Q&A with Sleep Expert Malia Jacobson

by Abby on January 23, 2012

Malia Jacobson, sleep expert and authorOne great thing about being a journalist or blogger or anyone who gets to interview people is that you can call up pretty much any expert you want and get professional advice for free. Of course, it’s nice if you’re not entirely self-serving and share this advice to benefit your readers. So I’m just going to go ahead and assume that many of you have the same questions I do for Malia Jacobson, sleep journalist and author of Ready, Set, Sleep: 50 Ways to Help Your Child Sleep, So You Can Sleep Too. M’kay?

Q: Hi, Malia! Thanks for being here today to answer my our sleep questions. My first question is, at what age do most children drop their afternoon nap? My son is almost 3 and showing signs of giving up the precious 90-120 minute window of freedom and opportunity I hold sacred as a work-at-home mom. What should I do?

A: As a fellow WAHM who treasures her toddler’s nap, I understand your dismay. Most children (emphasis on most) stop taking daily afternoon naps at 3. Around 10 percent drop naps at 2, and a handful continue to nap until age 5, but in my experience, most children who are getting adequate nighttime sleep will stop taking a daily nap between 3 and 4.

There are a few things you can do to promote healthy rest and a consistent sleep routine while he’s in the process of giving up his nap.

Option 1. You can offer a nap every other day, or on a two-days-on, one-day-off schedule. This approach has some advantages: On “nap” days, you can allow him to take a long 90-120 minute nap, and you’ll have “no-nap” days free to run errands outside the house without being tied to a nap schedule. The major con is that your son may become overtired on the days without a nap.

Option 2. You can continue offering a daily nap, but shorten his naps to one hour. I know—you cherish those two-hour naps (you and me both!). But I think you’ll agree that a one-hour nap is better than no nap. I prefer this approach over option 1, because it allows the child to maintain a consistent routine day-to-day and prevents the overtiredness that results from nap deprivation.

Option 3. You can adjust his hours of nighttime rest by either moving bedtime later or waking earlier him in the morning. This generates the “little bit” of extra tiredness and encourages a daily nap. Proceed with a bit of caution here; this approach is not suited for kids with bedtime or nighttime sleep problems, but can work well for children who are generally well-rested, especially those who tend to sleep later in the morning. It’s important to note that you don’t want to move bedtime too late, or wake your child too early, simply to encourage a nap. So delaying bedtime by 30 minutes is reasonable; moving it 2 hours later isn’t.

These tactics can help your son continue napping regularly for as long as he needs to. When he skips a nap every day for longer than a week, he’s probably headed out of Napville for good (sorry!).

I use option 3 for my own 2yo—she naps beautifully as long as she’s awake by 7 am. Since your little guy already wakes up pretty early, I recommend that you give option 2 a shot.

Q: My son is also at the age when we’re considering moving him from a crib to a toddler or twin bed. But I’m worried this change will negatively impact his sleep. What are your thoughts on this?

A: At your son’s age (nearly 3) many kids are ready to transition to a toddler bed, and most parents find that the transition is easier than they anticipated. The best reasons to move your child to a toddler or “big kid” bed relate to safety (he’s climbing out of the crib), comfort (he’s physically too tall or large for the crib), or practicality (a new baby needs the crib). If any of those reasons ring true for you, make the move. But if none of those reasons apply, there’s no reason to rush a move to a toddler bed.

When it comes to a child’s sleep, it’s not a great idea to try to implement too many changes at once. In your case, I would recommend addressing the nap transition first, before you move him to a toddler bed (toddlers who resist naps are usually even less inclined to nap in a big kid bed). When his nap routine evens out, or he appears to be dropping naps entirely, start planning the move to a toddler bed.

Q: Since I have 2 boys and no guest room or home office, we’re considering having our kids share a bedroom. They are excited about the possibility of bunk beds, but I am concerned that one or both won’t get the sleep they need. My younger son tends to be an earlier riser, not to mention loud enough to wake the dead. What are your thoughts on this?

A: When you’re considering moving kids to a shared bedroom, it’s worth asking yourself a few questions before making the move:

  • Are both kids usually tired and ready to fall asleep quickly at lights-out without resisting or delaying bedtime?
  • Have both children given up daily naps?
  • Do both children sleep soundly enough to sleep through the other child’s noise?

If you can answer all three questions with a “yes,” starting shopping for a bunk bed! Around the time a younger child gives up his afternoon nap is a good time to move to shared room, for a couple of reasons. First, your younger child will be more likely to fall asleep quickly at bedtime without a daily nap. Second, delaying the move to a shared room ensures that your younger child won’t need to nap in the shared bedroom (which necessitates banning the older child from going into his room for a couple of hours a day).

For more practical sleep tips for ages 0-3, Ready, Set, Sleep is available in PDF or Kindle form.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Lou Mello January 23, 2012 at 6:51 am

I need a nap.


Malia January 25, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Well, grown-ups need naps too. Hope you got one, Lou. 🙂


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