When I am talking to parents at the beginning of our journey together to get their little ones sleeping peacefully and independently through the night, I stress remaining consistent with all sleep routines and situations. To be honest, I probably sound a bit like a broken record. But whether it comes to the bedtime routine, where baby is sleeping, or how you react and enforce rules when your little one comes out of their room during the night, consistency is essential for achieving consistent, long hours of quality sleep at night.
Inevitably, I can hear it in their voices when parents start to get a little nervous that they are going to have to be 100% consistent with sleep, routines and schedules for THE. REST. OF. TIME.
What I imagine is going through their heads:
“Eek, I want us all to sleep better but I’m not sure I’m ready to fully be a slave to naps and sleep schedules for the rest of childhood.”
This is what I imagine because I’m a Momma too and I’ve been in your shoes. So, let’s be real for a moment.
Life just doesn’t work that way
Every time things are going smoothly, this crazy little thing called life decides to throw a curveball, or two or three. A cousin’s wedding, another child’s birthday party here and another birthday party there, family gatherings and then, of course, you can’t forget the occasional last-minute change of plans or emergency – all recipes for keeping your little one up late or missing naptime.
The question that always apprehensively comes up is:
Am I ever going to be able to make exceptions? Or do I have to be 100% consistent 100% of the time to keep my child sleeping well?
Well the good news is if you are not 100% consistent 100% of the time you likely aren’t going to completely undo the hard work and sleep success you have achieved. However, it is a little more complicated than that.
when can you make exceptions to your child’s sleep?
Well, the general answer is, “As rarely as possible, but as often as necessary.”
Crystal clear, right?
Ha, not so much.
Here are my best tips on making these decisions for you and your little one.
The first step is to ask yourself this very important question when deciding which curveballs warrant making an exception.
“Is [life’s current curve ball] worth potentially dealing with:
- a grumpy baby all day tomorrow?”
- a night wake up or two tonight?”
- Nap struggles or resistance tomorrow?”
Why is this the most important question to ask yourself?
Missing a nap, a late bedtime or other changes in your little one’s sleep routines often lead to your little one getting overtired. Overtiredness is everyone’s WORST ENEMY! Especially when it comes to our kids and their sleep.
Kids who are overtired have a harder time falling asleep, which leads to a bad night, an early morning (weird, but true!), which can lead to more overtiredness, and so on. It’s not a cycle you want to get into.
You have to evaluate the pros and cons of the situation for your life and your little ones. Additionally, you will want to make sure when you decide to make exceptions you are allowing room to let your little one make up sleep to keep from getting into a cycle of overtiredness.
Is it worth it to make exceptions to your child’s sleep?
This is a question I can’t really answer for you. Some little ones by nature just seem to adapt more easily to changes. Some kids handle a slight change in the schedule like a champ, whereas others can get thrown for a loop that lasts for the next couple of days if they so much as go down 30 minutes late for a nap.
Where you draw the line in terms of exceptions that are worth it versus not worth it, is a personal and family decision based on your comfort levels and your child.
What to do when you are going to make exceptions to your child’s sleep
When you decide a certain situation warrants an exception (because it will happen), here are some tips to help minimize any repercussions.
Bend the rules, don’t break them
You don’t want to do too much at once. Typically, planning a missed nap and a late bedtime on the same day is going to be harder for your little one to handle and recover from than one or the other.
Plan your drive around nap time so your little one can snooze in the car or bring a pack-n-play to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, so baby has somewhere to lay down when it is time for a nap. Or be fashionably late after naptime and stay a little later in the evening, if that is what feels best for your family.
There are lots of options, so you’ve got to evaluate which works best for your family.
I know in my family, we can try to plan to leave early to get home in time for an early bedtime, but we tend to struggle with this. For us, putting our toddler down for her nap and leaving for whatever event we are going to after naptime works best, even if we are a bit late.
Don’t be afraid of an early bedtime the next day or two to help compensate for missed sleep.
Honestly, this is a must in the day or two (sometimes even three) after a missed nap, late bedtime or other exception that causes your child to miss a bit of their normal sleep hours.
A bedtime 30-60 minutes earlier than normal, can help put a stop to the cycle of overtiredness. It allows your child to make up for missed sleep so that they do not accumulate a sleep debt. You want to avoid this because a sleep debt can contribute to the cycle of overtiredness which becomes increasingly difficult to pull out of the longer it continues.
Get your little ones sleeping well on a consistent basis before making too many exceptions.
Well-rested kids are often more adaptable and accepting of changes to their routine. If you are in the process of helping your little ones learn to sleep well, ideally, give them a month or so of solid, quality nights of sleep before trying to make these exceptions.
This also helps ensure you child has mastered their independent sleep skills. Once they have this mastery, they can comfortably and easily use their skills to get themselves to sleep even in situations that are not ideal (like a late bedtime where they are bordering on overtiredness or bedtime after a missed or shortened nap).
Life happens AND sleep is possible
It seems like whenever we think it is finally going to be a ‘calm’ time of year things start popping up out of the woodwork. Life tends to be full of situations, events and people wanting you to make exceptions to your child’s sleep schedule. Weigh the costs and benefits and prepare as best you can for bending, not breaking, the rules, to keep sleep on track at your house.
As always, if your little one isn’t sleeping well or through the night to begin with, book your free evaluation call with me so we can chat through what might be causing your little one to not sleep well and strategies to help make quality sleep a reality in your home! We can take you and your family from the constant exhaustion, stress and unpredictably that poor sleep brings to enjoying life and parenthood with a well-rested, thriving family.
Cheers to healthy, happy sleep!