2020: An Unprecedented Year for Families

This year has been anything but normal: new babies may have never met aunts, uncles and grandparents because of COVID-19 precautions, young children are spending a lot more time at home with parents than normal, and parents, of course, are supporting virtual learning while oftentimes also working virtually themselves. For families who are seeing relatives and friends over the holidays, interruption to their child’s routine leads to fussiness and stress that they are already bending over backwards to prevent.

We know that sleep plays a crucial role in brain development and emotional regulation in little ones. This guide was created to help support parents and children during what we know will be an upside-down holiday season.

Healthy Sleep and the Holidays

As it comes to a close, many families are being very intentional with visiting loved ones, introducing new additions to the family, and indulging in a little well-deserved quality time. Naturally, the hustle and bustle of the season brings with it a lot of stress and a lack of sleep. Between the cooking, shopping and cleaning, there is much to be done, turning the favorite time of the year into the most stressful time of the year.

This break from normal routine can not only affect your sleep, but also rest for your little ones, too, disrupting normal sleep cycles and upsetting the finicky rest-to-tantrum ratio that parents so carefully balance each day.

Whether you’re traveling abroad or staying at home this holiday season, safe and healthy sleep protects children and adults’ physical health in these unprecedented times.

Holiday travel can especially disrupt children’s routines, taking them away from their beds and adding another layer of stress and curiosity that can keep sleep at bay. The uncertainty of being away from home, coupled with sleeping in a strange environment, can make even the most secure child uneasy as you suddenly find yourself surrounded by new people and different foods while you engage in new adventures. 

For parents, this adds a whole new layer of concern as parents have the added responsibility of ensuring that their holiday accommodations allow for safe sleep, clear of any potential hazards that can harm your child. 

In This Article

Why Is Sleep So Important For Kids?

Sleep is important for all ages, but it is especially important for growing children. “Sleep is no less important than food, drink or safety in the lives of children,” says Dr. Michael J. Breus.

The brain has a lot of responsibility – it keeps us aware, active and functional. Sleep is what keeps our brains going, providing the recharge so that you can function each day. 

“Sleeping well increases brain power just as weight lifting builds stronger muscles,” continues Dr. Breus, “because sleeping well increases your attention span and allows you to be physically relaxed and mentally alert at the same time.”

Children’s sleep habits can have significant bearing on their growth and development. In fact, “Studies have shown that kids who regularly get an adequate amount of sleep have improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health,” says Rachel Dawkins, M.D., of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

No doubt, a healthy amount of sleep over the holiday season is a high priority in avoiding tantrums and meltdowns.

The amount of sleep that your child needs all depends on age. 

Recommended Sleep for Infants

Child’s AgeSuggested Amount of Sleep
Newborns – 3 months16-18 hours
4 months – 12 months12-16 hours
1 – 2 years old11-14 hours
3 – 5 years old9-12 hours
6 – 12 years old9-12 hours
13 – 18 years old8-10 hours

Source: American Thoracic Society (ATS)

Most children also nap during the day. While most children over the age of two are okay with a single nap, newborns and young infants may need several naps each day. ATS reports that naps usually fade away by age five.  

Sleep & Emotional Regulation

With the excitement of the holiday season, on top of everyday practices that already affect sleep, it’s especially important for children to get an ample amount of rest. Their sleep health is directly related to their emotional well-being, and at a time when emotions are running high and there’s so much excitement to be had, you should be conscious of what your child is engaging with during the day. 

Tips for Staying on a Healthy Sleep Schedule

Maintaining a healthy sleep schedule becomes even more important when a child’s routine is broken. Fortunately, these guidelines can help you set your little one up for successful rest:

  1. Keep sleep times the same. Travel may make it difficult since you are more susceptible to environmental factors, but do your best to stick to your child’s regular wakeup and bedtimes.
  1. Bring comfort on the road. Even though you may be away from home, you can still surround your child with favorite comfort items, such as a blanket, pillow, pajamas or pacifiers.
  1. Build in a buffer. It may take longer for your child to wind down for a nap, so plan for some extra time to settle down. 
  1. Keep out extra light. Room-darkening or blackout curtains can help your child sleep better, whether it’s during naptime or sleeping in during mornings. If you’re traveling, use a comfortable eye mask to help sleep come easier.
  1. Block out excess noise. When you are away from home, you can’t always control the noise around you, but you can help your child find rest with the help of a white noise machine, fan or even noise-cancelling headphones for older children.
  1. Maintain a healthy diet. Sugar before bed can have the opposite effect when your child is trying to sleep, so instead eat a healthier diet that especially limits the many seasonal cookies, candies and goodies that are so prevalent during the holidays.
  1. Set the scene. Bedtime in a new environment can be scary, but introducing your children to their room upon arrival will help them to feel at home. They will also be more comfortable when it comes time to sleep. 

Image: Shutterstock/Makhh

Safe Sleep Environment: Holiday Edition

As parents, it’s your job to keep your child safe, and it’s a love that knows no bounds. For many, that means following Safe Sleep Guidelines to ensure that children are able to safely count their sheep. 

 Unsafe sleeping-related deaths are far too common, and the statistics are staggering.

  • Each year, there are an estimated 3,500 infant deaths in the U.S. due to sleep-related issues. 
  • Nearly a quarter of all mothers do not place their babies on their back to sleep.
  • Nearly 40% report using soft, unsafe bedding.

Babies are too little to keep themselves safe from potential hazards in the bed. This is why parents must be diligent in how they lay their infants down to sleep and what kind of bedding they use. This becomes even more critical as you embark on holiday travel.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, is when a baby under one year old suddenly dies from an unexplained cause. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines SIDS as the “sudden and silent medical disorder that can happen to an infant who seems healthy.” Some also refer to SIDS as crib death or cot death, because it commonly occurs when babies are sleeping.  

With such added consequences for poor sleep, parents may worry about how to keep their children safe while away from home during the holidays. 

Safe Sleep Away From Home

The holidays can be tough on everyone, including your children. The sudden influx of family and rush of activity can be overwhelming, as loved ones wrestle to coo and fuss over little ones they haven’t seen in ages. The constant attention and increased energy can easily affect your children’s sleep patterns, keeping them up later than usual and exhausting them more than usual.

Parents who are concerned with safe sleep may find themselves faced with unsafe sleeping scenarios while staying with relatives. Here are a few red-flag situations to keep an eye out for. 

Avoiding Unsafe Sleep Scenarios

  1. Avoiding naptime with inebriated relatives.

It’s only natural for families to want to cuddle with their newest arrival, but it’s especially unsafe for inebriated relatives who want to nap with the child. A casual nap on the couch is a time-honored holiday tradition, but sleeping with a baby in your arms after a few too many is never a good idea. 

Research shows that SIDS-related deaths were far more likely to be sleeping next to a parent who recently drank alcohol or had taken drugs. 

  1. Avoid grownup beds.

A family member or friend may volunteer to put the baby down for a nap, and while the intention is undoubtedly good-hearted, it can still impact your child’s safety if your baby isn’t put in the right environment.  

This includes checking for the following hazards:

  • A child can suffocate in a bed that is too soft.
  • Blankets or quilts can also easily become a choking hazard.
  • Babies can also roll off beds, sustaining injuries from their fall. 

Studies show that soft bedding is the top cause of suffocation-related deaths in infants, with researchers writing that suffecoation happens more than any other cause in infant deaths. Many of these deaths occur in the wrong kind of bed. 

  1. Screen family gifts.

Well-intentioned family members may flood your baby with new presents, like a monogrammed blanket or special stuffed animal. Be careful not to bring these items into the bedroom where they can become a choking hazard.

  1. Avoid vintage cribs and playpens.

Vintage may be trendy, but it’s often not safe as far as your baby is concerned. Many older-model cribs and playpens lack the safety features of modern products, making them a serious safety risk. The Consumer Product Safety Commission provides a helpful search tool that you can use to check which products have been recalled.

Options for Parents Away from Home

Unfortunately, avoiding unsafe sleeping practices isn’t easy. Parents know all too well that it just isn’t realistic to bring your whole crib setup on the road to a friend or family member’s house. Check out these options that make safe sleep away from home possible.

  • Pack n’ Play. While cumbersome, a Pack n’ Play can be the most convenient option for parents seeking a mobile sleep and playpen for their little ones. If you are flying, be sure to check your airline’s policy for your Pack n’ Play, although most will simply charge a checked-bag fee.   
  • Travel bassinet. If a Play n’ Play requires more space than you have, consider a travel bassinet. This is an option that is reserved for those who cannot yet crawl. There are tons of lightweight bassinets that can easily travel with you and take up little real estate. 
  • Rent a crib (and other baby gear). You’re not the only parent traveling with children this holiday season, so many places offer you the option to rent your equipment instead. Companies like Babyquip.com, Baby’s Away, Babies Getaway, and Traveling Baby are all services designed to deliver a helping hand with rental cribs and Pack n’ Plays when you need them.
  • Set up a co-sleeping space. If you opt to co-sleep, choose a firm bed that is large enough to fit both of you comfortably. Many parents choose to push the bed up against the wall to prevent any falls and remove as much bedding as possible to ensure there are no choking hazards in the bed.

“Confirm that you will have a bed big enough for co-sleeping at your destination before you take off without an alternative,” advises travel experts at The 2 Idiots Travel Blog. “If you have an infant, also consider carefully whether co-sleeping is something you feel you can do safely (and consult with your pediatrician if you have questions!).”

Final Thoughts

The holiday season is a time to come together and enjoy the blessings we have in our lives. While coronavirus could very change the face of traditional holiday celebrations this year, families all over the world are determined to find a way to be together and celebrate the holidays. 

Travel can make it very hard to maintain proper sleep habits for your growing children, but with a little care and creativity, it is certainly possible. Whether it is making extra arrangements for rentals or accommodations on the road, ensuring your child is in safe environments, or maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, you can ensure that you and your family have a safe, happy and healthy holiday season with just a little preparation.