How to Recover from Sleep Speed Bumps

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  • January 27, 2014

Traveling with children is something that we often can’t avoid, especially around the holidays, but once those holidays are over, how do we regain the good sleep habits that our children had BEFORE we changed everything up?

It seems that no matter how hard you try to stick to your routine when you’re away from home, or celebrating with family, something comes up that throws a wrench into sleep. Sometimes it’s a time change, and other times, it’s just that baby doesn’t want to nap because of the change of venue or activity. Or possibly, you may have regressed out of desperation and started holding your baby back to sleep whenever she woke up in order to avoid waking a household of in-laws and parents. Whatever the reason, when you have children, vacation and travel are fun, but often exhausting. So how can you recover and reestablish a normal (and healthy) sleep routine?

Hopefully you made sleep a priority on vacation, and will only need minor adjustments. Don’t worry if you slid well off-track. You can get back on the sleep routine quickly and gently.

Explain the Change

Since bedtime and naptime may have shifted, it’s important to talk to your older children about the difference between vacation and home. You can talk about how much fun your travel was, but now it’s time to get back to the normal routine…starting with bedtime.

You may find that you have to remind your children that late bedtimes, and off-kilter naps are not the norm, and that going forward, you’ll be back on your regular sleep schedule a few times before they really get the message, and that’s okay.

Gently Adjust Your Bedtime

Make sure that if you’ve veered off your normal bedtime schedule, you return to normal as quickly as possible, but understand that if your children have had a later bedtime for more than a few days, it may be better to gently adjust bedtime back to normal in gradual increments. You can try moving bedtime forward 30-minutes each night until you reach your child’s normal bedtime.

Maintain Your Normal Bedtime Routine

Even if you weren’t able to maintain a perfect bedtime routine while you were away, start again as soon as you get home. Go through your routine as normal, starting 15-30 minutes before your child’s bedtime. This will help to signal that it’s bedtime, and get your child back in sync with the normal routine.

Make Sure to Include Naps

I think that the most common problem with travel is that naps are affected. Either children refuse a nap and get used to not napping — and think that they don’t need to nap — or they nap, but at odd hours. Naps are difficult to fit in when you are visiting family. Many children don’t like to sleep in strange places, and have a hard time settling with so much activity. This is because naps are not as naturally inherent as nighttime sleep. Make sure that you are helping your children sleep on their normal schedule as quickly as possible when you return home.

Take Challenges in Stride

You may find that your child has difficulty napping in her crib or bed, but don’t let that stop you. I will take a car or stroller nap over NO nap any day!

If you need to, use the car or the stroller, or even a SnoozeShade, which helps to block outside light and filter UV rays, to help your little one nap. Make sure that you watch for sleepy signs (such as eye-rubbing, yawning, distraction, staring into space) and get her down for a nap when you see the FIRST signs. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to reestablish a good nap schedule.

Take it Slowly

Your ultimate goal is to be back on your flexible schedule as soon as possible. But remember, sleep must be approached gently so that you create positive associations, and remind your children why sleep is such a wonderful (and necessary) thing.

If you get home, or the holidays are over and you find that your household’s sleep has really gone downhill, don’t lose hope. Even if you think that you’ve completely unraveled all of your hard-earned sleep coaching progress, there are tools to help you. You can use my book Good Night, Sleep Tight to help you gently sleep coach your child back to a positive sleep schedule, or you can check out my sleep coaching courses with my Gentle Solutions.

Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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