Living away from family requires travel time. It also requires planning, packing, and patience. So, when we have 2 large dogs and a tiny human in tow, we must make sure everyone is accounted and accommodated for the trip. This will be our 3rd Thanksgiving as a family of 5 (dogs included). By now, we are packing/traveling professionals. There is a system and a schedule we abide by to keep our little one’s naps in the car and at Grandma’s, but sometimes things don’t work out the way we planned.
We do our best to plan long drives during a scheduled nap time, in the hopes of catching some ZZZs. And, even though sleep in motion is junk sleep, it’s still better than a meltdown upon arrival. One off day or weekend won’t break a solid routine, but we must be cautious to avoid staying out of routine for too long. I’ve been asked many times, especially as the holidays draw near, what would be some advice as we take to the skies or open highways?
During the most wonderful time of the year, it’s important to try to keep to our little one’s daily sleep schedule the best we can, especially to compensate for those very special days that come but once a year. We don’t have to skip out on the festivities if we take care to have well-rested babies leading up to our family get-togethers. So, to get through the worry, here are a few questions to assess your own child:
If you don’t think your child could handle an off day of sleep, or you fear the days to follow, maybe consider different holiday plans. It’s ok to show up late and it’s ok to bring a pack N play and set up in the spare room. Be sure to remember the white noise machine.
As an alternative, maybe you offer to host! You could still see your family and munchkin can sleep in the comfort of her own bed. Or bite the bullet, chance the holiday, and know that your child will be cranky for a few days to follow. Do your best to get back on schedule and use your method of choice. Consistency is key.
Here are some tricks and tips to help during those long flights or car rides where a nap will, inevitably, occur:
Daylight savings can be a stressful time of the year for many families. As we head into the summer months, we turn the clocks forward 1 hour to preserve our sunlight into the evening. As parents, we tend to dread the following morning, not knowing what to expect of our children's wake times. For example, you may find that those pesky early risers wake an hour later in the morning, maybe at a more appropriate wake time (we're talking those cute 5am up and at 'em types). Sounds perfect, right? WRONG. Sorry, mamas, but that sunlight is going to creep earlier and earlier into your morning until BAM! Hello again, 5am.
It's OK! There are a few solutions to help your munchkins transition smoothly.
Children with healthy sleep habits should have no problem shifting their schedule naturally, but here are a few actions we can take to help facilitate a smooth schedule shift:
Sleep associations are the core to how we fall asleep and stay asleep. As adults, we may require a closed door, pitch black room, cool sheets, the fan on, white noise, etc. When we fall asleep at night we expect everything to be just the way we left it when we wake in the morning. If something is out of whack, we have trouble falling asleep. Similarly, babies naturally associate certain conditions with naps and bedtime and, as parents, we must strive to make their environment conducive for sleeping.
Sleep is a learned process; the sooner a baby learns to fall asleep unassisted, the easier changes will be on them and their parents. Healthy sleep habits do not necessarily have to come from tough love. A small child can be taught to associate sleep with positive activities, such as a story or a calming bath. The concern for the child’s emotional development is very real for every parent and if modern society allowed parents to practice a proximal care style, there would not necessarily be a need for children to cry themselves to sleep at such young ages. However, human biology plays a role in how infants learn to fall asleep. They develop associations with every new stage in life; sitting in a high chair means food time, putting on shoes means time to go outside. They will associate their parents for sleep rituals and be unable to return to sleep by themselves. If we, as parents, never give our children the opportunity how will they learn?
A baby can be taught to self-soothe from the day they are brought home from the hospital. Just the simple practice of laying them down when they shows signs of tiredness will allow them to drift to sleep, unassisted. But, for children who have never been taught to self-soothe, the process can be temporarily upsetting. Depending on the temperament of the child, the parents’ concerns, and the child’s sleep deficit will determine which sleep training method will work the best. But the older the child, the harder it will be to disassociate old routines, use softer methods of sleep training, and create new healthy sleeping habits.
You may wonder "my baby is only 6 months old and she's only taking 2 naps!" All babies are different and not every child will keep her third nap. Similarly, not every child will transition to one nap at exactly 18mo of age. As babies turn into toddlers, their brains are still developing and their sleep needs change at different ages. You can help by tuning into their sleep cues and periods of wakefulness.