Many thanks to Nicole Johnson, sleep coach and owner of The Baby Sleep Site, who shares these sanity-saving summertime sleep tips for babies and toddlers. In addition to being a sleep expert, she is also the mom of two boys (one of whom never let her sleep).
Summertime is special; days are long, sunny and bright, giving you the time to fit in as much fun as you can manage…a rookie mom adventure or a family camping trip, for example. But what’s not so much fun? Late bedtime problems, early morning waking or both: the common side effects of the sun’s long days.
You’ve probably noticed it by now. Your baby or toddler’s inner clock has been “set” with the help of the sun. Many babies start crying at bedtime and resisting sleep even more than usual. It’s also common for toddlers to stop staying in bed and falling asleep much later, trying to tell you, “I’m not tired!” (They might actually mean it, this time.) And putting a toddler to bed too early, when he’s not tired, can cause other schedule problems, such as more night-waking and waking up even earlier in the morning.
Here’s what you can do about it:
- Stop fighting the inevitable – Your baby or toddler is not necessarily testing you, but is honest to goodness not tired yet. This is not something he can change. Since the sun helps our body’s rhythms, one option is to simply embrace it. Set up a “downtime” routine in the evening, including puzzles or other quiet activities. You can even read that book you’ve been trying to get through and be a reading model. Set bedtime 30 minutes to an hour later than usual, reducing frustration for both of you. If your child is testing you, make sure you set firm limits for your toddler and return him promptly to bed, without much interaction. Anything too positive or too negative will make it a game and he will continue to be a “jack in the box.”
- Darken the room – Promote sleeping later in the morning and earlier bedtimes by darkening the room. Unfortunately, the results aren’t instantaneous. You need to start your quiet and darkened activities up to an hour before bedtime. It can be difficult to fool our bodies into thinking it is dark at bedtime, when it’s not, but with consistency, it can help. Having a darkened room does extend night sleep later in the morning, too.
- Nap earlier – Depending on the age of your baby, you can try shifting naps earlier so baby is more tired at bedtime, where she will sleep regardless of the sun being up. Of course, too over-tired and your baby could sleep worse, so it’s a delicate balance.
If you plan to travel this summer, having a later bedtime can definitely make it easier to soak in the sun and enjoy all the people and sites at your destination. It can also be daunting making sure baby gets her beauty sleep.
Here are a few tips to make family travels more enjoyable:
- Try to plan your snacks around take-off and landing, if possible. At least offer milk or water to help with the ears popping. Special occasion snacks, like fruit snacks, can be a hit when babies get older.
- Bring along a bed and bedding such as a Pack ‘n Play or travel crib (unless you are co-sleeping). Bring along any sheets, familiar stuffed animals, or loveys to make a “foreign” place as much like home as possible, for sleeping.
- Decide whether to bring your car seat. If you are leaving the country, you should check to make sure the car seat will work in your rental.
- Relax and have fun!
Traveling can be draining, so make sure you stay sane with more baby travel tips.
When summer ends, bedtimes will naturally get earlier again. Watch for cues that your baby or toddler is getting overtired, such as more crankiness or behavior problems, waking up even earlier in the morning, or numerous night wakings, and set bedtime accordingly.
Enjoy the rest of your summer!
Nicole Johnson is the owner of the BabySleepSite; she has received an honorary degree in “Surviving Sleep Deprivation,” thanks to her son’s “no sleep” curriculum. She is on a mission to help other parents solve their child’s sleep problems, too.