By Brittney Stefanic
The summer sleep struggle is real
With summer quickly approaching, most parents are worried about weekend travel, later sunsets and frequent neighborhood BBQs totally derailing the routines they have created in their homes. Fact of the matter is… Those fears could not be more well-founded. Between the travel, excitement, increased outside play and wonky sunrise and sunset times, summer break is a pretty easy way to throw schedules and routines aside and end up with overstimulated babies, overtired toddlers and moms who are ready to pull (the rest of) their hair out.
But… I’m happy to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way! With some strategic planning and an iron will, you can keep that carefully orchestrated routine running just the way you did through the colder and darker winter months.
What NOT to do this summer
Here are seven of the most common mistakes made by parents in the summer, and of course, how to avoid them:
- The biggest mistake parents make in the summer is that they over-schedule themselves. They try to pack in all the fun and adventure they might normally have had back in their “child-free” days of summer, forgetting an important fact: They have a child (or children) now. Obviously there are many outside activities to be enjoying with the whole family, but the days of 9 pm sunset concerts in the park might be a bit more limited than they used to be.
- An occasional car nap or slightly later bedtime probably isn’t going to do too much harm to schedules, but if your baby spends a couple of days taking car seat naps here and there and having late bedtimes, they may become so overtired that by the time bedtime rolls around on day two or three, they have a complete meltdown and seem to “forget” all their sleep skills and are able to totally cry the house down.
- If that happens, overtiredness happens, you might start to get very nervous because (a) your baby, who has been happily chatting themselves to sleep for weeks, is now crying again, and (b) your mother-in-law is standing outside the door repeatedly asking you if you’re sure the baby is okay. You may start to give into this pressure and bend your expectations for your baby’s sleep. It’s easy to see how you could revert back to your own familiar ways in no time if you gave into this pressure and fear.
- It’s very normal for babies and toddlers to test the boundaries around sleep when they are somewhere new or experiencing a change in routine. Just because the rule is the rule at home, that does not necessarily mean the rule is the same at Grandma’s house or in a hotel. This may mean that your baby cries for some time during bedtime while travling or has a night waking or two. The best way to handle this is to stay consistent with how you would respond under normal circumstances at home. You can go in every ten minutes, or so, to offer a bit of reassurance, but other than that, don’t bend your rules. If you hang on tight to your consistency, within the first night or two away from home, your child will be used to the new environment and will be sleeping well again.
- Make sure you bring your child’s lovie and/or blanket and favorite sleep sack for naps and nights away from the house! Keeping consistency, as much as possible, is going to be a big win in your book. In other words… Familiarity is our friend, people.
- Another big mistake parents make is to bed share with their baby or toddler while traveling because it is the easier option. Even it’s it is only for a few nights, if your baby decides this is their new preferred location, you could find yourself starting back at square one when you get home and expect your kiddo to sleep in their own room. Most hotels have a crib you can use or rent, or take your pack and play along and use that as a crib. If your child is eight months or older, my advice is to try to make some sort of a private space for your baby to sleep. This could be the bathroom, if it’s big enough, or the closet. Anywhere that you can build some sort of a partition between you and your baby, so that if they wake up in the middle of the night they are less excited and not tempted by thinking it’s play time! Of course, getting an extra bedroom for your child is great if that’s an option for you.
- Darkness wins. The later sunset and early sunrise of summer means lots of brightness in the bedrooms. It is best to keep rooms dark, and I mean really dark, to avoid any decrease in production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, and increase in cortisol, the awake hormone. When traveling, this might mean packing some black trash bags and painters tape in your suitcase so you can make even the brightest of hotel rooms dark. You may feel silly going to this length, but I promise that you’d feel a lot worse if you were up at 4:45 with the sun!
Stay realistic in your expectations and summer time plans
I hope this list is helpful in determining what to avoid when it comes to over-committing yourself and your family this summer. Be realistic about what your priorities are, and don’t be afraid to voice your ideal plans to your family and friends. This summer might feel different than the ones without children in tow, but remember that different can also mean better! By all means, enjoy the sunshine, travel and time with friends and family, but remember that children crave consistency and stability. Everyone will be happier if schedules remain at least partially intact, and summer is, after all, a season of happy!
Sleep well, stay hydrated, and enjoy your summer adventures,
Brittney Stefanic is a pediatric sleep consultant and mother of one. She gets that when you don't sleep, you don't function no matter what season it is. You can find out more about what she does to support clients here, follow her FB page for sleep tips and tricks, and see photos of her crazy toddler on IG.
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