One of the questions we get asked most often is when and whether it’s okay for parents to introduce some flexibility into their children’s sleep schedules.
To give some context, when working with our clients we emphasize the need to commit to a consistent routine, timing of sleep, and sleep environment for a minimum of 2-3 weeks, with a view to giving their little ones the best chances of acclimatizing to the new norm and establishing the strongest sleep patterns. This might mean minimizing visitor contact, making fewer and shorter trips out of the home in the daytime, and staying home once it turns 6.30/7pm, which is baby’s bedtime.
We realize this regimented approach is not only intense for some, but unsustainable long term. For those whose babies are still on a 2-3 nap schedule, “cabin fever” could become a real problem. And what about momentous occasions like a birthday of an important family member, a significant family event, or even a doctor’s appointment. Surely sleep cannot, and should not trump all things?
Past the initial few weeks of setting the new norm, our approach is to encourage parents to push the boundaries a little, whether it means napping your little on the go, pushing bedtime a little later, or shifting the timing of the nap to accommodate a longer time out.
The key is to start slow. See how your child responds to the deviations one at a time rather than all at once. Each child is, after all, unique: 1 nap on-the-go might not affect your child, but pushing bedtime back by 30 mins might. You won’t know what your bub’s threshold is until you try.
A good ratio to bear in mind amidst your planning is 80:20- respect your little’s sleep schedule and sleep rhythms 80% of the time so (1) your little doesn’t forge new habits uncomplimentary to the hard work you have both put in during sleep training, and (2) your little gets the best quality sleep by being in optimal conditions (best time, best environment etc). And for the remainder 20% of the time, don’t.
And for those days when you’ve pushed your bub a little too far, and things start looking pear-shaped sleep-wise, don’t worry. Make up for overtiredness by putting your bub down for an earlier bedtime that day and ensure you’re back to your usual routine the following days and baby should settle right back.
In fact, you can take comfort that its precisely because you’ve equipped your child with the gift of solid sleep skills, a day or two’s worth of routine disruptions will not derail things.