Staying on track during the holiday season

Unsurprisingly, the holiday season is the most common time of year for bedtime routines to fall into disarray, especially if you are faced with late nights, over-stimulated children, long haul flights, or a house bursting with relatives. Here are some expert tips on ensuring everyone sleeps well these holidays.

So how can you keep your little ones on track during the holiday season?

late nights

There are going to be times when your child goes to bed later than usual over the Christmas period, but do try to stick to their usual bedtime routine as much as possible.

For example, if they usually go to bed at 7pm but are still up at 9pm, then just follow your usual bedtime routine (bath, story, bed) and they will be unaware of the later time as their usual routine has remained the same. However be warned, it won’t necessarily mean that they will sleep in longer, and if repeated over several days, your child may well become irritable and overtired.

If you are going to be out late and have a long journey home, then bath and get them dressed into their pyjamas before you leave, so all you need to do is transfer them to bed once you get home.

unfamiliar bedroom

If you are going to be sleeping overnight in a bach, hotel or at a friend’s house, try to make your child’s surroundings as familiar as possible. Take something like your child’s usual bedding, night light or soft toys with you, so that your child is reminded of home and will feel more relaxed. A few days before you go, get your child used to some bedtime music or a story CD (if they’re not already familiar with one) that you can play in the new environment which your child will instantly recognise and help make them feel more secure.

If you have to share a room with your child (and this is not usual practise for you), you might want to try to section off an area in the room to create a unique sleeping place for your child, to eliminate the distraction for them of having you nearby. It might also make the unfamiliar room seem more cosy if you make it smaller by sectioning it off.

If using a travel cot, make sure your child can’t see you through the sides as this may make it harder for your child to go (or go back) to sleep. Always check before you go which type of cot will be provided in your accommodation. Cots can vary considerably in quality, size and cleanliness, and you may feel happier taking your own travel cot.

long haul flights

If possible, choose a night flight, and avoid lengthy stopovers that involve spending hours hanging around in airports.

Most long haul flights have bassinet seats (a specific seat on the plane where a small bassinet is provided which can be secured safely to the wall in front of you) that can be booked in advance, thus allowing your infant a safe and comfortable place to sleep. (Note that weight restrictions apply.)

It is always best to adopt the new time zone straight away. Children have amazing abilities to adapt to their new environment. For example, if you arrive in Dubai at 2pm, when in fact back home it’s the middle of the night, you should still keep your child up for the rest of that day. Feed and bath him as you would normally do and, as darkness falls, your child’s body clock will quickly adjust. Don’t worry if your child has slept a lot on the plane, it won’t have been quality sleep and he will probably be exhausted anyway. Daylight, meal times and activity play a huge role in helping your child to adapt quickly.

daylight savings

The long, light evenings and bright, early mornings can sometimes upset your child’s natural sleep rhythm. As we naturally produce less melatonin (the sleep-inducing hormone that is stimulated by darkness) during the summer months, it is advisable to darken your child’s room as much as possible.

A simple and effective way to do this is to use a blackout blind across your child’s window, or add blackout lining to your existing curtains. For a cheaper alternative, you can buy a length of blackout material: measure and cut it to fit the inside of the window and attach it to the top of the frame using a row of Velcro spots, and leave unsealed at the bottom to allow for ventilation. This can easily be removed during the day, but in the evening will create an effective seal and will darken your child’s room dramatically.

Remember that Christmas only comes round once a year. Try to enjoy this magical time as much as possible and maintain a fair balance, but remember that children are creatures of habit and thrive on routine and consistency as this helps make them feel secure.

If you are going to be sleeping overnight in a bach, hotel or at a friend’s house, try to make your child’s surroundings as familiar as possible. Take something like your child’s usual bedding, night light or soft toys with you, so that your child is reminded of home and will feel more relaxed.

Annette Faamausili is a children’s sleep advisor who runs a home consultation service for parents of children with sleep problems. (www.serenesleep.co.nz)

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