Just as you think you've got your night routine figured out, and your baby is sleeping on a regular schedule, you decide to take a vacation and bam! The kid is suddenly up at all hours again. Your baby's post-vacation sleep regression is bound to threaten your tenuous grip on any sense of chill you might have, and by the end of the night, you may both be in tears.
As a general rule, babies aren't the biggest fans of change. Once they have a good routine going, any aberration can make them irritable. Like Joey Tribbiani with no snacks, they are cranky, and they let you hear about it. Loudly. Possibly at three in the morning. Certified sleep expert and special education teacher Jensine Casey tells Romper that you should get back to your same old pre-nap and pre-bedtime routines you've always had. Even so, she says you can expect "an adjustment period of about three days (especially if time zones were changed), so it is important to stay consistent so the child will relearn the expectations around sleep."
However, Dr. Lina Velikova M.D., Ph.D., tells Romper that you can minimize the post-vacation regression if you can maintain your baby's routine while you are away. Sure, the environment will be different, but if they take their naps at roughly the same time, and keep up the same sleep hygiene rituals, you might not notice a huge regression. The same goes for toddlers, unsurprisingly.
"With keeping the regular timeline, you’ll have your toddler feel secure and thus easier to fall asleep," Dr. Velikova explains.
"After returning from vacation, do the usual routine, while talking to your child about the next step ahead," she continues. "Gather a few of their favorite toys and put them to bed, talking about how excited they are to be able to sleep all together in your child’s bed." It's a sleep party, and they're all invited.
You do whatever works, and there will probably be points where it feels like nothing is right. During these times it might also provide you some peace of mind to re-frame the way you're considering the problem. As sleep expert Rachel Gorton wrote for Motherly, your little one's sudden sleep issues are not a true regression because they aren't going back to previous behaviors and routines, technically; they're acting out of character in the moment in response to external stressors. Consider this: visiting your parents might make you feel more childlike, and even cause you to do things you don't normally do (like not cooking the entire time you're there) but you're not regressing to your teenage years, you're merely shifting your behaviors in response to the environment. (That slap fight that you had with your sister, though? Well, we won't mention that.)
Many of the issues that could be contributing to your baby's post-vacation sleep regression could be related to the habits you picked up on vacation, according to the Baby Sleep Science Sleep Resource Center. For instance, if you started rocking your baby to sleep again each night in the unfamiliar environment, even though you stopped doing it at home (or if you left nightlights on, nursed them to sleep, or maybe they just got used to hearing your Dad snoring in the adjoining bedroom), they might have developed a new sleep association while you were away. Dissolving that association is going to be a process.
If there was a time change, holy cow. That's quite the challenge. Jet-lagged babies are adorable little hell spawn that you love unconditionally, even if you have to remind yourself over and over how much you love them. Being jet-lagged yourself, you can understand intellectually how stressful the time change is, but emotionally, it's a rocky road. My own personal experiences with jet-lagged babies weren't fun, but there are a few tips I can offer. For example, make sure your baby is tired when you put them down. Those first few days are going to be rough, and I've learned that it takes roughly as many days to fix as there were hours difference in time.
I've also found that being jet-lagged in winter is more stressful than being jet-lagged in the summer, because there is less daylight to help your baby's wake and sleep cycle get back to normal. Recovering from jet lag is complex and difficult, but if you remember to keep your baby as active as possible during the transition (so that sleep comes easier and earlier), this does help. While I never eliminated my babies' naps, I did shorten them, and made sure my little ones got as much daylight as possible.
As is the case with everything related to babies, consistency is key... but wrenches will be thrown into the works, no matter what. Babies' needs change on a dime. They go through growth spurts, they get colds. Do what you can to make their sleep habits as routine and manageable as possible, and hopefully, things will go back to normal soon. If they don't, talk to your pediatrician; they might have ideas you haven't thought of just yet.
Jensine Casey, certified sleep expert and special education teacher, Baby O & I
Dr. Lina Velikova M.D., Ph.D., sleep specialist, Disturb Me Not