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Help! I'm Raising a Night Owl

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Sleep expert Heather Turgeon, co-author of "The Happy Sleeper: The Science-Backed Guide to Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night's Sleep—Newborn to School Age," will fix your family's sleep problems in this space as she does in her home consultations. Turgeon's solutions are nonjudgmental, kind and—best of all—based on science.

No situation is too challenging. Leave your sleep problem in the comments. Let's all get a good night's sleep, finally.

Dear Heather,

What to do about a toddler who goes to bed happily at 7:30 but does not go to sleep until 11 p.m.? She calls me once in a while but otherwise is happily redressing and singing in her bedroom. I don't know how to get her to go to sleep. This has been going on about 6 months.


Sarah Bess Lukash Berg

Dear Sarah,

It's possible that you have a little night owl on your hands. Just like some adults are morning people and some are night owls, kids can also have these biological tendencies. This doesn't mean we should let her party all night, though, because life (early school start times, parents' work schedules) isn't very friendly to the night owl.

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Also consider that, while some kids tend towards late bedtimes, they often wake up early, too. (For example, they go to bed at 7:30 p.m. and wake up at 7 a.m.; they go to bed at 9 p.m. and wake up at 7 a.m.). Toddlers need about 11 hours of nighttime sleep, so if your daughter is falling asleep at 11, she'd need to sleep till 10 the next morning.

To shift her bedtime earlier, make sure she's not napping past 3:30 p.m. and that she's not napping for more than three hours during the day (if she's taking one nap). To sleep well at night, we all need to have built up enough of the need or "drive" to sleep—napping too long or too late will cut into this need and make for less nighttime sleep.

When she wakes up in the morning, get her up, expose her to sunlight, eat, socialize and play. This is like pressing "Go" on the internal clock, and it will make her more likely to fall asleep at an early bedtime.

When bedtime does roll around, make sure there are no bright lights on in the home by 6:30 p.m. (an hour before her 7:30 p.m. bedtime). As you know, light suppresses the release of melatonin, which we need to become drowsy.

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After a calm routine, it's time to stay in bed, and you might have to help her by walking her back to bed repeatedly. We don't want her to be up putting on a musical production in her room, because kids can often play way beyond when their bodies would like them to be asleep.

Sleep happy,


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