Sleep and holidays, do they mix?
Many parents who have their children on sleep schedules are worried that all sleep will go out the window when on holidays. A well founded concern!
Between the travel, the excitement, the constant attention and then travel all over again, the holidays are the single easiest way to throw all of your hard work out with the wrapping paper and turkey bones.
I’m happy to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way.
With some strategic planning and an iron will, you can keep that carefully orchestrated routine running just the way you did at home whilst on holidays.
There are two major impediments to your little one’s sleep over the holidays. One is travel. The other is family and friends.
First off, travel.
If you’re thinking about sleep training your little one, but you’ve got to take a trip in a few weeks, my suggestion is to put off the training until you get back.
If you’ve already started, not to worry. Taking a trip typically won’t help your little one sleep better, but if you can maintain some sense of normalcy until the end of your trip, you and baby should be ready to get back to business as soon as you get home.
If you’re driving to your destination, a clever trick is to schedule your driving time over nap time.
Car naps aren’t ideal, but compared to no naps at all, they’re the lesser of two evils by a mile. So if at all possible, get on the road right around the time that your little one would normally be taking their first nap.
If you’re really committed, it’s a good idea to look for some parks, tourist attractions, or other outdoor activities enroute so you can stop in your child’s awake time. It’s a great chance to get out into the sunshine and fresh air. This will make that next nap that much easier.
If you’re flying, well, my heart goes out to you.
It is not always the case, but there is no denying it, planes and children often don’t go together. I suggest that you do whatever gets you through the flight with a minimum amount of fuss. Let baby sleep on you, hopefully you manage to get a bit of sleep for all of you (especially if it’s a long haul).
For the older ones – snacks, games, ipads, phones, any kind of distraction is your best friend. Basically, all rules go out the window! The truth is, if they don’t want to sleep on the plane, they’re just not going to, so don’t try to force it. It will just result in a lot of frustration for both of you (and maybe some others around you..).
Alright! So you’ve arrived, and hopefully you’ve managed to maintain some degree of sanity. Now, I’m sorry to say, comes the hard part.
In the car or on the plane, everybody is on your side, right? Keeping baby quiet and relaxed, and hopefully asleep, is just what everyone is rooting for. Now that you’re at Grandma and Grandpa’s place, it’s just the opposite.
Everyone wants baby awake so they can see them, play with them, take a thousand pictures, and get them ridiculously overstimulated.
It then becomes exceptionally difficult to tell all of these friends and family members that you’re putting an end to the fun because baby needs to get to sleep. If your toddler missed his, then putting him bed for the night early is important too.
If you need permission to be the bad guy, I’m giving it to you right here and now.
Don’t negotiate, don’t make exceptions, and don’t feel bad about it.
Firmly explain to anyone who’s giving you the “I’ll just sneak in a take a quick peek” routine, that baby’s having a much needed sleep and you’re not taking any chances of them waking up.
Let them know when baby will be getting up and tell them to hang around, come back, or catch you the next time. Or better yet, tell people in advance when to expect some baby time based on baby’s schedule.
I know it sounds harsh, but if you have particularly been working on your little one’s sleep, the alternative is a very possible backslide right back into day one of training.
Baby misses a nap, gets all fired up because of all the new faces and activity, then over-tiredness kicks in.
Cortisol production goes up, and the next nap is ruined. This all results in more over-tiredness which derails night time sleep.
The same goes for older children, keep stimulation low prior to bed and get them to bed before overtiredness creeps in or those night wakings will start to happen.
Before you know it, you’re headed home and it seems like the baby or your toddler did nothing but cry the entire trip.
I’m not even slightly exaggerating.
Sleep deprivation for babies and young children can set in quickly and bad sleep habits can return.
So OK, you were tough and let everyone know that you’re not budging on baby’s schedule. She took her naps at the right times, and now it’s time for bed. The catch? With all of the company staying at the house, there’s only one room for you and baby.
No problem, right? Bed sharing for a few nights isn’t the end of the world, after all.
I wish I could make it that easy for you, but again, you want to make this as little of a deviation from the normal routine as possible.
Babies, and especially toddlers, can develop a real affinity for co-sleeping in as little as a few nights.
So this may sound a little strange, but if you’re sharing a room, what I suggest is simple. Make it into two rooms. What I mean by this, is putting up some kind of divider between your baby’s cot and you.
I suggest hanging a blanket or setting up a dressing screen.
Even put the cot in the walk in closet (yes! in the closet!). That sounds crazy, I know, but really, a decent sized closet is a great place for baby to sleep. It’s dark, it’s quiet, she won’t be distracted by being able to see you. People accidentally walking in and out of the room are much less likely to distract her.
If you can have your toddlers in a bed of their own, even if it is in the same room as you, that is a great help.
Resist sleep props! Unfortunately, baby is going to latch on to a prop really, really quickly. Chances are you’ll then be waking up every hour or two, rocking baby back to sleep or putting her dummy back in.
I find the biggest reason that parents give in on these points is, quite simply, because they’re embarrassed. There’s a house full of eyes and they’re all focused on the new baby, and by association, the new parent.
The feeling that everyone is making judgments about how you’re parenting can be overwhelming.
In those moments, remember what’s really important. Your children, your family, and their health and well-being.
There may well be a few people who feel a bit jaded because you put baby to bed just when they got in the door. Your Mother might tell you that putting your baby in the closet for the night is ridiculous. Just remember you’re doing this for a very noble cause. Perhaps the most noble cause there is.
Yes, holidays can be tough when it comes to sleep. However sleep and holidays can go together nicely.
So stand tall and remember that you’re a superhero. Defending sleep for those who are too small to defend it for themselves.
Unfortunately, like any superhero, you may be misunderstood by the masses. Ignore them. You’re on a mission (plus you’re on holiday!).