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Holiday Sleep Survival

on Sun, 11/18/2012 - 02:38

Tis' the season to be cranky and sleep deprived.

Although the holidays can be a time of joy and celebration, they are also a time of great stress. When it comes to our young children, we tend to cut corners with their schedule and their sleep just to make it through the holiday shopping, parties, and family gatherings. The result is often cranky children and families. I have told parents to protect naps and try to stick to a routine as much as possible. During the holidays I often get the reply, “That’s just not going to happen”. So, I decided to devote this blog to offering some quick tips to just survive holiday sleep disruption and minimize impending sleep deprived meltdowns.
Common Holiday Sleep Issues and Survival Tips
**Please only use these survival tips when you absolutely cannot keep your child on a schedule. These are not recommended for regular use**
Holiday Sleep Issue 1: Nap Deprivation
Your family complains your child is always napping during family events. Or, “Aunt Betty” is only here for the holidays and won’t get a chance to spend time with the baby if the baby sleeps the whole time. You as the parent decide to cut naps to have your child participate in the holiday festivities.

Potential Outcome: Skipped or shortened naps can cause night time wakings, and major meltdowns. Until about age four children need naps. This is important for their mood, functioning, and night time sleep.

Survival Tip: If you must shorten or skip naps due to holiday activity or to please the relatives, you must at minimum have an early bedtime. Chances are Aunt Betty will not be getting up with your child when he gets up at night from over stimulation and nap deprivation. You may have to put your child to bed 1-2 hours earlier than usual to reduce night wakings. Get your child back to his schedule as soon as possible.
Holiday Sleep Issue 2: Very Late Bedtimes
Your family or friends convince you to let your child go to bed late for the holidays. “The holiday season only comes around once a year”, they proclaim. You think, what’s the big deal with my child staying up late to open presents or experience the arrival of the New Year?

Potential Outcome: Late bedtimes can cause increased night wakings, bedtime battles, and early rising. Ideal bedtimes run between 7-8pm for many young children. This is when their bodies are most likely to fall asleep. When you work against this most opportune bedtime, children have a harder time falling asleep due to an increase in a hormone called Cortisol. Due to this “Cortisol Rush” caused by late bedtimes, your child may be too awake to drift off when finally put down for bed. Early rising has a strong connection to late bedtimes. Your child may wake up for the day at 4 or 5am and be unable to fall back asleep. Where are those friends and relatives at 4am? Most likely sleeping in their own beds, while you as the parent are up with the roosters.

Survival Tip: If you absolutely feel set on having your child stay up and watch the Ball Drop on New Years Eve or some other late night holiday activity, then do not skip naps. You can even add a late nap (past 5pm) for your child to survive the late bedtime for that particular night. Get your child back to his regular schedule as soon as possible.
Holiday Sleep Issue 3: Your Child Wants to Sleep With You Every Night
Due to travel or people staying over your home during the holidays, you have your child sleep with you in the same bed.

Potential Outcome: Your child refuses to sleep in his own crib or bed again. You might hear “Why can’t I sleep with you again”?

Survival Tip: (Only for those who did not intend to co-sleep long term) For children older than 2 years old, an explanation ahead of time is very helpful. Let your child know why you will be sleeping in the same bed and that things will return back to the way they were once the need is no longer there. For example, “When grandma leaves our home you will go back to your own bed”. Use stickers as rewards for their transitioning back to their own bed. For babies and younger children, use a safe co -sleeper, portable crib, or pack and play to minimize the urge to be in the same bed.

I wish you a happy and well-rested holiday season!