January Getting Back on Track
After the long holidays, I’m sure many of you are wondering what you should do, if anything, with your baby’s schedule and sleep. It can be tricky when you travel or need to be at a family event during a naptime. Depending on your baby’s personality and temperament, some babies will be fine with an “off” schedule for one day. They may be a bit overtired, maybe have a little rougher night’s sleep, but get back on track the next day. Other babies will take days to get back on track.
Traveling always presents challenges for those of us with kids. After all, a 6-hour drive can mean one 3-hour nap (that we only can dream about at home) at 9 a.m. (not so good), leaving a very overtired baby in the evening or, for those of us whose babies are “allergic” to sleeping in the car, it might mean no nap at all. Here are a few nap and schedule tips for this holiday season. If your baby is just getting on a schedule, try to stick to routine or schedule as much as possible. The first couple of weeks you are “setting” a schedule are typically the most important.
- If you have to choose between a missed morning nap or missed afternoon nap, opt for a missed afternoon nap PLUS an early bedtime (if possible). The morning nap usually sets the mood for the rest of the day. An overtired baby in the morning typically plagues you the rest of the day and night.
- If your baby readily sleeps in the car, you can try to time bedtime in the car and then transfer her to bed when you get home. Even if she wakes up, do not treat this like a nap. Her body will still expect to sleep, so do a mini bedtime routine and put her to bed. Try to keep it dark while you are doing this, so she doesn’t wake all the way up.
- If your baby won’t nap at all in the car, try to drive after the first nap of the day in hopes of starting the day on the right foot and then try a nap when you arrive at your destination.
- If you are trying to decide whether you should start sleep training now or after the holidays, I do recommend going ahead and getting started. In a week’s time, you will have a good handle of how things are going. You can always opt for a break, but if things go well, all the better to enjoy the holidays! I know a lot of families have time off, so it’s best to use them to the fullest and give your baby the gift of sleep.
The holidays can impact your baby’s sleep in a variety of ways including too much daytime napping (during travels in the car), over-tiredness at bedtime (leading to more night-waking and waking up too early in the morning), or not enough napping due to schedule disruptions. Some babies will get back on track the next day while others will take days or weeks to get back on track. All in all, try to enjoy the holidays as much as possible and we can work on your baby’s sleep when you get back home.
Baby Sleep and Traveling
First and foremost, the holidays and traveling, in general, is a time to have fun and enjoy yourselves! So, try not to worry too much about baby sleep and schedules when you are supposed to be relaxing and having fun. I do have some tips to make things easier, though, especially if you have a baby or toddler who gets very cranky without adequate sleep.
• Before you travel, make sure you have a well-established nap and bedtime routine. This will make it easier, when you are traveling, to have your baby or toddler know what to expect, even though they are not at home.
• You might consider adding a specific baby sleep CD to your routines now, before you travel, so that you can play it at your location, and your baby will associate it with sleep, even when you aren’t at home.
• Consider introducing a baby lovey before your trip for added comfort in a “foreign” place. A simple baby blanket or baby pillow are nice choices. You may be interested in learning when your baby can use a pillow. If you have a newborn, you can try to swaddle your baby for added comfort and check out my other newborn sleep tips.
• Depending on the age of your baby, you may want to sleep on a receiving blanket so it smells like you and give it to your baby when she sleeps. Your scent will help her feel you near, even if you are in another room.
• If you are traveling time zones, try to get onto the normal clock schedule as soon as you can, within reason. If you are traveling too late at night, allow one day of sleeping in and off-schedule naps, but then try to get back on schedule the following day. If you travel early enough, stick to the regular schedule right away for an easier transition across time zones and battling jet lag.
• Stick to schedule as much as you can without sacrificing fun on your trip, but once you get back home, try to get back to your normal rules as quickly as you can for a smoother and faster transition back home. Otherwise, parents often complain that several weeks later they are still feeling the effects of their traveling. If your baby has trouble getting back on schedule after a week or two, you might consider shifting schedules.
• Make sure you have a good place for your baby or toddler to sleep. Here are several good options for travel cribs and co-sleepers: Graco Travel Lite Crib with Bassinet or Infantino Travel Bed. If you have a toddler, you may want to get a portable child bed or if you have a bed at your travel location, you may want to purchase a portable bed rail.
• If you are sleep training, you will likely need to abandon your efforts until you get back home. Consistency is key and with schedules being out of whack and being in a different place, you won’t likely have a lot of success. If you’ve already sleep trained (or will by the time you travel), things might not be perfect during your travels, but once you get back it usually only takes a few days to get back to normal (provided you go back to your “sleep rules”).
Baby Sleep and Holiday Visitors
The most difficult part of holiday visitors is that everyone wants the babies or young children to stay up when they should be sleeping, so they can visit with them. This is especially true of those traveling far distances. I do not have profound advice for tackling this, except that it is YOU that will need to deal with the aftermath.
For those who have children who do not get cranky, this will probably be a non-issue and you can be as flexible as you want to be. But, for those of us who have kids that get very cranky, we might not be able to be that flexible. For me, when my eldest son (the one this website was inspired by) got off schedule even once or just a little bit, it took us a week or more to get back on track. I am not exaggerating! So, we had to really decide which events were worthy of getting him off track. Here are a few simple tips:
• Explain to your visitors that you understand how limited their time is with your child, but that his sleep needs have to be a priority because of his behavior, happiness, and well being.
• Try to involve visitors like grandma and grandpa in the nap or bedtime routines. If your kids are like my son, this might not be as easy as it sounds. My older son just loves mommy to read his books or tell him stories and often does not appreciate the concept that I’m always here, but grandma isn’t. My other son, who is just 9 months old, has stranger anxiety. But, I do the best I can, even if I have to be in the room while grandma reads to one of them.
• Try to plan ahead by having visitors come over after at least the first nap because typically that’s the most important. That way, if the rest of the day doesn’t go exactly as planned, she might not be as overtired, at least.
Whether you are traveling for the holidays or staying home and expecting visitors, I hope this article can help you get through them with as little tears as possible (yours and your kids).