Maintaining Sleep Through the Holidays

Many parents feel like they’re finally getting into the swing of their fall schedule, and now, BAM, daylight saving is ending, and the holidays are fast approaching.

As a mom of four and owner of Bollinger Sleep Consulting, I know this feeling all too well. The summer chaos is over, everyone in your house is sleeping on a schedule, and now you have to worry they might regress as these changes begin to creep in. Oh, the joys of parenthood.

Let me assure you, those fears are real and very well-founded. That’s right. If you don’t go into this time of year with a game plan, things will likely get crazy!

Holiday Sleep

Daylight Saving

Let’s begin with the biggest blow … winter is coming. First off, don’t freak out! It can be psychologically upsetting when you see your little one get up an hour earlier the first day after the change. Instead, just get up at your typical time and start your day.

Once you’ve had your coffee and changed the clocks, adjust your schedule by one-half-hour for three days. Let’s take the following example: your little one typically naps at 9:30 am, 2:00 pm, and bedtime is at 7:00 pm. For the first three days of the time change, have your baby nap at 9:00 am, 1:30 pm, and bedtime will be 6:30 pm. On the fourth day, make the full adjustment to the new change by returning to your original schedule, which will now be one full hour earlier. It will take approximately a week for your child’s body to get used to this. If you’re looking for more information on Daylight Saving, click the link here: Daylight Saving


Between the travel, excitement, constant attention, and then travel all over again, the holidays are the single easiest way to throw all of your hard work out with the wrapping paper and turkey bones. Forget consistency, forget schedules, it will just be total disorder, and we all know how that goes.

But I’m happy to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way! With some strategic planning and an iron will, you can keep the carefully orchestrated routine running just the way you want.

There are two major impediments to your little one’s sleep over the holidays. One is travel, and the other is family and friends, so I want to tackle both of those topics individually.


If you’re thinking about starting sleep training or your little one is ready to make a sleep transition, but you’ve got to take a trip in a few weeks, my suggestion is to put off any sleep changes until you get back.

If you’ve already started, don’t worry. Taking a trip typically won’t help your little one sleep better, but if you can maintain some semblance of normalcy until the end of your trip, you and your child should be ready to get back to business as soon as you get home.

If you’re driving to your destination, a clever trick is to schedule your driving time during sleep times. Car naps aren’t ideal, but compared to no naps at all, they’re the lesser of two evils. So, if possible, get on the road right around the time that baby would normally be going to sleep.

This can be naptime or bedtime, although bedtime will often require a transfer, so I suggest parents aim to drive around naps, as opposed to driving through the night.

If you’re really committed, you might even look for some parks, tourist attractions, or other outdoor activities on your route where you can stop. It’s a great chance to get out into the sunshine and fresh air, which will help build sleep pressure and make that next nap that much easier.

If you’re flying, well, my heart goes out to you.

It’s no secret that planes and little ones don’t seem to like each other. I suggest you do whatever gets you through the flight with a minimum amount of fuss. Hand out snacks, let them play with your phone, and otherwise let them do anything they want to do. The truth is, if they don’t want to sleep on the plane, they’re just not going to, so don’t try to force it. It will just result in a lot of frustration for you both.

Honestly, traveling isn’t even the hard part.

You’ve arrived, now what?

Room Sharing

Now that you’ve arrived, you still have work to do. Often when traveling, it’s likely there will only be one room for you and your little one.

No problem, right? Bed-sharing for a few nights isn’t the end of the world, after all. Wrong! Babies can develop a real affinity for co-sleeping in as little as one night.

As a result, I suggest making your sleep environment into two rooms. If there is a large closet or private bathroom, put the baby in there. Both of these environments can create a dark, quiet place to sleep. Even better, your baby is less likely to be distracted by being able to see you or by people accidentally walking in and out of the room. If either of these is not an option, I suggest creating a safe, physical barrier where a division of space is clear.

Furthermore, I highly caution you against reintroducing any sleep props. A sleep prop is any external strategy or item your baby uses to drift off to sleep; this includes pacifiers, rocking, nursing, etc. This should be a “no exception” rule. Your child thrives on consistency, and it’s important that we accommodate those needs rather than waiver in our approach while away. When we reintroduce sleep crutches, we sacrifice a short-term disruption at 7:00 pm for a full night of sleep disturbances.


Now you’re visiting whomever, and they want your little one awake so they can see them, play with them, take a thousand pictures, and get them ridiculously overstimulated. As a mom who has extended family all over the country, I know this game like the back of my hand. I also know it’s exceptionally difficult to tell friends and family members that you’re putting an end to the fun because the baby needs to get to sleep.

If you need permission to be the bad guy, I’m giving it to you right here and now.

Don’t negotiate, don’t make exceptions, and don’t feel bad about it. After all, you deserve alone time to visit, and when the baby is asleep, you have the opportunity to catch up. If they’re insistent, let them know when the baby will be getting up and tell them to hang around, come back, or catch you the next time. Better yet, tell people in advance when to expect some baby time based on your child’s schedule.

I know it sounds harsh, but the alternative is an almost immediate backslide of the schedule. Baby misses a nap, gets all fired up because of all the new faces and activity, then overtiredness kicks in, cortisol production goes up, and the next nap is ruined, which results in more overtiredness. This is likely to derail nighttime sleep, and before you know it, you’re headed home, and it seems like the baby did nothing but cry the entire trip. Relaxing for you, right?

I’m not even slightly exaggerating. It happens that quickly. I know. I’ve lived it.

Final Thoughts

Holiday Sleep

After years of working with traveling parents, I find the biggest reason they give in is, quite simply, because they’re embarrassed. The feeling that everyone is making judgments about how you’re parenting is nearly overwhelming at these gatherings, but in those moments, remember what’s really important here.

Your child, your family, and their health and well-being.

Stand tall and remember that you’re a superhero, defending sleep for those who are too small to defend it for themselves. If you want to wear a cape and give yourself a cool superhero name, you go right ahead. WonderMom, UberMama, The Somnum Inducere, if you’re feeling really fancy. Just remember that, like any superhero, you may be misunderstood by the masses.

Ignore them. You’re on a mission.

Written by: Holly C. Bollinger 
Owner, Bollinger Sleep Consulting LLC

Certified Pediatric Sleep Sense TM Consultant B.A. (Eng) M.A. (Elem & SpEd)
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