious cycle of poor night sleep that leads to daytime sleepiness and more excessively long naps.

Something to consider:your son may need less sleep overall than other kids his age—so by allowing him to take extra-long naps, you’re setting the stage for nighttime sleep troubles. In his case, a short nap may be just what he needs to power through the rest of his day. Institute a "quiet time" to give him the opportunity to take a brief nap each day; if he doens't sleep, you'll know that you gave him a chance to do so.

  • If your child is struggling to sleep through the night, examine his nap lengths. Naps should be long enough to be restorative, and no longer.
  • In general, avoid naps longer than two-and-a-half hours. But don’t use two-and-a-half hours as your guideline; this nap length may be far too long for some children, and lead to too much daytime sleep and nighttime sleep problems.
  • For babies taking multiple naps, one to one-and-a-half hours per nap may be plenty.
  • For older toddlers and children taking one nap, two hours of sleep per nap may be enough. For some, one hour or even  30 to 45 minutes may be plenty. The point is, there’s no “perfect” nap length that works for everyone.
  • Arriving at an appropriate nap schedule may take some trial and error. Expect shifts in your child’s nap needs as his night sleep improves.
  • As your child becomes better-rested, he will probably go down for naps much more easily.
  • As night sleep improves, napping patterns will naturally regulate, with longer naps some days, shorter naps other days. Some babies and young children take shorter naps after they begin sleeping through the night. Expect this, and do not try to force longer naps on a child who is sleeping well at night; this will backfire. A child who sleeps solidly though the night will be more likely to find his own perfect nap length, naturally.

Good to know: A child who is overtired will probably be grumpy when you wake him from a nap. This is very common, and it does not mean that you were wrong to wake him. On the contrary—you need to wake him from an overly long nap in order to protect his bedtime and his nighttime rest. Correct his overtiredness with an extra-early bedtime instead of a longer nap.


Ask Malia: Nap Routine for Four-Month-Old

Hi Malia!

I have a few sleep questions for you about Casey, who’s 4-and-a-half-months old. I would love for him to sleep for longer periods of time at night. Right now he sleeps about a 4-hour stretch, and is then up every 2 hours after that till morning. We put him to bed at 7 and he is up by 6:30 am.

Next, he is a really bad napper. He doesn’t seem to have any type of nap routine. Some days he sleeps 30 minutes, other days 3 hours. I’m really not sure where to go with his nap routine or when he should be napping during the day. We’re pretty on-the-go during the day, so I think that’s part of why he hasn’t fallen into a nap pattern, but I’m not sure how to fix it.

I welcome any suggestions/advice that you have and thank you so much!!



Hi Jana,

Even though his nighttime sleep isn’t exactly where you’d like it to be yet, it’s not so terrible. It’s normal for babies his age to wake a couple times at night to nurse, and his is a fairly typical nighttime sleep pattern. I imagine that he will drop his 11 pm feeding soon (perhaps with some support from you), and then gradually drop his 1 am feeding as well. For many babies, the feeding between 3-5 am is the last to go.

Another thing about this sleep pattern—it does not suggest to me that Casey is terribly overtired and that overtiredness is causing him to wake at night. (Very overtired children will often wake up shortly after being put to bed at night, so they don’t get the long stretch that Casey is getting from 7-11 pm.) His lack of regular naps might lead to a conclusion that he’s overtired, but I’m not sure that’s the case. He may just be a baby who doesn’t need to nap all that much.

But at his age, he'll benefit for a bit more predictability and being at home for more naps—I know this is tough because you’re so on-the-go, but it comes with the territory of having on older baby. Once babies outgrow the newborn stage, a consistent nap routine and a consistent nap environment are important aspects of daytime rest.

At 4-5 months, most babies are ready to be awake for 2-3 hour stretches during the day. That means every 2-3 hours he needs to be going back down for another nap.  I want to stress that while he will benefit from a more structured routine, don’t allow/encourage him to take overly long naps. This may discourage him from sleeping at night. Because he is taking multiple naps per day, 1.5 hours is long enough for each nap.

Your goal with his naps is to allow him to rest and refresh and get through the day without becoming overtired. Just put him down for a nap every 2.5-3 hours and let his naps be the length that they are, and wake him after an hour or so (1.5 hours max).

So his nap routine would look something like this:

6:30 am wake

Nap 1—8:30 am to 9:30 am

Nap 2—12 pm to 1 pm

Nap 3—4 pm to 4:45 pm

Bedtime 7:30-8 pm

This routine is a starting point for you to experiment and see what works best for Casey. If he fights sleep on this routine and takes short naps, he may be ready to stay awake for longer stretches.

The idea is not to put him on a strict sleep schedule. He’s still a baby and you want to enjoy him, first and foremost. The idea is just to get him down for his nap within a predictable time window before he becomes overtired, so he can rest, refresh and continue his day.

Let me know if you have questions and good luck!

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