Christmas - the most wonderful time of the year! I mean, there’s family and friends, eggnog, cozy fires, pyjama pants all day without judgment, and gifts! It truly is a great time. Want to know what’s not wonderful though? An overtired child having meltdowns, night wakings, and early mornings from exhaustion. So, how do you go about keeping your child’s sleep on track over the holiday season? Take some advice from me, a certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant.
I often get asked when the best time of day to travel is. This all depends. I personally prefer to leave first thing in the morning so we can get to our destination in time for bed. This way I can ensure the kids’ sleep environment is all set up come bedtime because night sleep trumps day sleep. If your child is on 2-3 naps (and if your drive isn’t the entire day) I would leave before the nap is due. This will give them time to fall asleep in the vehicle (which most babies will do) and they will nap at the correct time, which in turn will keep their remaining naps in place for the rest of the day (fingers crossed). If your child is not a car seat sleeper (like mine), do not stress! An early bedtime is in order in this case, and what mom doesn’t love an early bedtime after being in a vehicle all day with the kids?
Once you arrive at your destination, get your child’s sleep environment set up. If possible, try your best to give your child their own sleep space. Setting up a pack and play in a walk in closet or extra bathroom sounds crazy, but it’s the perfect, dark, sleep area for your child. If this is not possible, I suggest setting up a visual barrier between where you (or other children) will be sleeping and your baby. This will help prevent distractions because when your baby wakes up and sees you laying beside them on another bed, they will be sure to let you know they see you! Bring your white noise machine and set it up between your bed and their sleep area. This will help your child stay sleeping when you are coming in and out of the room.
Keep in mind how overwhelming it is for a young child with all the holiday excitement going on. I suggest starting the bedtime routine earlier than you normally would which will give them more time to settle and unwind before bed. After a travel day (and perhaps missed/short naps), your child may become overtired and have a harder time falling asleep. Feel free to help them get to sleep by maybe some extra cuddles, rubbing their back or sitting with them a while longer. The trip is temporary and you can get back to your normal routine once you return back at home.
Keep all sleep routines the same (naps and bedtime). Children THRIVE on routines and it doesn’t matter where the routine takes place, as long as the routine is taking place that is all that matters. Babies have no way of telling time and if your child is too young to understand your words, they depend on this routine to let them know it is time to wind down for sleep. If your child is used to getting a bath and books before bed, make sure to make time for this when travelling. It is their cue that sleep is next!
If you won’t be traveling for the Christmas holidays, why not host? This way your child will be able to sleep in their own bed and you won’t have to leave the social event early (unless you’re like me and find yourself counting down the minutes until you get to go home and go to bed haha)! You can still conduct your child’s bedtime routine while you have guests over and no need to have to transport a sleeping child from car seat to crib/bed!
Don’t miss naps! I know family members will want to see your little ones but keeping them as rested as possible will help prevent meltdowns, night wakings, bedtime battles and early mornings. Day sleep has a direct impact on night sleep. You may even need to use shorter wake times when travelling as the amount of stimulation could be higher during the day.
Give your child some ‘quiet breaks’ during the day. Christmas parties/gatherings will expose your child to a lot of new faces, music, foods, sounds, etc. Everyone will want to hold your baby, and I can’t blame them! This is all very stimulating to a child (especially young babies). Make an effort to find little breaks for your child to get away. Spend a few extra minutes in the washroom with your child when they go potty/diaper change/get cleaned up. This will give them a chance to take a stimulation break from the busyness. When feeding your baby, take them to a separate room- this way you can dim the lights and sit quietly together.
Children who are good sleepers adapt easier to change. Do not stress if your child’s sleep gets a little off track when on holidays- you can always buckle back down when you get home. The main thing to keep in mind is you want to prevent your child from becoming overtired. The holidays can be hectic, so don’t let your child’s lack of sleep add to the chaos. You got this! Now go have an eggnog.
Lindsey Hennigar is founder of The Sleep Ranch and a Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant through the Family Sleep Institute. She helps exhausted parents and families get the healthy, restorative sleep they need. Your child can LOVE sleep!