The winter holiday season is nearly upon us! It’s my most favorite time of year - the traditions, parties, family gatherings….the food. Seriously, it’s just the best. But, even for the merriest and most festive of us, it can also be an exhausting and overwhelming time of year.
Perhaps no one feels this more than our babies (no matter their age). The traveling, visitors and all around joy can actually wreak quite a bit of havoc on their routines and sleep. If you’re like me then you definitely don’t want to miss all of the fun, but if you also don’t want to end up with the Grinch at your holiday gathering, then you’ll want to check out these 5 Pro Tips.
If you’ve got an easy going baby who can typically go with the flow, then you may be able to get away with missing naps and later bedtimes. They may temporarily have a bad night of sleep, but babies with more laid back temperaments typically will bounce back after a night or two. However, if your baby is more sensitive, has high sleep needs like my son or is a “by the clock” baby like my daughter was, then you’ll want to be really strategic in your plans in order to prevent overtiredness, early mornings and increased night wakings.
If this sounds more like your family, then being realistic can be really helpful - try not to plan too much in one day, don’t say yes to every invitation, and know your kiddos and their limitations. If your baby can miss her afternoon nap, then make plans for an earlier bedtime to happen. Or, if you know your kiddo gets overstimulated easily, then make sure you take breaks, take him for small walks away from the crowd and spend a bit longer on the bedtime routine that evening so that he has extra time to really wind down and relax his body again.
Be consistent, when you can
Yes, it can be pretty tough to remain consistent with your baby’s schedule throughout the holiday season - especially if you’re traveling or have visitors in your home. But there are definitely ways you can maintain consistency that can help you preserve your baby’s sleep. For instance, try to maintain their bedtime routines - keeping to the same steps and sequence as every other night (even if it needs to be a bit shorter to get them in bed on time). Additionally, for babies who do need more consistency or are more sensitive to schedule changes and overtiredness, it can be really helpful if you try to plan around their nap times. For instance, if you know your baby NEEDS to take her 1pm nap but you have to get to Grandma’s house in time for Thanksgiving dinner, then you can go early and plan for her to nap there, stay at home for the nap but have her take a shorter one, or plan the car ride there so that you can time the nap while she’s in the car.
When traveling, it can be really helpful to recreate the home environment as much as possible. Sleeping in an unfamiliar place can cause disruptions and night wakings in even the best sleeper. But you can combat this by trying to re-create as much of their typical sleep environment as possible. For instance, if your baby typically sleeps in a crib, then make sure you bring a travel crib or call ahead to the hotel to reserve one. It can also be really helpful to have your baby take a few naps in the travel crib while you’re still at home, just so that they have even more of an opportunity to get comfortable in it. If your baby or toddler typically bed shares with you, then it may be easier to have them transition into a new space. But make sure that you take precautions to ensure that it’s a safe environment just like the one at home - remove the extra bedding and move the bed against the wall. No matter what their typically sleeping arrangements, make sure that you bring their crib sheet or favorite blankets and pillow - along with their regular loveys/stuffed animals, pacifiers, white noise, travel black out blinds and night light.
Leave room for downtime
The holidays are often so full of chances to become overstimulated and overtired. Aside from an off schedule or missed nap, the flashing lights, big crowds, new toys and extra sugary treats can make for one cranky kiddo. Another way to combat this is to leave room in your schedule quiet time. Whether that’s snuggling on the couch together, going for a family walk outside or reserving quiet time for the older kiddos - everyone needs a chance to recharge their batteries.
Get back to normal as soon as possible
No matter how much merriment you and your family indulge in over the holiday season, it’s important to get back on track as soon after the fun as possible. For babies, getting them back on track with their schedule can help alleviate overtiredness and early waking. If they become really overtired, then having an earlier bedtime for a few days can also be really helpful. For toddlers and school age kiddos, try to get them back to their school week bedtime at least a few days before it’s time to return to school. And finally, if you’ve been traveling time zones over the holidays, know that the typical rule of thumb is to give 1 day of transition time for every 1 hour of time difference.
No matter what, the holidays should be a time to enjoy family. I hope that these tips help you and your family combat the typical sleep troubles and create magical family memories instead!
Disclaimer: Although Jennifer Howard is a licensed therapist, this podcast - or any information listed on this site - is not a substitute for therapy. If you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum or perinatal mental health disorders, please seek assistance from your local emergency room or schedule an appointment with a therapist licensed in your state. Postpartum Support International also has a wealth of information and local support for new parents. You can call their Helpline (1-800-944-4773) or text (503-894-9453) anytime for support.