How to Keep Baby’s Sleep Schedule Over the Holidays

Four ways to keep Baby’s sleep on schedule, even when you’re on the road.

Photography by Paul Goyette, via Flickr (CC)

Photography by Paul Goyette, via Flickr (CC)

For many parents, keeping baby on a fairly strict sleep schedule is key to maintaining sanity. But over the holidays, when everyone wants time with your munchkin, it can be hard to stick to any kind of routine. Although friends and family may insist “babies are flexible,” or say things like “they are just so portable at that age,” those opinions aren’t helpful when you have a cranky baby on your hands.

That’s exactly what Jennifer Ryan wants to avoid when she takes her six-month-old so, to visit relatives this holiday season. The B.C.-based mom has told her family that Jack’s naps take precedence over everything. “We plan on having him nap at home as much as possible.” Still, she knows things may get a little chaotic. “We will probably be racing ­places between naps and then wherever we are for dinner, put him down there then bring him home and hope he falls asleep again,” she says.


While you might fully grasp the importance of routine, eager friends and family may need some convincing. The best way to deal with this is to be upfront and communicate your baby’s needs ahead of time. “Tell them that your baby is happiest when he follows his routine, and that to get the best out of him he needs regular naps,” says Josephine StCroix, parent and child health coordinator for Eastern Health in Newfoundland. “That way it won’t be a surprise when you need to take him away for a bit.”

A modified version of your usual routine is a good way to deal with a hectic holiday schedule, says Tracey Ruiz, a Toronto-based sleep doula who helps parents across the country resolve their children’s sleep issues. “A lot of people feel like they need to stay home, but if you take along a travel crib or a bassinette, you can put down your child as usual in a separate room for naps and at bedtime.” For younger babies, you can even use a stroller with a blanket over it in a quiet corner. The key is to create a sleeping environment while keeping to routine. It’s better, says Ruiz, to put your little one down closer to his regular bedtime in the new environment—for example, at grandma’s house in a travel crib—rather than trying to get an overtired baby into his own crib hours past schedule.


Luke MacGregor, dad of now 18-month-old twins, Lucy and Ellie, made the most of travel time last year given the grandparents live four hours away in opposite directions from his home in Fall River, N.S. “We made sure we were always driving during their nap times, stopping when they’d wake up, and tried to stick with their schedule as much as possible,” he says.

Don’t be overly concerned about an occasional nap in the car. “It is quite okay for a healthy baby to sleep in a car in the short term,” says StCroix. “It is in no way as restorative as sleeping in a crib, but a car nap is better than no nap.” To ensure baby stays safe in his seat, StCroix advises the following:


  • Frequently check a younger infant who lacks head control to ensure his head is positioned properly and not flopping forward on his chest, which can cause airway obstruction. The younger the infant, the shorter the intervals between checking should be, says StCroix. “As the infant grows and they have stronger neck and muscle control, they can tolerate sitting in a car seat for a longer period.”
  • Stop every hour or two to reposition baby, as little ones need to stretch their muscles like we do during long trips. Watch there are no pressure points on the skin.
  • Don’t let baby overheat. Avoid overdressing him and make sure the heater isn’t too high.
  • And, of course, never leave your baby unattended in your car at any time. Wherever you spend the night, Ruiz advises following baby’s usual bedtime routine. That means avoiding extra steps such as sleeping with him, rocking or stroking his back until he falls asleep. “If you do, it is going to make it harder to get back to a routine when you get home, as naturally they’ll want you to continue doing those things,” she says. “If you don’t act like things are different, your baby won’t, although you should keep in mind that he may fuss a little more because you are in a different environment.”

If timing allows, StCroix recommends giving yourself a day to get back to normal before resuming your regular routine. “This way, you can focus on baby in his home environment, allowing him to re-establish himself.”

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