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Bedtime Too Late
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Bedtime Too Late
I am writing on behalf of a friend who is struggling with
bedtime and her 17 month old. Her situation has been unique in
that during baby's first year dad was dying; he passed away as
she turned one. As a result baby was never set up with a
bedtime, instead mom would set her in front of the tv after
dinner and a bath. She typically doesn't fall asleep until
10:30 or 11:00 pm, then wakes during the night. Her mom is
exhausted, a combo of sleep deprivation and grief. She is
getting some help with the grief, but now we need to work on
changing baby's bedtime (we're aiming for 8:00p), as well as the
bedtime ritual. ''Cry it out'' is not an option... mom tried this
three nights and baby never fell asleep and ended up with a raw
throat. Mom is understandably protective and wants help to
teach baby to sleep without causing harm (physical or
psychological). What suggestions do you sage parents have for
Sympathies to your friend... this is a tough one to answer
because I don't know the child's schedule? Does she have one? It
would help to get her first on a consistant schedule? Also, I
noticed that my 17 month old girls have changed in their own
sleeping patterns and one likes to stay up one hour later
(9:00/9:30)than her sister. If your friend can give her
daughter an early dinner, say 5:00/6:00 p.m., then play, then
bath, then story time in bed by 8:00/8:30 p.m., try putting her
daughter in her bed with her and with small night light read and
maybe sing songs and finally lay down with her on the bed,
holding her until she falls asleep. This works for my girls,
and then I tranfer them to their cribs. If her daughter wakes
up in the middle of the night, your friend ! should just bring her
to bed with her if she doesn't already. Grief and exhaustion is
hard, and she'll need wonderful friends and family to assist her
and her daughter to get through this tough time. All the best!
8pm might be a little optimistic for a toddler who's currently
staying up until 11. Generally changing bedtimes means
adjusting naptimes -- we needed at least five hours between
naptime and bedtime.
The other thought I have is that this might be a circumstance
where sleeping with the toddler makes a lot of sense. It's
calming and sleep-inducing for both mother and child. This way
both of them might get more sleep.
Is the mother in touch with Pediacare? That's an organization
that helps families where a parent has died. A friend who was
widowed a year or so ago, is finding the group she's in very
helpful. Her child is older-- school age-- and is also in a
bereavement group there.
My heart goes out to your friend. My child was a terrible
sleeper until recently. When we switched his bedtimes, I found
the following advice helpful:
1. set up a routine so the child will have an inner clock that
will alert him bed is coming. In our house, its put away toys,
feed the kitty and brush teeth. Then read a book in bed. Keep
the order the same every night. Kids thrive on rhythm, it
makes them feel secure that they know what is coming next.
Also, it reduces any ''battles''.
2. Move the bedtime up every night by about 15-20 minutes so
the child slowly gets used to the new time. If the child is
going to bed at 11 now, it will probably take 2 weeks, but s/he
will get there and will eventually physically be ready for it.
3. Don't let the child watch TV -- much too stimulating for a
young mind, especially before bedtime.
warm wishes to you all, Kim
''Crying it out'' never worked for my son either. But I tried a
sort of ''sleep weaning'' (that's what I called it, anyway). The
goal was for my son to be comfortable falling asleep by
himself. So first I started by sitting on the bed until he fell
asleep, but not laying down with him. I did this for 2 or 3
nights. Then I would sit on the floor next to the bed for a few
nights. Then on the floor but farther away from the bed. And
so on, until I was even sitting in the hallway for a while! As
long as he knew that I was nearby, he felt comfortable and
You may also try waking the baby earlier in the morning so
that he will be more tired earlier in the evening. And then
making naptime earlier too. But! I would not eliminate a nap.
Some kids get overtired and really wound-up without a nap
at that age.
Does anyone have advice on how to get a wide-eyed toddler to bed before 11
pm? Suddenly, my 18-month old has become a night owl. She has always been
difficult to put to bed, but we usually managed to get her to sleep in her
crib by 9:00 at the latest. Now, however, she seems to get a second wind,
(often around the time Dad comes home from work) which keeps her going and
going and going...
Our previous nighttime rituals no longer work (reading and lullabye
music)--she just gets up and starts roaming around the house,looking for
toys and wanting to play. The past couple of nights we've put a video on
which has proved successful in calming her down and getting her to sleep a
little earlier than 11, but we're a bit uncomfortable with this (for fear
she'll become addicted). The later it gets the more obstinate she becomes.
If we try to divert her from her course she gets hysterical. Even turning
out the light sets her off. We've tried shortening the length of her nap
which, so far, hasn't had any impact.
(Developmentally, she seems to be going through a big spurt, with new words
and skills almost every day. Perhaps this is having some effect?)
Any suggestions (besides letting her cry it out)?
Our daughter went through a difficult bedtime settling-in time around
18 months. Brazelton suggests that the growth spurts really do keep a
child up, or wake a child up as they keep practicing in their sleep.
So maybe that is the cause of the current phase. What we did was to
have a regular bedtime in the crib. If she started crying, one of us
would go back into her room and either pat her, or pick her up to hold
for a minute, then put her back in the crib. Then we would try to
leave the room. If it became clear that she was going to cry and
fuss, one of us would sit in the room, in the dark, until she fell
asleep. Sometimes it took 30-45 minutes of just sitting and gently
humming or saying reassuring things. She would cry a lot sometimes
while I was there in the dark (or if my husband was there in the dark
and she wanted me). But I feel differently about this crying than
leaving her to cry it out alone. The phase passed in a few months.
Sometimes it was hard to give up my evening time to sit in the
dark...but it did pass. Good Luck!!
At about the same age (18 mos), or younger, my daughter stayed up
late (10:30-midnight) for about 9 months to a year. Our doctor could
recommend only trying to eliminate or shorten her nap, which was
unrealistic for her care-taker Monday-Friday, or wake her up earlier,
so she'd be more tired at night, which was unrealistic for me, and
hard to do, anyway.
After awhile, I figured out that each kid has her own sleep pattern,
although generally they need about 11-13 hours/day if they're toddlers
or preschoolers. And that pattern may change somewhat: Now my kid
is usually asleep by 9:30, gets up an hour or so earlier, and resists
settling down for a nap. (She's 4-1/2 now.) There is variation in
the amount of sleep we need as adults, so why shouldn't that be true
for children as well? I don't agree with trying to get a kid to
sleep if she doesn't seem tired, or waking him up if he's clearly
needing more sleep. Unfortunately, we sometimes have to do the latter,
in order to get to work and school. But I gave up trying to get my
kid to sleep in order to have more time for myself, because it just
doesn't work, not at this younger age at least.
There's a good book called something like "Helping Your Child Sleep
Through the Night," sorry I can't remember the authors' names. But
ultimately, we just had to wait until she was ready and tired enough
to go to bed and fall asleep earlier.
HELP! My almost 3 year old daughter is taking 1.5-2.5 hours to
fall asleep at night. She is silent the whole time, just tosses
and turns. My husband and I take turns sitting in the room
reading til she falls asleep. She usually naps from 2 -4 p.m.
and goes to bed between 7:30 pm - 8:30 pm. But even on no nap
days, it takes a long time for her and on those days it is pure
hades in our house by 5 pm. What to do?? Cut out her nap
(which I really think she still needs)or just hang on in the
hopes it will get better?? Anyone else been here?
We have definitely been there. When we asked our daughter's
preschool teacher for advice, she said that the nap might be the
culprit, but to be aware that kids don't just give up naps all of
a sudden -- there may be times when they don't need it, and then
they can go back to needing it again. So we ended up
experimenting and found that it was best to keep nap time but to
limit it to an hour a day. That way she had stamina until
bedtime, but she was tired enough then to fall asleep almost as
soon as the lights went out.
All this happened a few months ago, and by now our daughter seems
to have reset her clock so that she only naps about 45 minutes to
an hour on most days; she still takes longer naps when needed,
and she can also make it through a day without a nap at all.
Hope this helps.
I would stop sitting in the room with her. Kids need to learn to fall asleep
on their own and they can't do that if you're with them. Sometimes my
son doesn't fall asleep right away, but he knows to stay in his toddler
bed. He just hangs out and talks to himself. Even if he isn't sleeping, he
is resting (and so am I!).
My son is almost 2-1/2 and also has trouble winding down at
night. We lie down with him and usually it will take about 1/2
hour until he is asleep. He naps for 1 to 1-1/2 hours in the
late afternoon and bedtime is 9:00. 7:30-8:30 seems VERY early
for your little one. Why not try quiet play/reading in the
evening and pushing back her actual bedtime to 9:00? You would
lose some reading time, but could get some other
household ''puttering'' done while she winds down before bed. My
experience with cutting out the nap has been the same as yours--
don't do it yet, she doesn't sound ready! Good luck!
I would suggest that the nap begin earlier - can it be from 1:00 to 3:00
instead of 2:00 to 4:00? Our 4-year-old is also a nightmare if she doesn't
nap - she naps for several hours on the weekends, though at preschool
they nap from 1:00-3:00 and then wake them up. She is one of the last in
her group to still nap, but I firmly believe and teach her that every
person's body is different and that her body needs naps. Our daughter's
bedtime is 8:00 and always has been. She tends to fall asleep around
8:30, though she's in bed at 8:00. After reading books and singing
songs, though, it's lights out. I do not stay in the room with her. I do tell
her that she can talk or sing quietly to her stuffed animals if she wants to,
and she normally does that until she falls asleep. By the end of the week
she falls asleep more easily as she's more exhausted (as we are). I
agree that it would be better for you not to stay in the room with her and
try to get her used to falling asleep on her own. I have trouble falling
asleep as well, so I can relate to your child's inability to settle down. My
mind keeps racing even when my body is exhausted and it's very
We have a very active three-year-old boy who goes to sleep at
about 10 or 11pm with two bottles, about a half-hour or more of
chewing on mommy's hair, and many many ''t-rex ice cream store''
stories. Obviously, we made a big mistake when he was younger
by letting our exhaustion rule the way he learned to fall
Does anyone else have this problem, where a child has multiple
sleep crutches? Should we deal with them all at once (no
bottle, no mommy) or one at a time? We are thinking of
establishing a routine of bath, book (maybe one bottle during
book?), and then we tell him goodnight and leave the room; we
figure the first couple nights or so he'll get up a lot and cry
a lot, and then calm down after that. Is this a realistic
He naps at preschool (too long in my opinion--about two and a
half hours) and falls asleep by himself there. But when he's
home on the weekends, he won't fall asleep for his nap unless
we give him a bottle and drive him around. He still needs some
kind of a nap--if he doesn't have one he's so unhappy around
4pm and for the rest of the evening. Do we use the same
technique for his nap?
Thanks for any advice.
There was an article about this in Family Fun magazine a couple
of months ago. One suggestion that they had was making your
bedtime expectations very explicit with your child (e.g. one
bottle, two books, then lights out)and then devising a reward
system to reinforce the behavior. For example, you could get a
little calendar, and every night your child follows the routine,
he gets a sticker to put on it in the morning. If he is old
enough to understand numbers, you could even build in that after
3 days or 5 days of stickers, he can get some reward (a trip to
the zoo, a desired toy). I actually did the sticker thing for
my two year old daughter's naps and was amazed at how it changed
things. Instead of getting into a power struggle around her
sleeping, I was able to say things like, ''I really want to put a
sticker on your nap chart today, but we can't if you don't
settle down.'' It puts you in the position of being on the same
side as your child instead of embattled with her. Hooray for
We went through this with our daughter, who is now 4.5 years
old, just around the time she also was three years old. Our
bedtime routine with her was nuts--books, songs,handholding,
drinks, snacks, and then sitting with her until she fell asleep.
(Even with all that, she used to come out of her room DOZENS of
times before falling asleep.)It was an absolute nightmare. We
realized we had to change it because a) it was exhausting for
us; and b)we were about to have another baby, and there was no
way I'd be able to handle a bedtime routine like that with a
newborn baby to take care of, too.
So while I was still pregnant, we trimmed the bedtime routine
little by little. We announced that from now on, she would have
just three books, max, and one song. Then we announced that she
could read to herself as long as she needed to, but I wouldn't
sit by her bed waiting for her to sleep anymore. This met with
some protests (we generally like a more collaborative method of
making household rules, but this was a desperate situation) but
not too bad. Today (a year later), she gets three books, a
drink, and rarely asks for songs. She still stays up reading,
but that's fine. For awhile we reverted to giving her snacks in
bed (healthy snacks), but I've put my foot down on that one
again, due to the risk of tooth decay and unwanted critters in
It really did work; it really can be done. And our bedtimes are
much more peaceful now. I suppose some people will say do it
cold turkey; I think you have to consider your child's
As it happens, I have a 3 year old boy with a pretty elaborate
bedtime routine too. (And like yours he takes a late, long
afternoon nap and stays up pretty late, about 9:30, which I'm OK
with, becaue I work until 6:30 p.m.) Until recently his routine
consisted of four books, with milk and snack, then prayers, then
mommy singing 4 songs with lights out (particular songs in
particular order), then I had to give him 3 hugs, kiss his
finger, kiss his toe, and shake his hand. Then I would be called
back for a drink of water, and to put a towel on his tummy, give
him some ''water medicine'' (he would say his tummy hurt and he
needed medicine - I would give him water in a spoon)etc etc etc.
It seemed like every night one new thing got added to the list
(and all the others stayed on). His dad (who had 3 children
before this one) lost patience with this at the point
the ''secret handshake'' was added to the drill, but I was
convinced it couldn't be altered. How it came to an end was I
got sick one night - could barely walk - and had to bow out of
the routine. Daddy explained I was very tired and we were going
to read two books, I would give hugs, and then Daddy was putting
him to bed. There was a slight protest, but not much, and to my
total amazement, he was in bed with lights off and quiet before
I'd even limped to my bed. I would try explaining to your 3
year old you are going to do things differently, and spell out
exactly what you are going to do (2 stories, milk, whatever),
and then do it. Three year olds can understand quite a bit, and
they can count! Mine also really likes knowing what we are going
to do before we do it. Be nice about it, and calm, and also talk
about how much fun you will have in the morning after a good
night sleep (''after you go to sleep, then you will wake up and
we will have breakfast etc etc.''(I think it helps if they don't
focus on just the getting to sleep part.) If your boy is like
mine (much more interested in the big Mommy routine but not so
needy with Dad) I think it helps to have only stories with Mommy
and then Daddy comes in for the big finish, solo. Good
P.S. Final tip - I notice he gets more needy and obsessive the
more tired he gets. Try starting the routine a little earlier.
I found my 3yr old's bedtime stretching to 1-1/2 hours.I've cut
it to about 30 mins. Now, he brushes his teeth, puts on pajamas,
then we read two books in the rocker.After reading I rock him for
about 5-10 mins. You have the right idea about the bedtime
routine. You're right he will protest greatly at first. Your
expectations are realistic.
As far as the nap I found my 3yr old frequently
doesn't nap on the weekends. He power naps for 15-30
mins.usually in the car on the way home. I think he is phasing
out naps slowly. Like your son he needs some kind of sleep
during the day. If you want to keep the naptime going try a
naptime routine similar to the bedtime one. Good luck.
Great ideas already given for trimming the rituals. We never
*ever* violate the two books routine, daddy reads one,
mommy reads another. Daughter gets to pick the stories,
and who reads which one, and who goes first. But when
you get routine-creep, it is absolutely possible to change it
to save your sanity.
When my daughter was in the ''jack in the box'' popping up
and screaming for an hour as we put her back down
repeatedly stage (such joy) we instituted a ''Mommy will sit
with you and count'' response. She needed something
calming, and we figured it would help her learn numbers,
too. (I remind Daddy regularly that the teenage years are
ahead and I will soon enough lose favored-parent status.
Sometimes he's not even jealous, just pities me ;-) ) .
Soon, counting to twenty got really old for me, and I got tired
of nodding off in the chair in her room. I told her I would
count to ten, count one time only, and then she would go to
sleep, I would go get ready for bed and see her in the
morning. Now it's just a quick counting to three, and usually
she drops off right away. I also remind our daughter at
bedtime that she won't be missing out on anything, because
we will all be sleeping, including the dog, and we will all
have fun the next day.
I have friends who do not explain anything to their kid, and
never have, yet I have found it to be the best strategy for
coping with almost any issue. When our daughter was an
infant and we left her with a grandparent or sitter, we always
explained to her what we were doing, that we would be back
and what would happen when we returned. Grandma
thought we should sneak away while she was distracted,
our friends with older kids looked at us like we were total
wackos who had been living in Berkeley too long, but it
seemed respectful of her. Now, she has no big issues
around departures. Going to sleep is like a departure, and
raises those abandonment issues.
My 3.5 year old daughter has always had trouble going to sleep. I had a
rough time putting her to bed till last year. Cutting out afternoon naps
never made any difference and still makes no difference. Somehow, last
year she settled into a bedtime around 9:30 pm (after warm milk at around
9:00 pm we go upstairs around 9:15 pm for brush and change, downstairs
to say goodnight to dad and get a sip of water and then to bed). After some
cajoling and yes, sometimes even scolding, she would fall asleep between
then and 10:00pm, later than we liked but its better than midnight.
Since two nights ago, I don't know what has gotten into her. She refuses to
go to sleep, no matter what we say. I have to admit that after 2.5 hours of
cajoling/singing/cuddling/''letting her play for the last 5 minutes''/getting
numerous sips of water, all to no result, I have lost my cool and screamed
at her. Absolutely nothing has any effect, she just argues ceaselessly
about how kids sometimes do this and she is just a kid and that sleeping is
not fun etc. She finally falls asleep around midnight or later depending on
when she runs out of gas.
We are at our wits end, we feel like we have no private time left
whatsoever, it has been just 3 days of this, but it seems intolerable. We
If anyone has any advice or has been through this, please help.
You did not mention how long you let your daughter sleep in
the morning. She won't need more than 10 hours of sleep.
Do you let her sleep until 8am or longer? Then she could
not be naturally tired before 10pm. You can't have it both
ways - early evenings and late mornings. I picked early
evenings. Our alarm rings at 6am and our 5 year old
daughter daughter is naturally tired at 8pm and asleep at
8:15pm every night. On weekends she'll sleep til 7am and
crawls in with us for cuddles and play, and she'll be
asleep by her regular bed time.
The few times that my kids flat-out refused to go to bed we took the
strategy of telling them that could play quietly in
their room until they were ready to go to sleep, but that we would not be
playing with them or paying attention to them.
It seemed to work--you can't force kids to be sleepy if they aren't and I
think my kids liked being in control of when they
went to bed. I have a nephew who has a hard time going to sleep and his
parents have a similar arrangement of ''after
such-and-such time it's time for you to be either in bed or playing quietly
in your room''. They have a nightly story/
getting ready for bed routine and after that it's bedtime or roomtime.
Our 3.5 year old daughter JUST learned to sleep on her own
(after more than 2 years in a family bed and another year of
the hour-and-a-half-a-night bedtime ritual followed by
endless debates of the kind you describe, with her actually
falling asleep around 11:30.)
What worked for us was this: keeping ALL sleepy-time
rituals IN HER BED. Teeth will have to be brushed first,
obviously, but after that DO NOT LET HER OUT OF BED. Our
daughter had been having milk in bed while we read stories,
and then getting up to brush her teeth, and we finally
realized that was waking her right back up.
So now we do milk first, brush teeth, get in bed for
stories, have a BRIEF snuggle with mommy in the bed, and
then she actually goes to sleep. We had to work up to this
a little....at first, we talked about the change we were
making, and then, after stories and a quick snuggle, one of
us sat in a chair with her beside her bed, but were
insistent that we were not going to get back in her bed and
she was not going to get out of her bed. For a few nights,
she fussed and complained (and in extreme cases, I let her
snuggle with me IN THE CHAIR for a couple of minutes, then
put her back in the bed.) Miraculously, though, after just
a few days, she seemed to get the idea that she wasn't going
anywhere, and she began snuggling down and falling asleep
within just a few minutes. We slowly moved the chair
further and further from her bed, and after just a couple
weeks, she decided it was okay if we left the room while she
was still awake.
I would never, never, never have believed it would work--I
thought she'd discover coffee and cigarettes before she'd
learn to get herself to sleep. But now we actually have
some time in the evenings while my husband and I are AWAKE
and ALONE, and it's just marvellous.
My daughter always a harder time to go to bed when she
stays home all day (less activity and running around). If I
take her out and do a lot of things all day, she gets
really tired and goes to bed in 5 mins instead of 45 mins.
I haven't had these exact problems but my daughter was not
a great sleeper the 1st 18 months of her life and though
she goes to sleep pretty easily and sleep through the night
most nights now, she didn't for a long time. I do have some
thoughts, for what they're worth. Is her room a safe place
with quiet activities for her to do by herself if she's not
sleeping? What would she do if you calmly, firmly and
without any hint of willingness to cajole put her in her
room at the decided bedtime, read a book and say goodnight.
Would she cry? for how long? I wouldn't let her cry for
very long, especially at 1st but I'd go in when she cried
and reassure that though you'll miss each other you'll see
each other in the morning. Tell her that she needs to sleep
and that you need to sleep but you will be think about her
and she can think about you. No cajoling, no drinks of
water, no hanging out- just closing the door again.Is this
the 1st time you've asked for help with this? It sounds to
me (sorry if this is too presumptive) like even though
she's talking about not needing sleep, what she (and
possibly you) can't tolerate is the seperation that going
to sleep entails. If that's really whats going on it needs
to be gently and empathically addressed by not getting
engaged in the argument/discussion she wants to have but by
your telling her what she worried about in terms she might
We have a 2.5 year old and a 1 year old. We've been going
through a prolonged bedtime with our 2 year old, which
involves lots of crying, delay tactics, a need for food,
water, stories, music, and all of the above. We've been
advised to not ''delve into'' our child's anxiety, but to
remain nonchalant at bedtime, saying a quick goodnight
after a story, reassuring that we're close by and it's safe
and sound to sleep. It seems to work. By indulging in the
child's requests, anxieties, conversations, etc., we become
a part of the problem. By downplaying the whole matter and
quickly moving along, we convey that it's no big deal and
all will be well. Good luck.
We have 2 children, ages 8 and 4, who have managed over the
summer to push their bedtimes up to 9:30 nearly every night. I
think its too late for kids who have to be at school at 8 a.m.,
and the eldest wakes up on his own this summer around 8. I am
in a panic, because my husband and I do the bedtime routine
together, and he does not share my concern with enforcing an
earlier bedtime. Naturally, it is a delicate balance, because
both of the kids are plenty tire by that time, and appear to be
running on adrenaline, so they are (both) vulnerable to tantrums
if pushed too hard (usually by me!) to go up to bed earlier.
Ideally, I would like both in bed by 8:30, with the bedtime
stories thereafter (our 8 yr. old reads to himself). Is it
unreasonable to expect my husband to help implement this
schedule? Don't kids need a solid 10 hours of sleep each
night? I would appreciate any feedback.
We went through the same thing this summer with my 8 yo.
We got lax about the bedtime routine during the summer. I
finally just put my foot down (put on my ''serious'' voice) with
my son and my partner. Time to go back to the routine. For
us, that's dinner, bath (or just a light wash some nights) and
in bed by 8pm to read for 30 minutes and then lights out at
8:30pm. The first 4 or 5 nights were reallllly hard. My son
would just lay in bed and occasionally yell out that he
couldn't sleep. But eventually, after having to wake him up
for school in the beginning, he now goes right to sleep and
wakes up just before the alarm. As far as how many hours a
kid needs to sleep, I think that if a kid is not waking up
rested in the morning, then they need to go to sleep earlier,
regardless of how many hours that may be for a particular
I sympathize with the problem here. In my own experience and that
of several of my friends, dads are not as concerned about
bedtimes and napping as moms, and it can be tricky to negotiate
conversations about the issues. When my stepson was about 7 my
husband kept him up past 9 pm fairly regularly -- mostly because
they were having fun together, reading or watching something --
and the only thing that really convinced my husband that this
wasn't such a great idea was seeing his older son get exhausted
and crabby over time, with many morning tantrums. It was hard to
get him to take my word for it before he saw it himself! But
conversations about how much better the children do at school,
and how much stabler their moods are, etc. did make a difference.
Though my husband is fairly rule-resistant, we started aiming for
an 8 o'clock in-bed-with-teeth-brushed time and eventually that
became more of the routine, which allowed my stepson the rest he
needed, creating more harmony all round. With our younger
children I'm hoping for less drawn-out debates on the subject!
household sleep monitor
Advice that I've heard for children and adults, is that your
bedtime should be consistent everyday regardless of if it's
summertime or the weekend. I start winding down the household
about 7:30 with baths, bedtimes, etc. At 8;30, it's lights
off. After 9:00 is too late. My oldest, 8 years old, is not a
morning person, so in order to ensure she is at her best in the
morning, she has to get enough sleep - 9-10 hours is optimal.
this page was last updated: Jun 2, 2009
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