Sleep Training: Maintaining Your Sleep Plan

So you’ve done all the hard work: you’ve read a book, made a plan, and executed a sleep training program. Bedtime routine is relaxing and fun. He’s going to bed at the same time every night. He’s sleeping through the night consistently! You feel like you have your life back!

And now you’re going on vacation. Will this totally fuck everything up? Maybe. But probably not. Read on for our tips!

Note: These tips can be used no matter what method you used to arrive at your current sleep routine.

Repetition and routine is the key to maintaining a good sleep plan. So almost all of our advice boils down to: stick to your routine as much as possible, wherever and whenever possible.

One special day/weekend/week is not going to ruin your kid’s sleep habits forever. But repeated “just this once” moments may lead you to something dreaded by all parents: having to consider re-sleep training. Let’s try to avoid that! Here we go.

Assess the environment
When you read your sleep book, there were tips on how to make your nursery most conducive to sleep. If you’re on vacation or at a relative’s house, perform a mini version of this assessment and do what you can. If your nursery has blackout curtains, try to block out the light (a blanket works in a pinch). If there’s a clock or other device that might be too bright, remove it.

Try to make the environment as similar to home as possible.

All hail the bedtime routine
In our first post about sleep training, we talked about creating your bed time routine. I hope you were paying attention! A repeatable bed time routine that can be done anywhere with a few simple props will allow you to take this show on the road. Bring along whatever you need to recreate your bedtime routine (e.g., a bottle, two books, and your singing voice).  If you do bath right before bedtime, you should do that as well (even if it’s in a sink!). If you usually read books in your rocking chair, any chair or the floor will do, as long as you sweetly rock. PJs, lotion, diaper, glowing turtle, special lovey, music…whatever your bedtime routine consists of at home, it should be the same elsewhere.

The whole point of a bedtime routine is to signal to your kid that it’s time for bed. If you do it reliably, it’ll work anywhere.

Stick to your guns
If your sleep training method involved crying, you might have to endure some more crying at times. Most people see a steep decline in the number of minutes of crying after the first week. It’s easy to fall into the trap of, “Phew, that’s over forever.” It might not be, so prepare yourself. Outside of sickness and teething, you should be prepared to let your kiddo cry. Sending mixed signals when they cry could lead you to have to re-sleep train.

Try not to mess with naps
There are different schools of thought on this issue, ranging from ‘kids have to nap at the same time in the same place every day’ to ‘live your life freely! kids can be toted along anywhere.’ Since you asked for my advice (tacitly, by clicking on this post), I’m giving it to you: you should be home for nap time at the same time everyday (daycare days excluded, of course). Only the specialest of special reasons should mess with naps. Try to schedule things around naps. Car naps should be a last resort.

Forgive yourself, life happens
This may seem contrary to my last point, but Whitman said I could! Do your best to keep your sleep routine intact, but do please forgive yourself when life happens. It always does! If your appointment ran long and she falls asleep in the car, take a little nap yourself in your driveway when you get home. If you brought your pack-n-play to your friend’s bridal shower but he simply won’t go down in the guest room, pass that cranky/tired baby around the party and have a bellini. Do not let your child’s sleep routine rule your life to the point of oppression and do not use your mess-ups for self-flagellation. You’ll do better tomorrow.

Get a trusted babysitter (or three!)
Having a local babysitter who you can count on is amazing in a lot of ways. Date nights with your partner are a critical part of maintaining your sanity and your relationship. Couples who don’t often get dedicated romantic time can fall into the trap of feeling like roommates who used to fuck. Don’t let that happen to you!

But also, a babysitter allows you to say yes to stuff – weddings, housewarming parties, tailgates, etc – without then wondering where your kid will nap or if you can get home by bedtime. Babysitters aren’t cheap, I know, so if your kid could nap in a pack-n-play in the guest room of your friend’s new house…by all means! But after a certain age, most kids won’t nap happily in the middle of a noisy crowd. And you’ll have more fun without them anyway.

A word about car trips
We take a lot of weekend trips to visit family and friends. If the drive is more than two hours, we always drive at bedtime. I’d highly recommend you take the same approach (having a cranky baby awake in the back seat during a long drive is THE WORST). Here’s what we do.

  • Pack in advance
  • One person executes bedtime routine in the nursery
  • Other person packs the car
  • The last part of our bedtime routine is singing. We sing to him as we put him in the car seat and carry him out to the car. (Now that we use a convertible car seat, we sing him down to the car and into the seat)
  • We sing a few more rounds of the songs while we begin to drive. Bring a water bottle, there’s a lot of singing involved.
  • When Charlie was younger, he was usually asleep before we even got to the car. Now, he is awake for the first 30-45 minutes of the drive, cooing or quietly looking around. So now we leave a little earlier, score!
  • When we arrive at our destination, someone (Tim) runs into the house to set up the pack-n-play. Then he comes back out and gets Charlie. He sings a round of our songs and puts Charlie down. (When Charlie was younger, he wouldn’t wake up when we did this transfer. He does now.)
  • There usually isn’t much crying or fussing at this point. If there is, refer to “Stick to your guns”

If we have a shorter drive, we will do it during a nap. Same as above, we execute bedtime routine and drive.

So there you have it. Like most parenting advice: be as consistent as possible and forgive yourself when it gets hard. You got this!