Preserving your child’s sleep over the holiday period

Preserving your child’s sleep over the holiday period

Preserving your child’s sleep over the holiday period is well worth considering. With the holidays fast approaching, many parents whose babies are sleeping on a schedule are worried that they might regress a little over the holidays. And yes, at such a busy time of year, those fears can be well-founded.

It’s true, that between the excitement, the travel, the constant attention and more travel, the holidays are one of the easiest ways to get off track. But just because it can be easy to get off schedule, it doesn’t mean you have to. There’s no need to throw away your hard work with the wrapping paper just because it’s Christmas.

With some strategic planning (and just a little iron will), you can keep that carefully orchestrated routine running just the way you did at home. If your child is older you’ll likely know if they can go with the flow without getting off track, or whether you do need to be a little firmer and keep those boundaries in place. If you’re not sure, you may just want to stick with what you know, just in case. All children are different, and just because Aunty Susie keeps her kids up to see the Christmas lights, it doesn’t mean you have to.

There are normally two major impediments to your child’s sleep over the holidays. The first is travel and the other is family and friends.  I’ll discuss both of these topics here.


If you want to work on sleep skills with your little one, but you have to take a trip in a few weeks, my suggestion is to put it off until you get back. (Although if you’re looking for an excuse to cancel your trip, not wanting to throw your baby’s sleep schedule out of whack is a pretty good one!)

If you’ve already started better sleep skills, don’t worry. Taking a trip typically won’t help your little one sleep better, but if you can maintain some semblance of “normal” until the end of your travel, you and baby should be ready to get back to business as soon as you get home.

In the car

If you’re driving to your destination, a clever trick is to schedule your driving time over baby’s naps. Car naps aren’t ideal, but compared to no naps at all, they’re the lesser of two evils by far. So if at all possible, get on the road when your child would normally be taking their nap.

If you’re really committed, you might even look for some parks, tourist attractions, or other outdoor activities that are on your route so you can stop for some fun when baby gets up. It’s a great chance to get out into the sunshine and fresh air, which will make the next nap that much easier too.

By air

If you’re flying, well, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

It’s no secret that babies and planes don’t seem to like each other, so I suggest (and this is the only time you’ll hear me say this) that you do whatever you need to do while onboard. The goal is to get 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 if it’s going to keep them entertained and calm.

The truth is, if they don’t want to sleep on the plane, they’re just not going to, so don’t try to force it. It will just result in a lot of frustration for you and your child (and most likely, the passengers around you).

Hopefully you manage to maintain some degree of sanity in the air. And then you arrive at your destination.

Arrival at your destination

Now, I’m sorry to say, this can actually be the hardest part.

In the car or on the plane, everybody is pretty much on your side. Keeping your baby quiet and relaxed, and hopefully asleep, is just what everyone is rooting for.

But now that you’re at Grandma and Granddad’s place, it can be just the opposite. Everyone wants your baby awake so they can see them, play with them, take a thousand pictures, and get them ridiculously over stimulated. And it can be exceptionally difficult to tell all of these friends and family members that you’re putting an end to the fun because baby needs to go to sleep.

I’m giving you permission

So if you need permission to be the bad guy, I’m giving it to you right here and now. Think about it. Your family wouldn’t expect baby to miss a meal and go hungry just so they could see him, right? So there’s really no need to miss a nap and let your baby get overtired for the same reason.

Don’t negotiate, don’t make exceptions, and don’t feel bad about it. Firmly explain to anyone who’s giving you the “I’ll just sneak in and a take a quick peek,” routine that your baby needs his sleep and you’re not taking any chances on waking him up. Let them know when baby will be getting up and tell them to wait around, come back, or catch you next time. Or better yet, tell people in advance when to expect some baby time based on your baby’s schedule.

I know it sounds harsh, but the alternative is an almost immediate backslide and the start of baby not sleeping again. If your baby misses a nap and gets over stimulated (which is easily done with all of the new faces and activity going on), then overtiredness will kick in. This means her production of cortisol (the waking hormone) increases. Because of this, the next nap is ruined, which then results in more overtiredness, and that derails nighttime sleep. Then before you know it, you’re headed home and it seems like baby did nothing but cry the entire trip. And that’s no fun for anyone!

I’m not exaggerating either. Especially with a young baby, it can happen that quickly.

Where should baby sleep?

So OK, you’re not budging on your baby’s sleep schedule. She took her naps at the right times, and now it’s time for bed. The only catch is, with all of the company staying at the house, there’s only one room for you and your child.

Are you thinking about bed sharing? I wish I could make it that easy for you, but again, you want to deviate from the normal routine as little as possible. And if your child normally sleeps in their own space, you’ll want to give them that space on holiday too.

So this may sound a little unorthodox, but if you’re sharing a room, what I suggest is simple: Make it into two rooms.

I’m not saying you need to actually build a full on wall, but I do suggest either hanging up a blanket or setting up a screen to give them their own sleep space (generally in a port-a-cot or something similar). And yes, if there’s room, you can even put baby in the walk-in closet.

That sounds crazy to some, I know! But really, a decent sized closet is a great place for baby to sleep. It’s dark, it’s quiet, she won’t be distracted by being able to see you, and people accidentally walking in and out of the room are much less likely to distract her.

Don’t be tempted

While we’re on the subject of “no exceptions,” that rule extends to all sleep props you’re not currently using too.

You might be tempted to rock her to sleep or give her a dummy if she’s disturbing the rest of the household. But the risk there is that your child will latch on to that very quickly, and chances are you’ll then be waking up every hour or two, and having to pop the dummy back in or rock her back to sleep. And that is going to end up disturbing everyone a lot worse than half an hour of crying at 7:00pm at night.

Why are you giving in?

On a serious note, I find the biggest reason that parents give in and break their routine and schedule is, quite simply, because they’re embarrassed. Often there’s a house full of eyes and they’re all focused on the new baby, and by association, the new parent.

The feeling that everyone is making judgments about how you’re parenting can get overwhelming at family gatherings, but in those moments, you need to remember what’s really important here.

Your immediate concern is your baby, your family, and their health and well-being.

There may be a few people who feel put out because baby went to bed just when they got in the door. Your mother in law might even tell you that putting your baby in the closet for the night is ridiculous. But remember you’re doing this for a very noble cause. Perhaps the noblest cause there is: Healthy sleep.

So stand tall and remember that you’re as important as any superhero to your child; defending sleep for those who are too small to defend it for themselves. If you want to wear a cape and give yourself a cool superhero name too, you can go right ahead.

And if you’ve worked with me and you have got a little off track, rest assured you have the tools to get right back on track when you’re home too (but yes, you can always book in a call or refresher package if you want to)! If you haven’t worked with me, and could do with some help with your child’s sleep, please contact me or book in a free initial call HERE.

Because everyone needs a good night’s sleep – even during the holidays!