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Preschooler falls asleep for the night before eating dinner

Hi

My 3.5 year old daughter has been sleeping every night without having dinner. She's not fussy about food and generally eats everything. She's an early riser, gets up by 7 am everyday, goes to school and doesn't have an afternoon nap. Generally, I give her milk in the evening, followed by a small snack at 6, but now she [falls a]sleep by 7.30 - 8 without dinner. I'm beginning to worry; she' a little underweight for her age, though active. Please suggest. Thanks

From: Sonali, India

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Dear Sonali,

According to most sleep researchers, the typical 3- to 4-year-old needs between 10 3/4 to 11 3/4 hours sleep per 24 hours. That same typical child, according to sleep specialist Richard Ferber, also still needs a nap, generally an hour or so. In fact, in the new edition of his book, "Solving Your child's Sleep Problems," Ferber writes, "A child who has difficulty napping in the daytime commonly sleeps very well at night, regularly getting perhaps eleven hours or more...If this description fits your child, he may be getting almost all his required sleep at night." This sounds like your daughter! In fact, it would appear that without a nap, she is simply is too tired to stay awake long enough for your dinner time.

Here are two suggestions:

1. Instead of giving her a snack at 6-ish, give her enough nourishment to compensate for missing the dinner meal.

OR:

2. Tweak her sleep schedule so that she will be tired enough to nap and able to stay up late enough for your family meal. That typically involves cutting nighttime sleep by 30 to 60 minutes, according to Ferber. (You can always add more time back once you get the results you want.) The two ways to do this are to either keep her awake later in the evening, or wake her up earlier in the morning. Of course, the down side is that she still won't nap and falls asleep even earlier at night! It may take some experimentation -- maybe her nap will happen at snack time around 6, in which case, just keep her up later than her typical bedtime. The goal isn't to eliminate hours of sleep, just to shift some of them to a nap. You won't know how this will go until you try.

Lastly, if you're worried about her weight, please talk to your pediatrician!