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Maintaining a sleep schedule and still having a life – Holiday Trip Edition

With the holidays around the corner, I can only assume (‘cause I’ve been there), many parents who have recently settled into a sleep schedule that works, are worried how they will stick with it over the holiday events.

“Will the baby regress if we are out at my parents two nights in a row?”

“Will sleep go out the window after travelling to my in-laws for the week?”

It definitely adds a new layer of stress to the holiday season. I couldn’t understand you more!

Yet, I will tell you with certainty that it doesn’t have to be a sleep disaster. In fact, it can work out pretty smoothly if you plan well and stick to those routines as if you are at home.

Here are some things to consider:

Start sleep training when you are home: If you are considering sleep training but have a holiday trip planned, I suggest you wait until you are home and have a few weeks of getting baby truly settled in her routine and sleep space. If you’ve already started, not to worry. Taking a trip typically won’t help your little one sleep better, but if you can maintain some semblance of normalcy until the end of your trip, you and baby should be ready to get back to business as soon as you get home.

Plan naps on the go: If you’re driving to your destination, a good way to ensure you get that nap in, is to schedule your driving time over nap timing. With all the excitement at your destination, it can be tough to settle your child into a nap right away, or getting them down in an unusual place might not run smoothly. Car naps aren’t the best, but compared to no naps at all, they’re the lesser of two evils. So, if at all possible, get on the road right around the time that baby would normally be taking their first nap. If the drive is long, try to make some stops during those wake hours to get the sunshine and fresh air in, which will make that next nap that much easier.

If you’re flying, I’m not going to sugar coat it, the ride with kids can be a challenge. This should not be a secret to you. My recommendation is, for this situation only, do whatever gets you through the flight with a minimum amount of fuss. Hand out snacks, let them play with your phone, and otherwise let them do anything they want to do. It’s just way too tough to get a child to sleep on a plane if they don’t want to. Just go with it.

Stick to your routine once you’ve arrived: Now that you’ve brought the children out with family, they want them to be awake, to play with them. They love them and miss them, I get it…And so do you, but you hate it, and I get that too! Now baby is overstimulated and going to be cranky without a nap, so you can console her over dinner and the experience is just no fun, for everyone, but especially you. It can be tough to explain to friends and family that baby needs a nap, or to go to bed at a reasonable time, but it will make the experience for you and baby much more enjoyable.

Firmly explain to anyone who’s giving you hard time for putting baby to sleep, that you’ve worked very hard on baby’s sleep in order for the whole family to get the best rest and you’re not taking any chances that will mess that up. Show them that you truly value their time spent with your child (which is always better when the baby is rested) by letting them know when she’ll be awake, and you hope this will work for their timing. You can even share your schedule with family and friends in advance, so they can plan ahead to spend that time with the baby. I know this part can be tough, but missed naps mixed with all the excitement will result in baby getting overtired, cortisol production going up, and the next nap in potential ruin...which results in more overtiredness...which derails nighttime sleep...and before you know it, you’re headed home, and it seems like baby did nothing but cry the entire outing.

I do hate to say it, but this is how it often unfolds. Just plan for the nap and you’ll set yourself up for success.

Create a separate sleep space: So, you’re staying with family and there’s only one room for you and baby. You’ve got to work with it, but I urge you to change as little as possible from your normal routine. Bringing baby into bed with you may seem like no big deal for one night, but it definitely can be attractive to baby who will want this to continue for nights to follow. No, thank you! It’s important to also note that a sleep trained baby who’s been in their own sleep space for a long while, will not sleep soundly with you. They will get up, want to play and you’ll have a hard time getting them to settle in to sleep with you as a distraction. I’ve seen this firsthand. Even when my babies were sick, they could not settle to sleep comfortably with me. They are used to their own bed, that’s all we really wanted in the midst of sleep training, right?

So, what you can do is turn one room into two. Meaning, create some sort of partition between you and baby. Hang a blanket, maneuver the furniture, or perhaps there’s a corner of the room that works best for this. The goal is for baby to avoid getting distracted, so sleep comes easily. Also, keep it dark and quiet in there, and bring baby’s familiar belongings so the transition is seamless.

Avoid re-introducing sleep associations: You might feel tempted to soothe baby with a pacifier, rocking or feeding so not to disturb the rest of the house, I get it. But this will likely result in baby continuing to wake every 2-3 hours to get back to sleep again. And you may find yourself a couple steps backwards in sleep training when you arrive back home.

The hope is for this to help put all your hard work around sleep, into perspective. But I do know that bringing your routines and boundaries into someone else’s home can feel intimidating. There are a lot of eyes on you, the new baby, and in turn, your parenting. For those that don’t get it, are not in it, or have been out of it way too long, it can seem ‘rigid’. But just remember how you’ve been feeling with sleep back in your home. Your baby is happier and rested and you are rested and a better parent for it. You know what’s best. You do! And don’t let others interfere in decisions that work best for your family.

Take some of that pre-holiday stress and anxiety off the table by talking to family and friends in advance to help manage those expectations. You can then go on your trip with confidence and let go of the need to keep your guard up. Your people may surprise you and be more understanding and compassionate than anticipated. Let’s hope! Either way, you’ve got this and can rest assure that your sleep mission is going steady.

If you're heading off on a trip soon and want to get sleep in order before you go, or you've just returned from a trip and need the support to get back on track, I'm here for you. And, even if you’ve just plain had it, and you're just exhausted, I’m here to help. Book a free chat with me, and we'll discuss where you're at and how I can help!

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