The holiday season is upon us and if you have children in tow, you may be feeling anxious about your child’s sleep getting off track. Here’s how to have fun during the holidays and protect your family’s sleep.
The magic of the holiday season can also look like a jam-packed calendar, more hours in the car and gatherings with unpredictable end times. You know how much sleep your little one needs, and you may be asking yourself questions like, how will I maintain my baby’s nap schedule, or should keep my child up late on special occasions?
Prioritize your schedule around your most sleep sensitive child
The newborn and postpartum phase is a challenging time. In the fourth trimester your life and sleep will be majorly baby-led. It’s okay to skip or leave early from anything you or your baby are not feeling up to. Everyone will need to understand! Take some deep breaths, try to relax and be gentle with yourself during these early days with your new baby.
In later infancy your baby’s sleep can be much more predictable. While they still need a lot of sleep, 14 hours on average each day, you and your loved ones may have higher expectations for them to participate in events. Keeping in mind that infants and sleep deprived parents become overstimulated easily, don’t overcommit your day. Attend something in the daytime, or something at night, but not both. Protect the first nap of the day whenever possible because a restorative morning nap will help your child to be at their personal best for the rest of the day.
In the toddler and preschooler stages your child may be able to skip a nap or go to bed late without a complete meltdown for one day, but probably not for multiple days in a row. A sleep debt can build quickly and lead to bedtime battles, middle of the night visits and early morning wake ups. Your relatives may no longer remember what it feels like to be a sleep deprived new parent, but you know that the consequences are very real. At this age, keep sleep on track by limiting your family to a maximum of 2 consecutive action-packed days in a row. After a few busy days, schedule in a day or two to stay home and make your child’s sleep the top priority.
Communicate your needs and ask for help
When planning holiday celebrations with your relatives, tell them about times of day that are reserved for sleep in your family. Give them the heads up that you may be an hour late because of a nap. Don’t hesitate to ask if dinner can happen earlier this year because your little one goes to bed early. If you won’t be at home for a get together, ask the host if it’s okay to set up your pack n play in a spare bedroom. Establish a calm space that you can use at will to do feedings, diaper changes, or just get some quiet time. If a space to be alone indoors is not going to be available, take your stroller or baby carrier and get out for a walk and fresh air when you need to, if the weather permits.
If your loved ones want more time with your baby, but you or your little one don’t feel comfortable with another handoff to someone else, ask them to pack your diaper bag, set up the pack n play, or push the stroller. They want to help, but may not always be sure how, so have some jobs ready to delegate.
Having lots of family members around gives you a good chance to get help putting your child to bed. Take advantage! These precious and often rare moments will last a lifetime and may be more important, in moderation, than getting your child to sleep with their normal routine. Following the 80/20 rule of sleep during the holidays will yield a healthy amount of flexibility in your schedule, so you can have fun during the holidays and protect your family’s sleep.
The 80/20 Rule
Sleeping in the car or stroller does not yield the highest quality sleep, and isn’t the safest sleep space for infants under the age of 1 year, but during the holidays this may be your best option to keep your little one from a major meltdown. If you are planning a nap in the car, leave for your trip 30 minutes or so before naptime starts for the best chance at sticking to your schedule. You can ensure your child’s sleep stays mostly on track by following your normal routines 80 percent of the time. When you do a car or stroller nap during the day, put them to sleep in their bed at night or vice versa.
If you have a dinner you must attend, but won’t stay overnight, set up your pack n play and put baby down at their normal bedtime in a dark spare room with the baby monitor. That way you can honor your obligations without taking your child too far past their limit. Completely pack up the car and say all your goodbyes before transferring your child to the car for a smoother transfer. When you get home carry your child through a dark house and put them down in their safe sleep space with as little light and talking as possible.
You have about 20 percent flexibility when it comes to having fun during the holidays and protecting your family’s sleep. It will be up to you to decide if deviating from your routine any more than that is worth it to you. Reserve the right to decline invitations to events, request more advanced notice, and avoid making promises that you cannot keep.
Maintaining healthy sleep habits as a family during the holiday season means not saying yes or no to everything. Change is inevitable as your family grows. That change may look like everyone gathering at your home this year so your child can sleep in their familiar environment. Change may look like doing a Christmas brunch instead of a dinner. Change doesn’t mean you have any less fun during the holidays, it’s just different with small children.