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A Holiday Sleep Survival Guide for Parents

At one time or another, nearly every parent has experienced that single, mortifying moment when their child has had a public meltdown.  Chances are, you've also suffered the sound of someone else's relentless, screaming infant on a flight and thought, "Ugh...I'd never let that happen with my son or daughter."  We keep our mouths shut, however, because deep down, we know that it has been our child on occasion.

If you are traveling for the holidays with small children, you won't want to miss this Holiday Sleep Survival Guide for Parents from NYC Sleep Doctor, Janet Kennedy.   Great tips to help you make it through the night.  Don't forget to pack the "blankie."

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I tend to get a lot of distress calls in January. It's true: the holidays can derail your child's sleep routines and schedules. Naps get skipped, bedtimes get pushed later, and children become overtired. That can have a ripple effect during the holidays and beyond. Remember that well-rested children (of all ages) sleep better than children who are overtired. And they're a lot more fun to be around. It's tricky to balance your child's need for sleep with holiday plans and extended-family demands. So, how can you enjoy the holidays without getting a new set of sleep problems in the bargain?  Here are some simple tips.

  1. Stagger the sleep deprivation: Don't push your child to function without adequate sleep for multiple days in a row.  Look at your schedule and figure out when you'll be able to get your child the sleep she needs and when you won't. Skipping naps and staying up late might not be a problem in moderation, but sleep deficits do accumulate. If your child is overtired, you'll all benefit from getting her more sleep. Nothing ruins a good time like an old-fashioned meltdown.
  2. If you will be away from home, think about when and where your child will sleep in advance. Talk to your partner, friends and relatives about how you might factor in naps and bedtimes. Arrange to take turns if your child needs to nap away from the activities 
  3. Be flexible when you can. Your child might not be at her best, but it's important to participate in the festivities. Don't let stress about sleep ruin your good time.
  4. If you want your child to sleep somewhere unfamiliar, bring familiar things from home.  Pack your child's favorite "blankie" or stuffed animal (just don't lose it). Bring pajamas for nighttime even if you aren't staying over.  If your baby isn't used to her travel crib, bring her unwashed crib sheet or other items that smell familiar.  Bring whatever you can to re-create soothing routines from home.  My secret weapon is white noise: it drowns out the sounds of holiday cheer so you won't have to shush your relatives' merrymaking.
  5. Remember that an early bedtime helps babies and toddlers to sleep through the night. Keeping them awake makes them wired and that adrenaline disrupts sleep all night long. Whenever possible, stick to your usual schedule. You're not depriving your child of fun. You're taking care of him by making sure he can function!
  6. Try not to resume bad habits or start new ones.  If you have night weaned your baby, try not to resume feeding at night to soothe him. If you don't co-sleep at home and don't want to, don't start now! 
  7. Even if everything goes haywire, get back to your old routines as soon as possible, before new habits or expectations are formed. Your children might protest initially-after all, it's much more fun to run wild. But in the end, they will be relieved to return to the familiar routines that keep them (and you) rested and happy.

Wishing you sweet dreams this holiday season!

Coming in January: The Art of Napping