Tips to Keep Kids Sleeping During the Holidays
It never fails! The moment your little one starts sleeping through the night, you realize you have a big trip, holiday or event coming up.
This year, the holidays may still look a bit different. We may not be gathering with large groups, but some of us might still have plans to safely travel to see a smaller group of family or to take an isolated vacation with spouse and kids.
With the holiday season quickly approaching, I've gotten a lot of questions about how to keep your kiddos' sleep on track during travel and other times when schedules are unpredictable. Here are my best tips to keep you all sleeping through the holidays!
Bring all of your gear
When we travel, we bring allllll the goods. We bring our sound machine, Pack n Play, our own fitted sheets, loveys, the sleep sack, and even a couple of books our boys like to read at bedtime! I’ve even been known to bring the diffuser and lavender essential oil (I may be a little crazy). I bring my phone with a sound machine app and/or a portable sound machine if we are in the car for a long trip. Bringing these items helps to better create a familiar sleeping environment, even when you are in an unfamiliar place!
Get creative with baby’s accommodations
It your baby is used to their own space at night, suddenly sleeping within arms’ reach of you can prove disruptive and stimulating. When you get to your accommodations, I recommend looking around to see if you can find a small cozy place for baby to have their own space. I’ve been known to use a larger bathroom or walk-in closet for baby’s “room.” If these aren’t available, SlumberPod is a lifesaver for blacking out your baby’s space and giving them some room so they are more likely to sleep well at night! Check out my Reel to see SlumberPod assembly in action!
Offer sleep at regular intervals
Try to stick to your schedule as closely as you can. During the holidays, you may be in a completely different environment staying with family, or you may just be trying to enjoy a parade, tree lighting, or other festivities. You may not always be in your normal environment at nap time. If you are out and about and you know that you are getting towards the end of your baby's wake time, put them in the carrier or stroller and block out light the best you can. Bring a portable white noise machine and their lovey if they have one, and see if these cues will help them fall asleep. While the nap may not happen, it's good to provide the opportunity for them to keep a loose schedule. This will help prevent overtiredness and can help you get back into your schedule more easily once you get home!
Handle time changes like a boss
Ah jet lag, that tricky thing that happens when you travel out of your time zone! If you are traveling west to east, you’re in luck! Let your child sleep in, take naps later, and go to bed later. This will help you stay on your schedule by the clock at home, and tends to be the natural way vacations go anyway (wanting to sleep in and having festivities later in the evening). If you’re traveling east to west, this one is tougher! Your baby will wake earlier in the morning than at home and everything will be pushed earlier. If your baby is on multiple naps, and the time change is 2 hours or more, my secret trick is to add a cat nap in to push bedtime later!
Try not to stress!
For some of us, good sleep is hard-won. That can make it difficult to enjoy our vacations or holidays when we are so worried about sleep getting messed up. The fact is, children can be much more adaptable than we give them credit for. When I took my son on vacation to Mexico at 9 months old, I was absolutely terrified by what the vacation would do to our routine. He surprised me in the best way with how well he slept and how he did with his schedule! I wish I had been less anxious about things I didn't even need to worry about. Yes, your child's sleep will probably get a little mixed up no matter what you do, but you are there to enjoy yourself! So try to soak up those memories and time with family, and know you can always get back on the right track when you get home!
Don’t feel guilty about setting boundaries
Sometimes the greatest obstacle to your child’s sleep is a well-meaning loved one. I've seen a Grandma trying to rock baby to sleep 90 minutes before his typical nap time, or an Aunt who wants to keep your oldest up till 10pm when his normal bedtime is 7pm! Be flexible when you can, but don’t feel guilty when anticipating your child’s needs for things like food, routine, and sleep. It’s not just about sleep becoming “off,” but also about your child being too cranky to enjoy the festivities. Remember that “No (thank you!)” is a complete sentence and you can use it when protecting your child’s need for rest.
Get right back to your schedule and habits at home
Once the holidays are over it's time to tighten things up! Get right back into your usual routine. If you don't, a week of holiday cheer can end up creating a month of wonky sleep habits. After traveling or being off schedule for a few days, it may feel like you need a mini sleep training experience for a night or two. Armed with that knowledge, just stick it out, be consistent, and you’ll be back to great sleep in no time!
Katelyn Thompson is the owner of Sweet Pea Sleep and co-founder of The Collective for Family Rest and Wellness. She is a mom to 3, 2 boys and a girl. Katelyn is also a cancer mom as her toddler is fighting leukemia and she shares a bit about that on her account She lives in Georgia with her children and realtor husband. She believes a well-rested family is a happier and healthier family, and is on a mission to help families get the rest they need in a way that fits their personal family dynamic.
Katelyn has a degree in Child Development from the University of Georgia and is a certified pediatric sleep consultant. You can find Katelyn most often sharing real life, providing mama encouragement and expert sleep tips on her Instagram (www.Instagram.com/sweetpeasleep)
This blog post was originally published 12/14/2020 but has been updated for 2022.