Off days are bound to happen on occasion. Sometimes weekly. But, when you have a child that knows how to sleep well and is used to a predictable schedule, the off days don't need to keep you off schedule for long!
Here are the ways you can handle your child’s sleep when plans happen around or during nap time or bedtime.
But, first, a disclaimer: We have to remember that children are not robots - even the greatest of sleepers. 😉 A tweak here and there isn’t a guarantee that things will go perfectly. But, with those few adjustments, there’s a much greater chance things will go much smoother than if we were to do nothing.
That to say,
show grace to your child and to yourself if these “tweaks” don’t work out the way they’re intended.
If the plans are happening during nap time.
Honestly, other than the fact that I’m a homebody and would rather have people come to my house anyway, we host a lot of our family gatherings so our children’s sleep is minimally disrupted. But, I know that’s not always possible for (or the desire of) everyone! Nor is an event like that always the cause of a nap time disturbance. So, here’s how you can handle your child’s nap(s) if your plans are happening somewhere other than your house during nap time.
If you can’t/don't want to skip the nap
I don’t recommend skipping the nap if your child is either taking multiple naps (it’s often harder for babies to miss a nap and be ok about it) or they just recently transitioned to one. So, if the nap needs to happen and you won’t be home, here are some options:
If you will be going to someone's home, check about bringing your sound machine, pack and play, and SlumberPod (use code GOODNIGHTFAMILIES20 for $20 off!) and set up a nap spot at their house (this is ideal if your gathering starts within 30 minutes of your child’s nap time). If you don’t have the SlumberPod or don’t have enough time to get one, set up the pack and play in a dark room (a well-ventilated walk-in closet is the best for this) with the sound machine;
Leave a little early, take the scenic route, and have an on-the-go nap (which will likely be shorter and of lesser quality, but it will at least help curb some of the sleep pressure);
Manipulate their schedule so you can time their nap for before, during, or after your plans (whether at home or wherever you'll be).
When manipulating the schedule, don’t shift things any more than 30 minutes.
Wake your child 30 minutes earlier from their previous sleep so they’ll be ready for their nap slightly earlier.
For a one-napper, wake them 30 minutes earlier in the morning.
For a multiple-naps-napper, wake them 30 minutes earlier from their previous nap.
Put them down for their nap 30 minutes earlier whether at home or at the host’s house.
Skip the nap
I don’t recommend this for babies on 3+ naps - it’s usually just not worth it! But, for older babies that have been on 2 naps for a little while and for toddlers, this can be an option!
Firstly, communicate with your child that the day will be a bit different. Let them know what, when, and where things will be happening and that their nap time will look different that day.
Don’t wake them in the morning/from their previous nap; let them sleep as long as possible.
If they wake at their usual time or earlier, leave about 30 minutes earlier than needed in hopes they’ll catch a little snooze on the way. Even a little bit helps!
Do a quick bedtime routine and an early bedtime by 60-90 minutes.
Treat the next day like any other day - normal wake-up and nap times. If you weren't able to do the early bedtime or they're extra tired from all the excitement, do an earlier bedtime, just 15-30 minutes can be helpful!
Your plans are happening during bedtime, or close to it.
The perk to this is you have the whole day to (hopefully) tank up on some extra sleep.
For babies, if you'll be going to someone's home, ask the host if you can bring and set up your sound machine, pack and play, and SlumberPod (use code GOODNIGHTFAMILIES20 for $20 off!) so you can get your little one down for sleep while you’re there. (Again, you can use a dark room instead of the SlumberPod!)
For convenience’s sake, you may want to do their bath at home (or simply skip it).
Do an abbreviated version of their routine at the host’s house. Bring a favorite book or two along with their familiar sleep items from home.
Once it’s time to leave, scoop them up, put them in the car seat, and straight to bed when you get home.
If they happen to wake fully in the transfer, do another quick bedtime routine at home and get them in bed.
For toddlers and older children, let them sleep in later in the morning and/or for their nap the day of.
And again, communicate how the day will be different and they'll be having a later bedtime. Set their expectations (and yours) appropriately. Have this conversation a day or two beforehand and a couple of times the day of.
“Tonight we’re going to ______’s house! We’ll be there when we’re usually getting ready for bed, so bedtime will be a little bit later. Because of that, when we get home we’re going to do a quick bedtime routine and get into bed as fast as we can!”
For babies and toddlers, keep the next day's wake-up and nap times the same, letting them max out their daytime sleep needs, but do an early bedtime by 15-60 minutes depending on how tired they are from all the excitement the day before.
✨ In any scenario, it's totally ok to allow your little one to fall asleep on you if that works well in your situation! Just get back to your "regularly scheduled programming" the next day/sleep time to prevent a habit from forming.
Having a child that knows how to sleep independently is a child that can handle an occasional “off” day.
Your routines and schedule aren’t a prison, but a foundation that isn’t easily broken.
Enjoy your plans and rest assured that a few off days will not wreck your independent sleeper.
Don’t have an independent sleeper? I’d be honored to help you and your little one!