Are you visiting family in the near future? Visiting family and honoring your child’s sleep can be challenging. Inevitably your child’s sleep environment will change, their schedule might get interrupted, and frankly, sleeping your whole family at someone else’s home can be awkward.
The last thing that we need when we stay with family is to feel uncomfortable and stressed. There is a fine balance in respecting the ins and outs of the home your are visiting, and honoring your child’s sleep. Who knew it could be complicated?!
Set Up a Sleep Conducive Environment
Children sleep best in dark, cool and quiet environments. Often the rooms that we sleep in away from home are not set up just so. The key is to prepare ahead.
- Pack a white noise machine: Your kids likely go to bed before the rest of the house does. You do not want to have to tiptoe after they go to bed. White noise is key to blocking out the noises of the rest of the family staying up and catching up. If you don’t have a white noise machine, an app on your smartphone or tablet will work. Just be sure to turn off all other notifications.
- Bonus Tip: Place the white noise machine next to the door in the room they are staying in. If you have young children, you will want to protect their little ears. To do so, you want to make sure that the white noise is no louder than 60 decibels.
- Darken the room: You don’t want sunlight shining in while they are trying to sleep. Our family travels with black garbage bags and tape. It is an easy and inexpensive way to make their room darker. You can also tack or tape a blanket up over the windows or purchase travel blackout blinds.
- Bring a fan: Much to my dismay, we can’t always ask people to make their homes cooler. It is in fact, their home. So, we travel with a fan. It is difficult to sleep when too warm and for babies under 12 months, for safety, it is important to keep them from overheating to help prevent SIDS.
- Do not forget the sleep necessities: Monitor, sheets, pack n’ play, favorite stuffed animals and blankets (if they are old enough to have these items safely). The last thing you want is to leave their special monkey at home. Trust me, we’ve done this! DON’T DO IT!
- Involve Them: I am a big believer in honoring who our kids are as human beings. I have always let my kids watch me set up their rooms when we travel and now that they can help, they do. This way you are communicating to them that this is where they will sleep and it is a safe and comfortable space.
Keep the Routine
Being away from home can be hard on the littles because it is a strange environment. You can make it easier on them by sticking to that nice soothing bedtime routine that you have at home. The bedtime routine is comforting and a great communication with your kids that sleep is coming. Grandparents, aunts and uncles will surely want to spend some extra time with the kids and involving them in the bedtime routine can be great for bonding and helping your kids to feel more comfortable in the new environment. They can read a story or give the kids their bath.
Stick to the Schedule, But Don’t Let it Kill Ya
Sticking to an age appropriate schedule is important to help keep our kids happy and well rested. However, that is not always possible when you are with family. You might take a look at your plans while you are away and decide where making exceptions might be necessary or desired. Skip a nap for a trip to the zoo (or try to take it on the run). Plan for a later bedtime to see holiday lights in the neighborhood. Do it! The key here is try to only vary from the schedule 20% of the time and make up for the lost sleep with an earlier bedtime that day or the following day. By following this rule of thumb, you will likely avoid any sleep disturbances.
Perhaps you get lucky and everyone has their own room, but that’s not likely, is it? So how can we encourage great sleep when shared rooms are almost inevitable?
- Sharing A Room With Your Child: In my opinion, this is the better choice than having kids share a room, when they are not used to doing so. If you need to share a room with your child, put him or her to bed at the normal time and then sneak in when you are ready to go to bed. If they wake in the night, try to stick to how you would normally respond if you were at home.
- Children Sharing A Room: This option is easier as kids get older when they can understand sleep rules, or when they are babies. However this can be tough in the toddler stage where an understanding of sleep rules doesn’t exist, but play with their siblings does ;). We attempted this once with our kids at 3 and almost 2. For nap time, for two days they played “Ring Around The Rosy” in their separate pack n’ plays. We ended up roomsharing with one of the boys so that we could honor their sleep before they became overtired. When you can, opt to split up the kids during the toddler stage. The ability to roomshare well can take some time that might not be accomplished in a day or two if not used to it.
Encountering Sleep Troubles (early mornings / night wakings)
If you run into early mornings or night wakings on your trip, this is the first sign that your child has become overtired. Stop making exceptions to the sleep schedule if you can and spend a day or two making up for lost sleep. You will want to do this so that the sleep struggles don’t snowball. The best way to make up for lost sleep is an early bedtime or two.
If your kiddo does wake early or in the night, do your best to respond in the same manner that you would at home. However, if you need to make some exceptions here for the good of the whole house sleeping, do it. Just be careful that it doesn’t become a habit and jump right in when you return home.
Sleep is important. It is vital to our health, happiness and growth. In the end it is important to enjoy your time with extended family. So, give a little, try to stay flexible and prepare. This should bring the stress level down and help everyone get the rest that they need.