If you’re like most parents, (me included), stuffed animals, blocks and little cars can be found in almost every room of your house. I have a play room for my daughter, but half of her toys still end up in the living room, every day.
I often wonder if toy companies sit around brainstorming all the different places they should convince parents they need to stockpile toys in order to entertain their kids: the car, the living room, the yard, the bathtub, the crib, etc.
My friends often ask me, “You’re the sleep expert, how do I make sure my child sleeps well while on vacation?” I always remind them that when traveling with a baby and/or toddler, an important thing to consider is how your travel plans are going to affect your child’s sleep routine. You’ll have a much more enjoyable vacation if you organize your trip in a way that allows for as little disruption as possible to your little one’s sleep schedule.
This will help ensure that everyone gets the rest they need to be happy, healthy, and alert during your trip—which is bound to make your vacation much more enjoyable for everyone!
Here are some tips to help ensure sure your baby gets the sleep they need during your travels:
Tip 1: Don’t over-schedule.
One of the biggest mistakes parents make is trying to pack in all the fun and adventure they might have had back in their “child-free” days. The fact is, when you travel with a baby or toddler, you can’t plan to go bungee-jumping in the morning, swim with dolphins in the early afternoon, go parasailing in the late afternoon, and go on a dinner cruise in the evening. Not unless you brought someone your child trusts to look after them back at the hotel while you take off. But where is the family fun with that?
It’s better to slow down the pace and make sure you schedule regular naps and early bedtimes if you’ve had an exciting day, just like you would at home.
Tip 2: Be consistent with naps and bedtime.
An occasional nap in the car seat or a later-than-usual bedtime should be avoided, but may happen. However, if your baby’s naps are all over the place and they go to bed much later than usual several days in a row, your child WILL become so overtired and cranky that a complete meltdown is inevitable.
Tip 3: Be patient as your child acclimatizes to the new environment.
Even if your child is the best little sleeper in the world at home, when you’re in a strange environment, things might be very different. It’s normal for babies to need more reassurance and toddlers to test boundaries around sleep when they’re some place new.
Just because you have certain rules at home, they won’t automatically understand that the same rules apply at the hotel or Grandma’s house.
If your child is over a year old and sleeps in a separate room at home, try to get a hotel room with a separate bedroom or living room area, so that you aren’t disturbing them while they sleep. If this isn’t possible, try to put up a sheet or blanket to section off an area for your child to sleep without being distracted by your presence.
In a strange place, your baby might cry for a while at bedtime or wake up at odd times during the night. The best way to handle this is to react the same way you would at home. Go to them every five minutes or so to offer a bit of reassurance, but other than that, don’t bend your rules. If you hang on tight to your consistency, within the first night or two, your child will be used to the new environment and should be sleeping well again.
Tip 4. Make sure you bring your child’s sleeping toy and/or blanket.
If your child has a treasured comfort item, it will go a long way to helping him feel safe and secure enough to fall asleep in a different environment. Forget it at your peril!
Tip 5. If you’re not a co-sleeping family, don’t start now.
Another big mistake parents make is to start sharing a bed with their baby or toddler while traveling. Even if it’s only for a few nights, if your child decides this is their new preferred way to sleep, you could find yourself dealing with a big problem when you get home and try to put them back into the crib or their own bed. Also, bed sharing is not recommended for under the age of 1 year as it is a SIDS and suffocation risk.
The good news is; most hotels have a crib or pack ‘n play you can use or rent. You can also take your own pack ‘n play along and use that as a crib with a fitted sheet.
Do you want to know what really gets me fired up?
It’s when Moms (either online or in real life) are talking sleep, and I hear comments like this:
“You should just enjoy getting up to nurse all night – someday they’ll be all grown up and you’ll miss it.”
“You were the one who decided to have children. Did you REALLY think you’d be getting a full night’s sleep for the next few years?”
Or my all-time favorite…
“Well, you better learn to live with it!”
My fingers are starting to burn just writing about this, so I’m going to “fire back” with my top three myths about teaching your child to sleep well:
Myth #1: You will break the loving bond you have with your child.
Really? Do you really think that after just a few nights of changing your child’s sleep habits that they won’t love you anymore? Is that all it would take?
Would all the cuddles you give them, all the food you provide, all the diapers and clean clothes they wear, all the playtimes and bath times, all the kisses and laughter be for nothing because of a few nights of protest?
The truth is, making changes to anyone’s sleep habits will always be met with some resistance. So yes, it is safe to assume that your child is not going to happily accept the fact that you are no longer going to rock them on the exercise ball for an hour each and every night, but as long as you are a loving and attentive parent in the first place, the loving bond will endure.
In fact, most people find that once their child is sleeping well, they’re even happier and healthier than before, making their relationship with them even better!
Myth #2: Sleep training means leaving your child to “cry it out.”
First off, The Sleep Sense Program is NOT a “cry-it-out” program.
In fact, I encourage you to stay in your child’s room with them the whole time — if that makes you feel more comfortable.
The bottom line is that it’s not the crying that gets a child sleeping well. The crying is simply your child’s reaction to the change in his or her sleep habits, nothing more.
In other words, your baby isn’t crying because they’re “mad” at you… or because you’re being cruel. The only reason they are crying is because they are temporarily confused! I mean, you USED TO lay in their bed, rock or nurse them to sleep every night… and now (to promote better sleep habits) you’re not doing that anymore.
And the great news is that your child’s confusion usually only lasts a few days. Most children adapt very quickly to the changes and soon figure out how to calmly get themselves to sleep (self-soothing skills)… and then everyone’s happier!
Myth #3: Sleep training is too stressful for children
First off, there is no evidence that sleep training has any short term or long term psychological effects on children. I have loads of scientific studies if you would like to read some. So you can cross that off your list of things to worry about.
As for those who say that a few nights of crying are “too stressful?” Well, I say you’ve really got two choices:
A. Make some changes. This usually involves a few nights of your child crying for 10 – 40 minutes at bedtime. After a few nights, most children start to learn how to fall asleep independently and the crying stops completely shortly thereafter.
In this scenario, the total amount of “stress” felt by your child amounts to a few minutes of crying for a few nights.
B. Do nothing. In this scenario, the parent continues to nurse / rock / bounce/ etc. their child to sleep every night. The child wakes up 1 – 10 times per night, and needs to be nursed / rocked / bounced/ etc. back to sleep each time.
In this scenario, both parent and child are subjected to months (or even years) of systematic sleep deprivation where neither ever gets enough consolidated sleep to wake up and feel rested or refreshed. Your child will have more meltdowns because of tiredness and the lack of quality sleep may even lead to Night Terrors. If these poor sleep habits continue into the school years, there is evidence that it correlates with things like obesity and trouble focusing in class – all of this sounds pretty stressful to me!
What sounds more harmful: A few nights of crying… or months/years of depriving your child and your family of a good nights’ sleep?
So, let’s stop the Mommy Shaming! Making a parent feel selfish or bad because they want to teach their child healthy sleep and soothing skills is just bullying!
As parents, we will have to make a lot of hard, but important decisions regarding our children. If one or more of these three myths have been holding you back from taking the simple steps needed to create long term, positive change for your child’s sleep, I really hope I’ve been able to change your mind.
And – as always – I’m here for you when you’re ready to get started and will answer ANY questions you have.
It's not always obvious when a child is getting tired... Here's how to recognize "sleep signs" so you can get your child to bed BEFORE they become overtired!
Usually when someone refers to “sleep signs,” clear signals that the child is tired, they probably think of yawning and eye rubbing. Some signs you may not be aware of are nose scrunching and ear pulling, anything that has to do with rubbing the face. It’s easy to miss some of the signs of fatigue, but if your child is doing any type of rubbing or pulling, they’re definitely tired. Don’t wait for a yawn.
Some babies seem to go from happy to upset at the drop of a dime. A baby like that is probably very good at hiding their fatigue. Sometimes when they start to have feelings of being tired, they’ll push through those feelings with more active play and maybe even get a little hyper. They’ll kick into “overdrive” and almost become a bit manic.
That squirmy baby, the one who doesn’t want to sit on your knee, doesn’t want to stand up, arches their back, crawls around very quickly, laughs one moment and cries the next is a tired baby and ready for sleep.
If your child is happy one second and crying the next, you might have to keep more of an eye on the clock that you do on your baby. For example, a three-month-old baby can handle about an hour and a half of awake time. If she woke up at 8 a.m., then by 9:30, she’s most likely ready for a nap.
In this case, even if they’re calm and happy and not showing any “sleep signs,” I always suggest that it’s better to put them down too soon rather than too late. Sometimes the calmer the baby goes down, the faster sleep comes and it becomes an easier transition for them.
Keeping an eye on your child’s individual sleep signs, along with the clock for those who don’t show any clear signs, will definitely help your child sleep well.
Life is hard when you're not sleeping. As a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, I teach families how to live a well-rested life.