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Solving sleep problems after holidays

Solving sleep problems after holidays

It's extremely common for sleep problems to develop either during or after holidays, even with children who have previously been excellent sleepers. Your child may now be needing extra help to fall asleep at bedtime, waking in the night or may have become used to new habits such as feeding in the night.

Sleep problems can develop after even a very short holiday. It generally takes about 3-4 days for good sleep habits to be established, so the reverse can also develop in a similar time frame!

Sleep problems can develop after even a very short holiday. It generally takes about 3-4 days for good sleep habits to be established, so the reverse can also develop in a similar time frame!

Reasons sleep problems develop on holiday

The usual causes are that your child has become used to one or more of the following:

  • having parents in the same room as the child, both at bedtime and during the night.

  • has got out of their usual routine, including getting used to a later bedtime.

  • extra assistance has been used to settle, both at bedtime and during the night, eg feeding to sleep or feeds in the night.

Resolving holiday sleep problems

There are 3 main objectives that will help your child return to settling and sleeping through the night independently:

  1. Ensure that your child is in an age appropriate routine including appropriate day sleeps and bedtime no later than 7.30pm.

  2. Ensure that your child knows how to self-settle at bedtime.

  3. Ensure your child can get back to sleep during the night without help.

Helpful hints to get bedtime back to normal after holidays

If your child has become used to sleeping in the same room as you

This is the most common issue that develops from holidays, as we often all sleep in the same motel room, tent or a family member's house while we're away from home.

Your child will have become used to having you there as they fall asleep and/or when they stir in the night. So you will need to work on getting your child used to sleeping without you there for them. They will need to be able to self-settle at bedtime and to be able to resettle themselves when they wake in the night. You can choose either to do this gradually or go cold turkey - depending on how serious the new dependence on you is and also how you feel about some crying or tantrums!

Cot & Bed Sleepers - Gentle technique

If you want to use a gentle and gradual approach, think about the end goal of your child not needing you there at bedtime and work back from there. Break it down into small steps and allow yourself a week or two to work through the steps.

As you start this process, we recommend you introduce some relaxing bedtime music that you can both listen to as your child falls asleep. Also ensure they have something to cuddle (other than you!), such as a blankie or soft toy. You also may want to use a night-light if you don't already.

You may start by lying on your child's bed while they fall asleep. Explain you will stay there until they fall asleep. Then the next night move to sitting next to the bed while they fall asleep, again listening to the sleep music together. Do this for a night or two, then move the chair a couple of feet away from the bed.....and over the next week or so, move the chair towards the door. Your child will get used to you being further away and will also be getting used to the relaxing music and their cuddly as cues to fall asleep. Leave the sleep music on repeat if your child is waking in the night, as this can help them resettle them self without needing you!

We recommend that you use the same approach for any waking in the night, and be consistent with the step you are up to. So if you had the chair half way towards the door at bedtime, do the same thing in the night.....resist the temptation to make life easier for yourself by either putting your child in your bed or getting into bed with them. Yes, they will likely go back to sleep quicker tonight, but you are back to square one with your sleep plan as you are confusing your child about what you want them to learn.

If you would like more information on this approach to solving sleep problems:

Gentle Sleep Training for Toddlers >

Cot Sleepers - quick technique

If you are looking for a quicker approach to solving your holiday sleep problem, and you are OK with short periods of crying or tantrums, then you could use our 'verbal reassurance technique.

If your child is a cot sleeper and over 4 months, the Sleepeasy Solution DVD will show you exactly what to do. The process involves leaving your child to self-settle for 5 minutes. If she is still protesting after 5 mins, go inside the door and go half way to the cot and verbally reassure her that she can go to sleep eg "it's time to go to sleep darling, mummy knows you can do it by yourself". Then leave the room and wait for 10 mins before repeating the same process and same words. Again wait for 15 mins and repeat. With this process you don't go over to your child and pat, cuddle or pick-up...the idea is that the quicker you expect your child to self-settle, the quicker they will learn how to sleep without you helping them.


Join Facebook Sleep Support Groups >

Bed sleepers - quick technique

If your child is sleeping in a bed, then things are a bit more difficult! If they want you at bedtime or during the night, they will just come and get you! Solving this sleep issue requires complete not letting them sleep in your bed regardless of how many times they come into you during the night.

Using the gentle approach works very well with bed sleepers, as you can lie down with them as they get used to their own bed and you introduce some new sleep associations. But it can take days or weeks with really stubborn kids....

You could use a version of the Sleepeasy Solution (5,10,15 mins) approach with bed sleepers if you want a quick solution, especially if your child has generally been a good sleeper and they just need a reminder of your expectations now you are home and back to normal.

You can use a stairgate over the door, closing the door or repeatedly putting your child back in their bed.

For more information, we recommend the excellent audio CD The Sleepeasy Solution 2-5 years.

Your child has got out of their usual routine

It's also very common for children to get completely out of their usual routine while you are away on holiday. There's often lots of exciting things going on (eg Santa, cousins to play with, it's light outside the tent, time in the car) and also Mum and Dad may be trying to relax and enjoy their holiday too.... You may be on picnics or travelling during the day, so day sleeps and bedtime routines go out the car window. So after a week or two of no routine or a new routine, your child may well resist getting back into their usual home routine of day sleeps and bedtime.



Why persevere and get things back to how they were before your holiday?

  • Children sleep better at night when they get enough sleep during the day.

  • Well-rested children settle easier at bedtime.

  • Many parents enjoy some quiet time to themselves in the evening, eg children's bedtime at 7pm can be far more relaxing than bedtime at 9pm or later!

  • If your child is returning to childcare or preschool, they will need to get their body clock back to the usual times.

A gradual approach

So if your child is resisting your usual routine times, we recommend you take a gradual approach rather than try to insist that they sleep at times they have become un-used to. For example, if your toddler has got used to bedtime at 9pm while you were camping, trying to put him into bed at 7pm as soon as you get home will likely result in a huge tantrum! His body clock is telling him that there are 2 more hours of fun to be had, so it's no wonder he springs straight back out of bed or just screams his head off in the cot.

So a gradual approach would mean shifting the 9pm bedtime forward by 15 minutes per night over a week or so. At the same time, work on re-establishing your usual bedtime routine practices, such as a bath an hour before bedtime, followed by cuddles and 3 stories, then listen to some relaxing music in bed.

Solving several issues at once

If you are tackling other holiday sleep issues at the same time, eg wanting mum or dad there at bedtime, you may want to get the bedtime as close to normal before you start on addressing the bigger issues. This will mean you have some more time up your sleeve at bedtime and you will also be less likely to have an over-tired child on your hands at bedtime.

Daytime sleeps

With daytime sleeps, you may also find some resistance to returning to earlier sleep times. Again just take a gradual approach and appreciate that your child may also need a bit of help to get used to sleeping in their bed again if they have been taking their naps in the pushchair or car while you have been away.

Your child has got used to extra assistance to settle

The 3rd issue we find common after holidays is that a child has got used to extra help to get to sleep or they have had extra help to resettle in the night. This generally happens when baby wakes in the night crying, and the parents try to get baby back to sleep quickly before waking other family members or those nearby (eg other campers).


he extra help may be feeding to sleep, a feed to resettle, extra cuddles or rocking or putting your child into bed with you. If you are OK with the new habit that has developed over the holiday, then no problem!

But if you want your child to return to self-settling in the night, you will need to stop any extra assistance that has developed as a habit for both of you while you were away. Remember all children and babies over 5 months wake 4-6 times every night - you can't stop them waking but you can teach them to go back to sleep without waking you for help!

If you want your child to self-settle, you need to give them the opportunity to self-settle and also be consistent in expecting them to do so.

If your child could previously go through the night without a feed but got used to night feeds while you were away, then they can go back to no night feeds very quickly. It's really a matter of you deciding not to offer the feed and resettle them using a different technique or leave them to settle them self.

You may feel that your child cannot be settled without a they have become dependent on the feed to get back to sleep while you were away. However the longer you continue to use feeding to resettle, the more established the new habit will become and also it may well result in your child waking for more feeds rather than less. The same applies if you have been rocking your child to sleep while you were away - the waking will continue as long as you reinforce to your child that they need your help to get back to sleep.

As above, consistency is really important - eg once you decide that you will resettle without a feed, don't give in if your child protests for 30 minutes! Stick to your guns and your child will learn what you expect much more quickly overall even if you have a couple of tough nights in the meantime.

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