Summer is most notorious for bringing disruptions to our children’s sleep. Between vacations, later evenings, and long hours of daylight, many families make peace with some sleep disruptions for their little ones.
We know that once the vacation is over or the nights become longer and darker, most family members (hopefully) fall back into a predictable and appropriate sleep routine, especially if older kids are in school and adhering to a bedtime and waketime all week.
However, I find that Fall often brings its own set of challenges for baby and child sleep. Let’s talk about those today!
Stay the Course
First and most importantly, no matter the sleep disruptions, I always recommend that families stay the course in pursuing their sleep goals or sticking with the framework that is working for their family. You could even call this my mantra as a sleep consultant: stay the course!
Keep the big picture in mind and steer your child’s sleep in that direction, even if it’s a little up and down over time. No matter what you’re working on or dealing with, be it a ‘sleep regression,’ a time zone change, an illness, or a late-night family event, keep your goals in mind.
Make exceptions as needed or as appropriate (life happens!) but be aware of when things should be getting back to normal. For example, after a child has recovered from an illness, don’t let those middle-of-the-night exceptions you rightfully made become the new norm.
With that in mind, let’s address a few common bumps in the road that come with the cooler seasons.
With the cooler weather comes what is for me the most dreaded part of fall… the colds and upset tummies. Time to bust out the Nose Frida and the humidifier. The extra snuggles are a silver lining, but even the slightest illness has always seemed to disrupt my toddler’s sleep!
On the one hand, a baby’s sleep needs will often increase just as an adult’s might. Your child may spend the day napping on and off and need an earlier bedtime. However, it’s likely (just as it is for an ill adult) that sleep disruptions will be caused by these uncomfortable symptoms. Your baby may need comfort throughout the middle of the night and you should absolutely give it to them!
My word of caution is simply to not let the comfort you provide become a sleep prop eventually. Mix it up between:
- Picking up baby and rocking
- Patting them while they are in the crib
- Offering a feed if needed
Try to avoid bringing baby into your bed if that’s not your usual routine. For a baby who has been sleep trained, be especially wary of reintroducing the sleep prop you worked so hard to remove. It’s ok once or twice for baby’s comfort during illness, but try to avoid letting it become fully reintroduced over a week or two.
In short, comfort your baby as needed due to illness, but revert back to your normal expectations as soon as you can.
Contact your pediatrician if you have any worries that the symptoms are unusual or are persisting for too long. And never fear, if baby picks up a few disruptive sleep habits during an illness, they can always be gently reminded of their former sleep skills.
Just as with any trip, try to keep baby’s sleep environment as similar as possible to their room at home. Bring your white noise and some portable blackout curtains (or tin foil!) if that is what baby is used to at home, as well as baby’s lovey and sleep sack, etc.
If your older baby or toddler is used to sleeping in their own room, I always recommend trying to at least put a visual barrier between the portable crib and your bed (such as a curtain)- and it’s even better if you can tuck the crib in a walk-in-closet (doors open, of course!) or bathroom.
If there is a time change involved, limit extra naps to 30 or 45 minutes and use light and darkness to cue your child’s internal clock. Finally, be prepared for a little boundary testing from toddlers. It’s totally appropriate for them to want to discover if the rules are the same away from home, and it’s totally appropriate for you to inform them that, yes, the rules are the same.
Daylight Savings Time
Best to have realistic expectations! Of course, baby will be up “earlier” for the first few days after the change. Don’t let it get to you.
It will take up to a week for your child’s (and your) internal clocks to adjust.
You can adjust your routine by 30 minutes for a few days until you reach the new schedule. Remember to “stay the course” and don’t compromise your basic expectations for sleep, especially if you have sleep trained in the past; keep your habits the same all week and let the times fall into place over a full 7 days.
In the end, remember that all of these disruptions happen to all of us at some time! Do your best to stay the course and don’t hesitate to call upon help or resources if you need them.
Audra lives in Shoreline, WA with her husband and almost two year old son. She has a background in healthcare and pursued sleep consulting after experiencing sleep difficulties with her son during his first year. She learned during that time what a profound difference a few good nights of sleep can make on all aspects of life. As a result, she cares a lot about helping families during the delicate postpartum year and beyond into toddlerhood! On weekends she enjoys exploring the city with her family and otherwise devotes her “free time” to discovering the secrets of working from home, and occasionally baking cakes that are much too large for any family of three. You can reach her at [email protected] and learn more about how she may be able to help at www.ajsleepconsultant.com.