Getting baby back on schedule: Dealing with sleep disruptions

Getting off a sleep schedule can throw your little one off, and it can be difficult to get back on track. Photo: nerissa's ring via Flickr

SILVER SPRING, Md, January 26, 2013 – It happens to everyone despite your best intentions and best efforts. Whether it is due to traveling, sickness, sleeping in a new place, changing for daylight saving time, or just a babysitter who could not get him into bed as scheduled, there comes a time when your little one gets off his sleep schedule. While the disruption can be minor if it is not too much of deviation, getting significantly off a routine can not only throw your little one off, it can also make it seem like you have no time to yourself or time to get anything accomplished without having a tiny child under foot.

Shift the time gradually

This is the gentlest approach to moving a bedtime or nap time. Each day sneak up the time you put the little one down by five or ten minutes. It is a slow tactic, so for large disruptions this may take longer to reset a skewed bedtime than you want to take. But because it is slow, it is easier to execute and adjust without major fights.

Tire him out

If you are trying to get back to naps after missing a few, or trying to reclaim an early bedtime, a tired child will fall asleep easier than one who is well rested. Try increasing your child’s activity level. Take them outside to run around. Spend time at a playground chasing them. Add a playdate with active children. Try introducing a new game that requires plenty of running or jumping. Any activity that gets them moving will help spend energy. Be careful to time your activities; too active too early and your little one might just take a longer nap and still be wide awake when you want him to go down for the night.

Take your child out to play to wear him out. A Tired baby is more likely to go to sleep sooner. Photo by Abigail Batchelder.


Create a calm environment

Trying to get a young one to go to sleep on time, let alone getting back on schedule, is hard to do when there is excitement.  If you know you will have your little one out of the house for a special event, or if you have visitors that can provide overstimulation, it is not the time to worry about resetting a schedule. Wait until visitors have left, schedules have settled down, and order is restored to your house. Once you have normalcy, you can create a calm atmosphere that will be more conducive to sleep. Remove all distraction and turn the light down.  Make being awake as boring as possible.

Skip a nap

If you have been trying to reset a bed time, but seem to be getting nowhere because your little one is getting refreshed from his naps, try skipping one. While this strategy will most likely have a toddler who is ready for bed earlier, it may result in an over-tired, extremely fussy and temperamental one as well.  Getting your child to sleep may be easier, but it may be more of a fight as well. On the other hand, your child may be so sleepy that they fall asleep during story time.

You know how your child reacts to not having a nap, so weigh the results against the benefit of getting an earlier bedtime. If skipping a nap seems too drastic, try shortening the nap times. That way your little one is still getting a boost mid-day, but the shortened sleep period can still result in a toddler who is ready for bed earlier at night.

Start the day earlier

Toddlers need between 12 and 14 hours of sleep over a 24-hour period. If you have an outside factor driving your child’s sleep schedule, like day care, then resetting a sleep disrupted sleep schedule may sort itself out as the rest of your child’s schedule forces itself back into place.  However, if you are a stay-at-home parent and are enjoying a toddler who may be sleeping a little later due to the shifted sleep-schedule, you may be feeding the later bedtime. If you want to re-establish an earlier bedtime, you will have to reestablish an earlier wake-up.

Getting your toddler out of bed before he is fully awake may be challenging, but it should help shift everything earlier, meals, naps and bedtime. Sometimes this strategy is simple and can resolve all sleep-schedule problems in one day, other times it can lead to a toddler who is overly-cranky for part of or the entire day. 

While waking a child up early can help reset a sleep schedule, if your little one is off more than an hour, it is a good idea to try to adjust the schedule over a period of time. While adults can function on too little sleep, children need their sleep for growth and development and will fit it in somewhere, whether it is sleeping in the car, taking a longer nap, or falling asleep in a high chair.

An over-tired child can fall asleep anywhere. Photo by Elizabeth/Table4Five via Flickr.

Sometimes you can reestablish a sleep schedule in one day, sometimes it may require a week to get back on track. If you are relying on daycare providers to assist you in getting your little one back on track, make sure you communicate any changes or potential problems to the care givers. Otherwise, you may find your efforts are being thwarted by a concerned adult who puts your over-tired child down for an extra long nap. Whatever method you choose, make sure it is tailored to your child and your life.


Follow Brighid on Twitter a @BrighidMoret and receive updates when new columns post on Facebook. Read more about first time parenting issues in Parenting the First Time Through at The Communities at The Washington Times.



This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Brighid Moret

Brighid is a freelance writer and first time mother.  She holds an MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University.  Find her on Facebook @Brighid Moret


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