Tips for parents of children who sleep alone, age 6 months to 5 years.
• Bring familiar sheets and all the objects usually in the crib or bed. The more you make it look like home the better. In preparation for a trip, always have the same objects in your child's crib or bed at night and for naps so that these objects become a cue for sleeping.
• If you will be staying at the same place each night, the day you arrive at your destination, choose carefully where you want your child to sleep so that you don't have to change it. The child's sleep will be better if it occurs in the same place each night.
• A very high percentage of children are unable to return to sleeping alone easily if they have slept with one or both parents during a trip, especially if the trip is 5 nights or more. If you will be staying at the same place each night on your trip, it's probably in the best interest of everyone to consider putting the child down awake at bedtime, just like at home, knowing there may be some crying or fussing. If you can preserve your child's ability to fall asleep unassisted at bedtime, significant sleep problems are less likely to develop.
• If your child will be sleeping in the same room with you, try to place the crib in a corner, and try to put something in between the crib and the parents' bed such that the child cannot look right into the parents' faces should she wake during the night (because it may be harder for her to return to sleep)
• The first time you put your child down awake when out of town, it should be at night and not for a nap (if you arrive at nap time, allow your child to fall asleep in the car or stroller or in someone else's arms, not a parent), perhaps around the child's usual bedtime or a little later. Make the room dark and try to follow the same bedtime routine you have at home as much as possible.
• Very often a young child will have a much easier time falling asleep the first couple of nights if just one parent is with the child for the hour before bedtime (rather than both parents) and that same parent puts the child to bed.
• Don't allow your child to cry long, probably no longer than 10 minutes if there is true crying, and only 15 – 20 minutes if just fussing or whining. Allow your child to take a car or stroller nap the first day or two. Don't put your child down awake for a nap until he or she has been put down awake at bedtime one or two consecutive nights with success.
• If your child cries a lot at bedtime or wakes during the night, you will need to use your best judgment – go to your child and provide assistance as needed. Try to get your child to return to sleep in the crib but don't push too hard. Sometimes it will be necessary to rock or walk the child to sleep or provide a feeding, and sometimes you will even need to bring the child to bed with you. Do what is necessary, especially if you are staying with other people who need to get some sleep.
• When possible, use the "Helper Parent versus Enforcer Parent" strategy: Assign one parent to be the helper parent. During travel, the helper parent provides assistance (such as holding, rocking, bottle) to the child to help him fall asleep at bedtime and following a night waking, whenever help is needed. At naptime, allow the child to fall asleep in the car, stroller or swing, or the helper parent could provide assistance such as holding, rocking or lying with the child. Upon returning home, the enforcer parent puts the child down awake at bedtime, returning to the pre-travel sleep routine (it helps if the helper parent is not home an hour prior to bedtime the first night or two), and the enforcer parent manages any night waking the first few nights. Because the child does not expect the enforcer parent to provide assistance, the child should not have as much crying (if any) when returning to the former sleep routine. If the child cries, the enforcer parent makes several visits to the child to provide reassurance, but not assistance, and the child relearns to sleep independently.
By Nancy Birkenmeier, BSN, RN, Sleep Medicine and Research Center, St. Luke's Hospital
St. Luke's Hospital is a regional healthcare provider committed to improving the quality of life for patients and the community. It offers care in more than 60 specialty areas and was the only St. Louis hospital named an America's 50 Best Hospital™ by Healthgrades® in 2007 through 2014 based on quality.
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