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 sleep (38)


Ask Malia: Son Sleeps at Night, Hates Naps

Dear Malia,

I'm hoping you can help me. My almost 11-month-old has never, ever been a good sleeper. What worked for my much older son at night (co-sleeping, nursing on demand) has not worked for him. We did various sleep training methods before finally doing cry-it-out, which mostly worked. After three months, he is now sleeping from 8 p.m. to 6 or 7 a.m., with a short wake up around 1 a.m., which he puts himself back to sleep after only a minute or so. This has been going on for about a week, so I hope it sticks.

The issue we're STILL having is naps (never been a great napper either). He was taking really good naps: two naps for 60-90 minutes each, for about six weeks. And now, he is taking two naps for less than 40 minutes, usually more like 25-30 minutes.

I consistently put him down at the same time, by nursing him to sleep in a dark room, with a humidifier going. We read books to settle down and I always make sure he's comfy and fed.

A friend of mine has a close colleague (she's a psychologist) who is an adolescent sleep expert and she said it's one of three things: an allergy that is upsetting his tummy, he needs me nearby to sleep, and/or overtired. It's not the first two, I am certain, and I like to think that he isn't overtired when I put him down... he's up at 7 a.m., down by 9:30 a.m., and his second nap is at 1 p.m.

Is there something I am missing!? He seems miserable from lack of sleep and wakes up from his naps grouchy! I am in grad school and need those precious naptime hours to study and work!


Hi there. I do have an idea as to what is going on (and it isn't any of the answers you’ve been given). I believe he may be gearing up to start the long process of moving to one nap. This happens, on average, at 15 months old, but for some children it starts much earlier. My oldest went to one nap at 10-11 months.

One clue that this may be the case is that he seems to need less sleep than average. If he's sleeping 10 hrs at night plus 2-3 hours during the day, that's only 12-13 total in a 24-hour period, which is a couple of hours below average for his age. Children who naturally need a bit less sleep than their peers often drop naps earlier than average.

I don't think he is necessarily ready to drop the nap yet, but he may be getting ready to transition (the transition can take 3-5 months).

Another sign is that he is waking up after such a short nap and acting as though he wants more sleep. That's a sign that he can be awake for longer before his naps and that he needs a longer awake period before naps to build up enough tiredness to take a restorative nap. (If that makes sense).

At 11 months, many babies can handle being awake for 3 hours + during the day (slightly shorter for their first awake period of the day). You can try a routine like this: up at 7 a.m., first nap at 10 a.m., up from first nap at 11, second nap at 2, up from second nap at 3:30.

It's also important to wake him from his nap, especially the first nap of the day, so the rest of the day's routine doesn't get thrown off and push bedtime too late. I know you like the two-hour  naps, but the long naps aren't worth potentially ruining his nighttime sleep that you've worked hard for!

My article on navigating the tricky transition from two naps to one, Dropping a Nap Without Drama, might be helpful.

Let the napping commence! Good luck.

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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!


Ask Malia: Help for a Sound-Sensitive Child

Respecting your kid's quest for quiet.Dear Malia,

My 7-year-old son is especially sensitive to noise. He’s always had trouble sleeping, and it’s been especially tough since we moved into a new house. This house is creakier than our old one and our neighbors are pretty noisy. Do you have any tips—beyond white noise, which we use—to keep his room quieter at night?


In the quest to keep your child’s bedroom quiet at night, you may run into some obstacles—especially when your child is particularly sensitive to noise. Maybe you live in a noisy, creaky home with old hardwood floors, or a loud apartment building. Perhaps your child’s bedroom is near an elevator or stairwell. Maybe the sounds from traffic, airplanes, or trains are too loud to mask with white noise.

Some kids sleep well under these noisy conditions. For others, any sound is too much sound. When your home is simply too noisy for restful sleep, a few simple adjustments (and maybe a trip to the local home-décor store) may be in order. Though I don’t suggest encasing your son’s room in soundproof foam, there are other things you can do to help lower the racket:

  • Heavy curtains and thick textiles help to absorb and mask noise. This principle is at work in recording studios and soundproof rooms that are padded in thick foam from floor to ceiling. Choose thick drapes; quilts make excellent (noise-lowering) wall hangings.
  • Hardwood floors and tile may be beautiful, but quiet, they're not. Thick-pile carpeting masks noise, especially when it's wall-to-wall. Area rugs should be well-padded underneath. Hallway floors are notoriously creaky, so don’t forget about the floor outside of your child’s room.
  • Treat all of your home’s door hinges with WD-40 to prevent ear-shattering, sleep-disrupting squeals every time a door opens.
  • If possible, give your child a bedroom toward the back of the house, away from stairwells, busy hallways, and the home’s main living areas. That way, he won’t be disrupted by normal foot traffic or conversations.
  • To make an even bigger dent in the noise level, drape sheets across the ceiling to absorb and soften sound (the soft, tent-like atmosphere that it creates in the bedroom is an added bonus).

Please don’t fall prey to the myth that by creating a quiet sleep space, you are “spoiling” your child’s ability to sleep with background noise. To the contrary: a well-rested child has an easier time falling asleep, period. By quieting your home, you'll increase your child’s chances of sleeping well, both at home and while traveling to other, noisier locales. Over time, he may outgrow his sentivity to noise. But for now, do what you need to do to help him rest.


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.


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.


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