In the blink of an eye, the holiday season is here again, and I know that I have many nervous parents wondering how they’re going to stay on top of the busy season and keep their little ones well-rested and healthy. I’m here to tell you that it likely won’t be perfect, but with a bit of planning and foresight, you can help your baby stay on some semblance of a sleep schedule.
Now’s not the time to start
If you’re reading this and you’re about to begin sleep training, I suggest waiting until your holiday travel plans are complete before committing to consistency. Knowing that you’ll likely not be able to maintain a set schedule while traveling will just prolong the training period, frustrating everyone involved.
Expect and plan for disruptions
From November through January, many people are on-the-move, traveling to spend time with family — near and far — and getting as much quality time in as they can. Whether you trade holiday visits between both sides of you and your partner’s family or open your home for the season, you’ll likely experience a little disruption with your little one’s sleep schedule. Whatever you do, don’t panic!
Plane rides and road trips can easily interfere with your baby’s sleep routine, which is why you want to plan ahead of time. If at all possible, plan your travel times around your baby’s schedule — I know, I know, it’s not always possible, but if you can, do it.
If you’re traveling by car, try to plan your travel to coincide with nap times. While car naps aren’t always the best sources of sleep, getting your baby to nap a little on schedule while you’re headed to visit family will help them stay on their sleep schedule. Don’t forget to pack your little one’s favorite stuffed toy or blanket to provide a little bit of homey comfort while you’re away.
With especially long road trips, try to make planned stops to get a little exercise and fresh air — weather permitting, of course. If you can get your toddler to have a nice run around a park or a quick sightseeing stop along the way, it may help tire them come bedtime.
Flying introducing a myriad of different variables, not least of which is pressurization — changes in cabin pressure are enough to throw your baby off for the entire flight. Again, a perfect scenario would be to try to schedule travel time around your baby’s nap schedule, but even the shortest flights are still time-consuming, between advance check-in and boarding. Bearing the lengthiness of air travel in mind, I’m going to do something I never do and suggest that you do whatever you need to keep your little one comfortable and content on the plane.
The reality is that flying on a plane is exciting for children, and they’re surrounded by lots of unfamiliar faces, which can cause overstimulation. In all likelihood, your little one won’t sleep on the plane, so you’ll want to find ways to keep them occupied throughout the flight. If you need some ideas for in-flight activities, check out Parenting magazine’s 50 Ways to Entertain a Kid on An Airplane or these 10 Busy Bags Ideas to Make Traveling with Toddlers Easier.
Establish expectations with family
Whether you’re traveling to visit family or family is coming to visit you, your little ones are going to be doted on by relatives. The extra family time alone can cause overstimulation, not to mention well-meaning relatives who want to see your baby alert and awake. Resist the urge to cave into your relatives’ demands and treat your little one’s nap and bedtime as sacrosanct.
Stick to your regular nap and bedtime routines and schedule — as closely as you can — and make sure you establish that the baby’s room is off-limits. Because of your baby’s sleep routine, you can tell well-meaning family members and friends when your little one will wake, and invite them to visit with them at that time. If you need to be forceful, explain that your baby is sleep training and minor disturbances or disruptions can throw off their schedule, making for a grumpy baby who will likely not be in the mood to visit.
Work with the sleeping arrangements
Whether you’re in a hotel, staying with family, or using the nursery as a spare room for visiting family, you need to try to keep your baby’s sleeping arrangements as separate from yours as possible. If you’re relegated to a single room, try to find a way to divide the room into two sleeping areas — one for you and one for your baby.
While it might sound strange, a closet is actually an excellent option for room-sharing. Not only will your little one be in a dark, muffled area, but they also won’t be able to see you and your partner, and they’ll be insulated from people coming and going from your room.
While you’ll likely not make it through the holiday season without a few bumps and bobbles in your little one’s sleep routine, having a plan going in can make a huge difference. Most importantly, don’t let minor setbacks throw you off — consistency is what will get your little one back on track.