The holidays are quickly approaching, and while they are some of the most joyous times we can experience with our family, they can also be some of the most stressful times. This is especially true with young children whose sleep routines can easily get thrown out of whack!
While some children are more adaptable and can roll with the changes, most will experience some sort of sleep disruption this time of year. With a little planning and flexibility, those sleep disruptions can be kept to a minimum.
If your child is generally a good sleeper, they will likely not experience a great sleep disturbance through the holidays and are often able to get back on track and easily settle back into a normal routine. However, a child who has recently begun learning to sleep better is likely to have more difficulty.
If you have recently sleep coached your child, I encourage you to avoid travel as much as possible. Perhaps this would be the perfect year for you to host in your home to maintain as normal an environment as possible. I realize that that’s not always a possibility, so don’t fret! You may need to revisit The Shuffle when you return home, but all is not lost.
Prepare Before You Go
Whether you’ll be staying with family or at a hotel, get an idea of what you’ll have available to you. Does the hotel provide a crib? Does the guest room at Grandma’s have a walk-in closet you could convert into your child’s sleeping space? Identify what you’ll need to bring with you to help promote a quality sleep environment.
It’s a good idea to give relatives an idea of what your child’s schedule looks like as well. Giving Auntie a heads up that your child normally naps right after lunch could help head off scheduling resulting in overtired disasters.
If you’ll be changing time zones, think about how that may affect your child. I suggest changing to the new time zone on day one. If your child normally wakes at 7:00am, wake them then, even if it’s 5:00am at home. They may need an earlier or slightly longer nap, but try to maintain your schedule as closely as possible. Use naps to help you make it to the new bedtime.
Try to have a home base during your travels. Rather than moving from place to place, pick one location to sleep at the whole time you’re away. If you’re worried your relatives will be upset with that plan, assure them that next time you will stay with someone else or consider staying in a hotel.
Make sure you bring whatever will remind your child of their normal routine with you. If that’s a sound machine, special blanket or lovey, or favorite bedtime book, it will be worth the extra effort packing it. For babies, the smell of the sheets from home may even help them settle.
Try to maintain a routine while you’re traveling. While I normally want children to sleep in their own beds instead of cars, if that’s the only way to get a nap in, it’s better than nothing. Try to keep bedtime, wake-up time and meals as close to their normal times as possible.
I know I just said to be consistent, but you need to have some flexibility as well. Perhaps your family has several occasions planned over the holidays where you might allow your child to miss a nap or stay up late. You’ll set yourself and your child up for misery if you do it every day; however coming up with a few occasions where you will bend the routine is ok. Just know you’ll need to provide time for extra sleep later.
Likewise, you may need to bend a little when it comes to getting your child to sleep. Your child may need a little more comforting and reassurance to go to sleep than he normally does at home. Provide that to him. For older children, it’s helpful to explain that things will go back to normal when you get home. “Mommy will sit here while you fall asleep at Grandma’s, but when we get home it’ll be you and teddy.”
One word of caution here – if you have recently broken a sleep crutch, do not revert. For instance, if you’ve recently weaned from feeding at night, don’t feed your baby now. Use other comforting measures instead.
Prepare For Recovery
Regardless of all your hard work and planning, chances are you will have some sort of sleep regression – and that’s ok! I recommend having a light schedule for a couple days after you arrive back home to hone back in on your normal nap and bedtime routines.
If your child is having a hard time, you may consider doing an abbreviated version of The Shuffle (moving your chair after 1-2 nights) to help remind your child of their sleep skills.
Above all, be patient and enjoy spending time celebrating the holidays this season!