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Beth's Blog


Top 3 Questions about Babies and Sleep

Q: I can’t get my baby to sleep during the day.  I think she must be tired, but I can’t really tell.  Could she be ready to give up naps?

A:  Although there is great variability in how much individual babies sleep, most babies (and children under the age of 3) need to sleep in the day in order to get the amount of sleep they require.  The general rule of thumb for determining if your baby is getting enough sleep is by looking at her behavior.  Does she get through her day pretty well, without undue fussiness?  Does she manage transitions and minor disruptions fairly well? If so, then maybe she is a “short sleeper.” 

However, does she look tired? Does she rub her eyes a lot?  Does she seem less interested in her environment?  Does she wake up from her short naps crying and needing to be held?  Is she often fussy, cranky, hard to soothe?  Does she have a hard time settling at bedtime?  Does she wake frequently in the night?  These are frequently signs of a tired baby.  The more tired a baby or child is, the more hyper alert or the more “aroused” she will become. 

Q: My baby used to be a good sleeper. Now she is waking throughout the night and is resisting napping during the day.  What’s gone wrong?

A: Something happened: there could have been an illness, such as an ear infection; there could have been a change in family routine (a move, a change of job, or a parent returning to work); or there may have been a developmental change (a big change in language growth, gross motor skills, or developmental autonomy).

The good news is that a baby who already had the ability to sustain sleep will be able to relearn those skills.  She will be able to go to sleep and stay asleep on her own again soon. The bad news is that she may not be pleased that you will not continue to be her primary soother and she, most likely, will protest this change.

Q: My baby used to fall asleep nursing and go easily into her bed.  Now she wakes up and doesn’t want to go to sleep.  It seems as if she has gotten a cat nap and has caught a second wind.

A: Nursing a baby to sleep is a most wonderful experience, both for the baby and for the mother.  This blissful time can go on for many months.  Often, however, there will be a point at which your baby is going to get more pleasure from being awake with you and will begin to fight sleep to do so.  In this situation, you will probably have to set about the work of helping her go to sleep on her own.  Changing your schedule to nurse your baby before the beginning of the bedtime routine is one way to help in the process.


Preschoolers and Naps: An Ongoing Discussion

Ten years ago I began a search of the literature on sleep to address the questions about preschoolers who fall asleep at naptime at school but whose parents don’t want them to nap.  This topic clearly has staying power because it continues to be both the primary reason preschool programs ask me to present and the primary reason conference attendees give for choosing my workshop.  

I see a clear gap between the parents who continue write and speak passionately about their nighttime struggles with children who won’t go to bed until too late after napping at school and the evidence in the literature about the extraordinary value of daytime sleep for children’s learning and development.

Early childhood teachers feel caught in the middle of this misunderstanding.  They want to support parents and families by trying to meet their requests.  However, when a child falls asleep easily at naptime, neither the choice of keeping her from sleeping or of waking her from a sound sleep seems sensible.   Trying to lightly jiggle a child for an hour to try to keep her awake or waking a child from a deep sleep and soothing that child until she is finally ready to be awake is not really feasible in a preschool setting.

I am writing today to share my thoughts on this dilemma.

The data is clear that children begin to give up an afternoon nap between the ages of 3 and 5 and that the amount of sleep needed by children varies. Determining whether children need a nap depends on looking at their behavior.

In helping parents assess behavior, I ask the following questions:  What is the child’s day like? Does she get through the day and its transitions fairly well, without much crankiness?  Is she able to stick with activities late in the day or is that a time of many “melt downs”?  How is her sleep at night?  Does she sleep solidly or wake frequently?

If a child, for the most part (we all have our rough days), moves through the day smoothly (managing minor disruptions and rolling with changes in routines) and also sleeps solidly at night, then parents can be fairly sure that their child is getting enough sleep.

If the opposite is true, and a child is falling apart frequently, has a hard time dealing with transitions, and sleeps poorly at night, then one could pretty much bet that child is lacking in sleep.  

Having spoken about this with folks on both sides of the dilemma, I know parents will say they are absolutely sure the nap at school is the culprit.  Teachers observing children everyday easily falling asleep after lunch find it hard to see those same children as not needing the sleep.

I also want to recognize the data showing a drop in overall night time sleep for children (from infancy to adolescence) in the last decade.  Children are sleeping about an hour less a day, and the change is the result of an across the board later bedtime with no change in morning wake time. This occurs after no change in average amounts of sleep for children in over a century of data collection.

Knowing that children generally are losing sleep would seem to make napping even more of a good idea.  It is also important to realize that sleep, as a biological process, thrives on regularity.  Ensuring the regularity of bedtimes (and naptimes) and having a consistent, calming, “going to sleep” routine are important jobs for a parent. A regular routine allows a child’s body to expect sleep at the same time each night and helps them “cue” into sleep (a routine that lasts more than about a half hour means it is a “spending-time-with-parents” routine!). 

I continue to hope for some resolution of this issue, and I am always interested in hearing parents’ responses! 


Note to attendees of NAEYC conference

Greetings!  It was my pleasure to present at the annual conference in Atlanta last week, and I thank you for attending my session.

As I mentioned, I had uploaded a number of handouts to the NAEYC website for you to use.  However, I was not aware of the complexity of accessing those handouts and how few attendees were even aware of their availability.

For those of you willing to give a try, here are the step by step instructions for accessing those handouts:

1. Go to

2. Scroll down to the paragraph headed: My Conference Plan

3. Click on "Annual Conference Itinerary Planner" highlighted in the middle of the paragraph

4. In the search box, search by my last name "Haxby"

5. When the session "What About Naps?" appears, log in with your email address and password (the same you used to register for the conference)

6. A dialogue box ("Presentation Details") will appear.  Scroll down and you will see the handouts I placed there for you.  Click on the ones you are interested in and download.

Good luck and I apologize for the inconvenience.  I will also add some of the articles I've written to this blog in the upcoming days.


The "Best" Parenting Technique

Every year, as a teacher, I needed to learn a new set of names as I got to know a new group of twenty children.  Because every child is a unique person, this was generally an easy task.  Within the first few days of school, I could match names with faces.  However, occasionally there were some children’s names that inexplicably got mixed up in my head.  I would invariably call Sarah Charlotte and call Charlotte Sarah.  I always apologized when this happened and allowed for the important opportunity to talk about how everyone makes mistakes, even adult teachers.  The children were always eager to help, and one year a young girl spoke up, “Ms. Haxby, I think that if you paused before saying someone’s name, you would get it correct.”   She was right and I’ve never forgotten her advice.

The technique of pausing before speaking is readily helpful in many areas of our life, but perhaps none as important as in parenting.  All of us have the best intentions for our work with our children.  When frustrated or even mad, we certainly still love our children and, when the anger or upset has subsided, we clearly know that we would never want to hurt them.  However, in the moment, it is hard to separate out our long-term goals and wishes for our children from the feelings their behavior is engendering in us right then.  The pause can help this happen.  Some folks talk about taking a breath or counting to 10, any kind of pause will work. 

It isn’t easy to learn a new technique.  Recognizing that there was a way to help me use the right name for the right child was a first step.  It took a number of failed attempts before I finally gave enough effort to remember to take that momentary pause.  Just like I didn’t really want to keep mixing up my students’ names, none of us really wants to keep getting into battles with our children.  A new technique can make things better. 

The next time you find yourself in a familiarly difficult situation with your child, take a pause.  Find out what happens.  Your child may be surprised: where is that familiar reaction?  Even if you’re not sure what your next step will be, try it out. 

You could use the pause to think about what you really want in that moment.  Perhaps, “When I come in to tell you that dinner is ready, I want you to say, ‘Okay, I’ll be there in a minute.’” OR “When you come home from school, I want you to hang up your coat.”  OR “When I say ‘Hi,’ I want you to say ‘Hi’ in response.”  OR “When you say, ‘You’re such a dork!’ my feelings get hurt.” 

Tell your child that you don’t want to keep yelling/pestering her (in whatever situation you choose) so you’re going to try to take a pause before responding to her.  When you fail, as you certainly will at first, let her know: “Oops, I forgot to take that pause, let me try again,” or “Oops, I forgot to take that pause, next time I’ll try harder to remember.”

An important side effect of trying to change your behavior is that your child gets to witness you working on change.  Most likely what is upsetting you requires her to make a change, one that she likely is resisting otherwise you wouldn’t be having this struggle.  By changing your behavior and making the first move, you demonstrate that you are willing to change, that change is doable, and that you recognize as well that “it takes two to tango.”

Often when we are in the midst of a struggle with our children, the situation may feel overwhelming and the dynamics may be quite complicated.  Giving yourself and your child the chance to discuss the dynamics and make some discoveries together is the needed solution.  But in the meantime, the technique of a pause requires no analysis or particular enlightenment.  You can start today.  Give it a try!


Teenagers Staying Up Late: A Biologically Driven Change

Any parent who has observed a child moving into adolescence knows that changing sleep habits are an integral part of this new territory.  It has long been thought that later bedtimes are inevitable for teenagers given their surge in autonomy, their greater connectedness with peers, and their great number of after school activities.

That is true, to a certain extent.  However, according to a paper documenting a longitudinal study of adolescent sleep, researchers have observed significant changes in the adolescent brain that are linked both to teens' delayed bedtimes and to their much greater daytime sleepiness.1 

Reading this journal article, I realized that these findings could benefit both teenagers and parents: by taking some weight off the shoulders of teenagers who feel pressure from their parents and teachers who want them to go to sleep earlier, and by offering parents some greater understanding about an issue that often causes conflict within families.

So what is this new evidence?  Researchers know that prior to adolescence, a young child's brain is ceaselessly making new synapses (at the fastest rate in a life time) as it takes in new information. According to this study, the work of the adolescent brain is to “massively” prune all those synapses, and in so doing to reorganize the brain to make it work much more efficiently. 

How does this relate to sleep? The result of this greater efficiency is that the adolescent brain does not build up the pressure to sleep as quickly as the brain of a younger child.  An adolescent’s brain does not signal for the release of melatonin to bring on sleep until several hours later than the brain of a younger child.  As a result, teenagers simply don’t get sleepy until later at night, often not until 11 p.m.  With typical school schedules, that same teenager has to be out of the house by 7 a.m. (and often earlier), leaving them with a scant 7 hours of sleep when their need for sleep hasn’t changed at all (the recommended amount of sleep for teenagers is 10 hours, the same as for other school-age children). 

What we have then is an epidemic of sleep-deprived adolescents, right at the time when they are being asked to perform at their very best levels, both in academic and extra-curricular pursuits.  Mary Carskadon, a preeminent sleep researcher at Brown University, refers to this situation as a recipe for a “perfect storm” in the lives of teenagers today.2

What can be done?  Changing start times for high schools back to reasonable times of 8:30 or 9:00 is a crucial first step.  Accompanying this change should be the equally significant effort to increase awareness and educate both teenagers and their parents about sleep and the importance of sleep for their health and success in school and on the playing field.

Recognizing the value of sleep and honoring the continually mounting evidence from current research is what we owe the adolescents we love.


1 Feinberg, Irwin, Campbell, Ian G., (2010). “Sleep EEG Changes During Adolescence: An Index of a Fundamental Brain Reorganization,” Brain and Cognition, 72 (2010), 56-65.

2 Carskadon, Mary A., (2006).  “Sleep, Teens, & Schools: Why Johnny Can’t Stay Awake,” Learning and the Brain: Optimizing the Brain and Body to Improve Learning, November 10, 2006.