Holiday Havoc on Your Child’s Sleep Schedule

With the holidays approaching, many new parents who have recently gotten their babies sleeping on a schedule are worried that they might regress a little over the holidays.

This time of the year is a wonderful opportunity to share your baby’s (possibly first) holiday season with friends, family and loved ones. It is also a wonderful opportunity to stress and worry about messing up their sleep and schedule.

Perhaps you just got a handle on your little one’s sleep and fear any little change may mess it up. Or you have gotten to know your child’s sleep needs so well that you know exactly what adjustments could just send them over the edge. This makes perfect sense; traveling, excitement, constant attention, and being out of your element are surefire ways to throw a wrench in all your sleep success,

But I am glad to say that there are some definite ways to plan ahead and ensure that you can enjoy the holiday festivities without having to stress about the changes with sleep that will come along. (Now planning for the other stresses of the holidays I will have to leave up to you).

First, let’s talk travel. Traveling away from your home does not pair well with the initial steps of sleep training. If you are thinking of starting the sleep training journey but have a trip planned this month, then I would hold off until you get back. But don’t worry if you have already started the process; trying to maintain as much normalcy as possible can help you keep your footing where you are now and prevent the backslide (allowing you to pick up where you left off once you get back home).

Driving during your travels can be beneficial because you have some control of when you go, when you take breaks, and how you plan around your schedule. While car naps are not always ideal, they are much better (and easier) then having no naps at all. So if you can start your drive during your baby’s normal nap time, you can set yourself up for success.

A car trip that may last longer than just a couple of hours is also doable. If you are able to plan for a stop at a park, tourist attraction, or other outdoor activities once your little one wakes, then you will get a chance for some fresh air and sunshine. This will help keep them on track (a bit) and prepare for a restful reprieve right around the next scheduled nap time.

Now flying can be a whole other story (and not necessarily one with a happy ending). This is one of the only times that I will advise you to do whatever it takes to keep everyone happy and as rested as possible. Even if you have worked hard to eliminate a prop from your baby’s sleep, you may need to rely on holding, rocking, and even feeding (GASP!) to sleep during a flight.

Truthfully, there really is not anything you can do to force them to sleep during the long hours in the airport and plane so you are just going to do whatever helps you all survive (yes, endless amounts of snacks and screen time are absolutely permitted). And then you will course correct at your earliest chance.

Now that you have arrived at your intended destination, you have to face the hard part: the people! All your family and friends are going to want to see and hold and play with and take pictures of your little one. They may not understand how important the baby’s schedule is to ensuring that they don’t get over stimulated or over tired. You can be confident that all your hard work up to this point has ensured the success you have achieved, so you now need to confidently convey that to everyone else.

You can absolutely throw “sleep training” under the bus as the bad guy. Let them know that a tired, cranky, fussy baby is not as much fun as a well rested and happy one and that you will be sticking to baby’s schedule to make sure everyone can have quality time with him. You can even tell people in advance what times to expect him to be awake so that they can hang around or come back.

And the biology is there to back this cycle up. If baby misses a naps and gets all fired up from the new faces, activities, and experiences this leads to over tiredness which then leads to an increase in cortisol production. Because of this, the next nap is a struggle (or even ruined) and the cycle then derails night time sleep and by the time you head home it seems like your little one was upset and crying the entire trip.

But it’s not just about keeping to daytime schedules. If you are staying in a house full of family members then you are likely sharing a room with your little one. And the last thing you want to do is to bed share “for just a few” nights. Yes, it can backfire worse than you think. Babies, and especially toddlers, can develop a real affinity for bed sharing in just one night.

So what do you do? Turn that one room into two. Essentially, figure out a way to create an independent sleep space for your little one in order to protect those independent sleep skills that they have worked so hard to perfect. (And don’t forget to mimic the environmental light and noise as best as you can)

There are many methods to accomplish this. Some strategically placed furniture, a dressing screen or garment rack, a simple sheet and some hooks, or even a decent sized closet! Yup, I said it. Tucking baby behind a closet door (still leaving it partially open of course) can give her just the perfect, dark, distraction free environment that she is used to sleeping in at home. And save some sanity from the room sharing “adventure” that you are taking on.

In addition to room sharing, a house full of people can often lead to a bit of embarrassment when it comes to any kind of protesting that might happen during bedtime. You can expect you baby may behave a bit differently in this new sleep environment and not quite settle as easily (probably just like you don’t sleep as well as you do at home in your own bed). And I can understand how overwhelming it may feel to think that everyone in the house is focused on the new baby, and new parents, and making judgments about your parenting choices.

But what’s really important is that you are focusing your baby’s health, happiness, and wellbeing.

This is where your confidence comes back into play. Just because some people may feel a bit put off because baby went to nap right when they got there, or your host thinks that taping trash bags over the windows is ridiculous, does not mean that you have to change what you know is best for your baby. Similarly, you may be tempted to help you baby get to sleep in favor of not letting the rest of the house hear her protest. But even just a few nights rocking her to sleep or using the pacifier at bedtime can result in even more night wake ups and throughout your stay there … and beyond.

So stand tall and remember that you’re a superhero, defending sleep for those who are too small to defend it for themselves. If you want to wear a cape and give yourself a cool superhero name, you go right ahead. WonderMom, UberMama, The Somnum Inducere, if you’re feeling really fancy. Just remember that, like any superhero, you may be misunderstood by the masses.

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