The holiday season is coming up, and I have been receiving lots of requests from readers for a refresher about “routine busters.” In the world of sleep, it would be wonderful if everything went according to plan all of the time. But you and I both know that life happens, especially this time of year. Depending on where you are in the world, you will have to navigate the end of Daylight Savings time, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and all of the December holidays, clear into New Years Eve. I’m here to help you navigate through it all.
Daylight Savings Time
It’s already been Fall for over a month (the first day of Fall was September 23, 2014!), and it seems like we just talked about helping our kids “spring forward,” and now it’s time to “fall back.” This is because Daylight Savings time ends for many of us on Sunday, November 2, 2014 at 2:00 a.m. (although not all of us are transitioning on this date). This means that we need to start thinking about adjusting our children’s sleep schedules so that we can all make a smooth transition in just a few short weeks.
Remember when “falling back” just meant you got an extra hour of sleep and you had to plan your days around less daylight? Of course, with kids, “falling back” means that you have to re-calculate bedtimes, worry about early rising or late nights, and most likely, you’ll be up an hour “early” anyway…or will you?
With the right preparation, you may just be able to sleep until 6:00 a.m. For most children, waking sometime between 6:00 and 7:30 a.m. is completely healthy and normal. But if your child has been waking at 6:30 a.m. for the past few months, suddenly 6:30 a.m. becomes 5:30 a.m. and you’ve got an early riser on your hands!
Slowly Shift Bedtime
To help combat this, you can help prepare your children starting the week before the transition out of Daylight Savings time. You can start by slowly shifting bedtime a bit later for the week leading up to November 2. Use 10- to 15-minute increments of time to help you achieve your child’s “normal” bedtime after the change.
For example, if your baby goes to bed at 7:00 p.m., the week before the time change, move bedtime to 7:10, then 7:25, then 7:40, etc. until bedtime is at 8:00 p.m. When the time change happens, bedtime will magically be back to its “normal” 8:00 p.m.
If you have just started sleep coaching, or are in the throes of a sleep regression, this extra task may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Just take it one day at a time, and make sure your child is well napped each day.
Dramatic Wake Ups
If you have a child with issues waking up in the mornings, the end of Daylight Savings can be a bit of a challenge. You can use a tactic that I call dramatic wake-up to help instill the difference between morning and night. If you find that after the change your baby is still waking up at the “old” time, which would be before 6:00 a.m., go back to The Shuffle for a few mornings, and use dramatic wake up when it’s okay to start the day. Open the blinds, sing a good morning song, and help your baby adjust to the fact that waking up is a little bit “later” than it used to be.
Make sure that you leave the bedroom for a full minute before you do your dramatic wake up to avoid confusion.
Be Prepared for Early Rising
Many parents find that their child suddenly begins to rise well before the biologically appropriate time of 6:00 a.m. This is not surprising, as your are essentially moving their clock backward, but your child’s internal clock doesn’t know how to handle this. To help resolve early rising, make sure that bedtime is early enough, and that your child is well-napped during the day.
If you have a small child, make sure that you are respecting their wakefulness windows during the day, which will help to ensure that your baby does not become overtired, which can also create night wakings and early rising.
Once you’ve conquered Daylight Savings time, you can focus on the holidays, many of which involve travel, which can be a challenge even for the most scheduled of babies.
Prepare for Some Late Nights
When we think of holidays, especially Halloween, we think of the fun that happens after dark. There’s trick-or-treating, holiday light viewings, train rides, travel, family dinners, presents, and more. If you know that you are going to have late nights during the holidays, make sure that your child is well rested.
Of course, I would prefer that your child sticks to their flexible schedule and gets to bed on time, especially if you have younger children, as keeping toddlers and preschoolers up late can cause them to have a difficult time falling asleep and staying asleep, not to mention a potential challenge the next day.
If you know you will be out past your baby’s bedtime then consider putting them to bed in a pack-n-play at your family’s house if you can. The same goes for naps as it is critical that your child is well napped the day of the late night. Even if that means using the stroller or motion sleep to get the naps in!
If you know that your child doesn’t sleep well in his pack-n-play (or new places for that matter), and that bedtime meltdowns will occur if you keep him up past his bed time , then be prepared to leave early to get your baby into bed as soon as possible.
Travel Will Interrupt Your Sleep Schedule
Travel always seems to throw a wrench in children’s sleep. Maybe it’s the excitement (what baby doesn’t love planes, trains, and automobiles?), or perhaps it’s just seeing somewhere new, but not being at home definitely presents some challenges.
You may find that you have trouble enforcing your child’s bedtime routine, or that you have to modify your child’s sleeping arrangements (sharing one bedroom is a very common issue over the holidays). With the knowledge that your child will have some changes to their sleep routine with travel, you can better manage potential issues.
If you are going to be using a hotel, then be sure to ask if a pack n play or cot could be provided. If not, start asking your relatives ahead of time to secure one for you. Ideally, plan to sleep in the same space during your stay, as constant change is hard on babies, and having a consistent “sleep space” even if it’s not home, is comforting and will help you to keep your routine as close to normal as possible.
Don’t Forget the Lovey
If your child sleeps with a lovey, be sure to bring it with you when you travel, so that your child has something familiar in the midst of change. The same goes with a sleepsack from home (if you use one), and even their favorite bedtime story. Keeping as much “normal” as possible can help to encourage sleep continuity.
Keep Your Flexible Schedule As Close to Normal As Possible
Know that your child may be staying up late, have additional stimulation (grandmas and toys galore!), make sure that your child is at least offered naps, especially if you are traveling with a small baby who still needs daytime sleep. Talk to your family and find a quiet, dark place that your baby can nap consistently during your visit, even if it is different than your nighttime sleep arrangements. Even I realize that it’s not practical to travel back and forth to the hotel 2-3 times a day for naps.
When you are done traveling, make sure that your return to your child’s normal flexible schedule as soon as possible when your return home. You may find that you need to rely on The Shuffle for a bit to help remind your baby of their normal routine.