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 toddler (17)

Monday
Jun042012

No more naps? Eight reasons to cheer.

Goodbye, nap!For some kids, it happens at as early as age two. For most, three or four is the magic age. A few hang on until five. But sooner or later, all kids do it: they give up their afternoon nap.

Parents of babies and toddlers are terrified of losing their child’s daily snooze—also known as their only chance to check email, shower, read, prep dinner, return phone calls, sleep, or just stare into space without a tiny person yanking at their arm.

But take heart. Leaving naps behind can be a positive step. Without a daily nap to work around, your family’s day opens up, along with new preschool possibilities, more sibling time, and less daily frustration. Your kiddo might sleep better at night, too.

Here are eight reasons to face the no-nap transition with no fear.

Sounder nighttime sleep

By the time kids hit the preschool years, many sleep better at night without a daily snooze. This is particularly true of kids who need less overall sleep than their peers. Without a daily nap, your tot will likely fall asleep faster and earlier at night, and possibly sleep later in the morning, too.

Extra flexibility in your routine

Need to spend an afternoon running errands? Want to linger over a late lunch? Tired of the morning crowds at the local park? Once your kid stops napping, there’s no need to rush home to get him in bed every afternoon—which opens up your schedule for all sorts of possibilities.  Anyone up for a matinee?

Family schedule-sync

Keeping noisy brothers and sisters from waking a napping younger sibling can be harrowing (“For the last time, BE QUIET! Your brother is NAPPING!”). When the younger child finally gives up napping, parents can finally surrender their “Quiet Police” badges.

No more doorbell dread

You know those cutesy signs that politely ask visitors not to ring the doorbell, because “Baby’s Napping?” They might as well be invisible. When you’ve got a snoozing baby, your doorbell is a magnet for everyone in the world, from chatty neighbors to gutter salesmen to magazine-selling teens. No nap means you’ll no longer fear the bell’s toll.

Farewell, frustration

Few things are more unnerving than trying—and failing—to get a rambunctious preschooler down for a nap, day after day. Struggling with a child who just won’t sleep is not fun. But once the nap bites the dust, you can kiss that defeating daily routine goodbye.

Easier room-sharing

In this recent article for ParentMap magazine, I extol the benefits of having kids bunk up. And a shared bedroom works much better when one sib isn't monopolizing the room each afternoon with a nap. When naps are history, both roommates are free to use the room all day long.

P.M. preschool

Saying goodbye to naps opens up a new world of preschool possibilities. Once your child is ready to stay awake all day, afternoon-only preschool is a great way to fill the long afternoon hours (bonus: no early-morning drop off!).

Ciao, car alarm

When you desperately want your tot to take her nap, the sight of her nodding off in her carseat is cause for alarm. A few minutes of carseat sleep kills an afternoon nap faster than you can say “No, sweetie, wait!” But when the nap is history, short carseat siestas are no big deal. In fact, they’re kind of nice. You might even take the long route home, just to savor your latte in peace.

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What about you? Were you bummed when your kiddo dropped the afternoon nap? Or did it ultimately make things easier?

Friday
May182012

Ask Malia: The Portable, Napless Secondborn

I never had a problem with my first daughter’s naps. But I’m finding it much harder with baby two. At least a few days a week, my 8-month-old son barely naps, because we’re on the go all day long. I volunteer one morning a week at his sister’s co-op preschool, and two afternoons a week she has gymnastics. We like to try and make library storytimes and other morning activities when we can, too, and those aren’t exactly nap-friendly for him—he’ll catch a few minutes in the stroller or carrier, but nothing like a real nap. I know he should be napping during these times, but it’s hard for us to stay home. Of course, on those “no nap” days, he sleeps restlessly at night, wakes up a few times, and is grumpy the next morning. What’s your advice?

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Unlike firstborns, second or third babies don’t always get the luxury of having a daily routine designed around them. It can be tough to stay home for naps, but (you know I’m going to say this, right?) proper naps are every bit as important to your son as storytime is to your daughter. More, even. Naps are his chance to rest and process new information, and research shows that siestas aid in learning and memory retention. And his nighttime sleeping problems are telling you that he’s missing his lost naps in a big way.

Sounds like some schedule rearranging might be in order. Your newest family member is a little person with real needs, just like your older child, and having a family means juggling everyone’s needs. That doesn’t mean everyone’s needs are met in the same way, every day, all the time, but one person’s needs shouldn’t be shoved aside on a consistent basis. His physiological need for rest should be prioritized alongside his sister’s activities—not placed at a distant second.

But obviously, you can’t drop each and every activity, and you can’t stay home all day long. On days when his naps aren’t up to par, move his bedtime earlier by 45 minutes to an hour; a bit of extra nighttime sleep won’t totally make up for lost naps, but hitting the sack earlier can help him sleep more deeply with fewer awakenings during the night. Good luck!

Monday
May072012

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.

Unplug

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.

Carbaholic

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.

Friday
Feb172012

Ask Malia: Big-Kid Milestones are Wrecking Sleep

Hi Malia,

We moved my 3-year-old to a big-girl-bed a couple months ago, around the time her baby sister was born. It went great. Then, last week when she turned 3, we took away pacifier. Though she knew this was coming and we talked about it for months, it hasn't gone well. She comes into our room 3-6 times per night wanting to be tucked in and get one more song. She willingly goes back to bed, but comes out again and again. Is this likely just a transition issue? When she adjusts to not having the pacifier, will it go away? How long do we keep forcing her to go back to her room?

Theresa

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Dear Theresa,

Congratulations on the new addition to your family—and congrats on your older daughter’s milestones! It sounds like there’s a lot to celebrate at your house. Now for the bad news: Too much change, all at once, can throw off a child’s sleep. As you probably know, your daughter’s world is kind of topsy-turvy right now. She’s only a few months into the big-kid-kid bed transition, recently paci-free, and just celebrated a birthday, all on top of becoming a big sister.

It's normal to deal with regression in these circumstances. And it’s normal for a child with a new sibling to want more attention from mom and dad. Unfortunately, sometimes this manifests in the middle of the night. So you are going to need to be patient with her. I always advise parents to deal with one issue at a time, but you have multiple things going on here. You can't go back and give her the pacifier or put her back into a crib (nor would you want to) so you're just going to have to deal with it all at once.

Here is my advice:

  1. With such broken nighttime sleep, she’s at risk for becoming severely overtired. To prevent this, maintain a consistent nap schedule (but don’t let her nap longer than 1.5 hours) and an age-appropriate bedtime.  Try to have her in bed by 8 pm.
  2. Remain very consistent in taking her back to her room each time she wakes up during the night.

When you take her back to her room, STAY WITH HER UNTIL SHE IS DEEP ASLEEP. I recognize that this is the last thing you want to do. But unless you do this, two things will happen. 1) She will pop out of her room again and again, becoming more awake and less likely to go back to sleep each time, and 2) You and your spouse will get zero sleep because she’ll be up and down for hours.

Stay in her room until she is deep asleep. If she protests and wants to get out of her room, tell her “It’s time for sleep.” Deal with any requests (glass of water, etc.) with minimal interaction and only in her room.

To answer your question of "how long do we keep forcing her to go back to her room"—as many times as you need to. Your willpower has got to be stronger than hers. Don’t allow her to get up and stay up. Being up at 4:30 am is not appropriate for a child. If she does wake up that early, stay in a darkened room to protect her circadian rhythms from disruption (too much light or stimulation early in the morning will program her brain to continue the early wakings—the last thing you want).

If you need to lie in her bed with her, rock her, or rub her back to get her to sleep, so be it. It is much easier to wean her off these behaviors later, than it is to deal with a circadian cycle that’s completely out of whack from being up all night.

I’m sure you’re ready for some good news now, so here it is: As the transitions in your home smooth out, her sleep will smooth out too. Keep being a fabulous mom to your two lucky kids, and good luck!

 

Image courtesy of zazzle.com

Sunday
Feb122012

Suprising Ways Overtiredness Hurts Kids

Get within two feet of a young child having a meltdown, and you’re sure to hear the word “tired” tossed around: “He’s really tired today. We stayed up late last night. He missed his nap. He’s just tired.”

But tantrums are just the tip of the tiredness iceberg. We know that overtiredness brings on crankiness and meltdowns in our kids. But did you know that overtiredness isn’t just a precursor to a foul mood? According to new research, overtiredness plays a role in a host of serious health problems, from ADHD to diabetes. It hurts kids academically, emotionally, and behaviorally. And sleep doctors—at least, the ones I interview for my magazine articles on sleep—say that chronic overtiredness is rampant among today’s kids.

That’s bad news for our children. Here are some surprising side effects of overtiredness—and five good reasons to help your kids get the sleep they need:

School Struggles

The National Sleep Foundation reports that sleep deprivation in children is associated with poor school performance and lowered test scores.

Weighty Matters

According to new research, sleep deprivation increases the risk of obesity two-fold in children and adults and is associated with excess body weight in both kids and teens.   

ADHD Imposter

Overtiredness can masquerade in a host of ADHD-like symptoms, and even lead to “faux ADHD,” a condition characterized by behavior problems and learning difficulties.

Too Tired, Too Wired

When kids are awake too long, an overbalance of adrenaline makes it difficult to reach and maintain deep, restorative sleep, so overtired kids have a harder time falling and staying asleep.

Fidgety Legs

Overtiredness worsens the symptoms of restless legs syndrome, a condition affecting 1.5 million children and adolescents.

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For more surprising facts about how overtiredness affects children, check out my article “Desperately Seeking Sleep: Ten Surprising Ways Overtiredness Hurts Kids” in this month’s Western New York Family Magazine.

How much sleep does your little one need to stay out of overtired territory? These guidelines from Web MD are a good reference.