Letting Go of Toddler Sleep Schedules for the Holidays

By: Emily Varon

You might already be freaking out, just based on the title of this article. Should you let go of your toddler’s sleep schedule during the holidays? You work so hard to keep your toddler on a healthy sleep schedule, because you know how important sleep and routines are!

And well-done on achieving schedule-perfection!! It’s no easy task. 

So why might I be encouraging a little more flexibility around the holidays (just a little)? 

Because the stress/worry/anxiety of leaving holiday fun (and having to explain a thousand times about your child’s fragile schedule) to go put kiddo to sleep will never outweigh the joy and warmth of staying.

The thing is, your toddler sleep schedule isn’t so fragile, even though it might seem like one more minute of awake time will send them into CryCityTantrumVille. 

While the thought of a missed nap might be enough to make you start recalculating all of your child’s sleep to see where you can stick the nap in somewhere else, put your pencil down a sec. 

The human brain is designed to miss a little sleep! It’s ok. You’re ok. Kiddo will be ok!

So, let’s talk about that dirty word swirling around your brain; overtired. Wait, don’t run and hide! We can do this. 

On an average day, overtired is U G L Y. It’s whiney, it’s tantrummy, it’s freaking cringy! And we want to avoid it at all costs, because who wants to walk themselves right into the emotional wreck that is an overtired toddler. Not me, sister. Not. Me.

But here’s the thing, being overtired is actually a naturally occurring mechanism in the brain that is designed to protect us. During times of fun, it can actually work to our benefit and help the good times stay good! 

When there are no sleep-signals on the horizon, and sleepy-cues get missed, the brain secretes regulatory levels of cortisol and adrenaline to keep the body awake longer. Because the body wants sleep, but doesn’t think it’s going to access sleep any time soon, we are able to stay awake and alert much longer. 

It’s the college-effect, where we get tired, but suddenly feel like we could, uh, “study” all night!

For little ones, it means more fun with grandparents and cousins, instead of tantrums and tears. You’ll be able to sit back and enjoy your little one running around with glee, leaving you thinking “gosh, they don’t even seem tired!” 

Of course, they’ll eventually run out of steam, because eventually the brain tells our bodies enough-is-enough. They’ll fall asleep in the car on the way home, or in grandma’s arms, or under the tree, but it will be a delicious, deep slumber that will help you easily transfer them if needed.

Remember to enjoy yourself. Indulge in the warmth of family and friends with the goal of pure delight! Your happiness, and the happiness everyone gets from your beautiful children, is so worth a little bit of a schedule-bump. Spending time connecting, especially in a time of so much DIS-connection, is even more important than your routine.

Relevant Reads: 

Tips To Keep Your Toddler Sleep Schedules For The Holidays

If all of this “letting-go” still seems too outrageous, here are some tips to keep your toddler’s sleep schedules on-track:

  1. Schedule visits in-between nap times or before bedtime
  2. Communicate to family the specific time you will need to leave by
  3. Arrange a pack-and-play for early bedtimes so that you can stay and enjoy while your little one sleeps
  4. Be ok arriving to a gathering late, so that your child gets their full nap before a visit
  5. Have a loving family member take kiddo for a stroller walk to get them a little nap while you enjoy the eggnog
  6. Try to not schedule back-to-back engagements, even if it’s one day after another, to allow the sleep schedule to recover back to “normal” in between events
  7. Make sure your child wakes at their “normal” time the next day, to help recalibrate their schedule (no sleeping-in, sorry!)

Have more questions about toddler sleep schedules? These may help you: 


About The Author

Emily Varon is the founder of Ready Set Sleep. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst with a dedicated focus on sleep-related behaviors and has worked in the field of behavior analysis since 2000. Her practice has been devoted to improving the sleep habits of children since 2010. 
With a background rooted in child development, Emily carefully considers a child’s current skills and abilities when selecting appropriate plans. She deeply values science and research to support the strategies she offers families, and will only recommend protocols that are valid, proven methods. 
Emily resides in Irvine California with her husband and two fantastic sleepers (who did not start out that way). Her own feelings of hopeless exhaustion as a new mom are what now drive her pursuit of helping other moms get the sleep nutrition they need and deserve. 
** During December 2020, Emily is offering a $25 Target gift card for purchasing a service as a gift. Please visit https://readysetsleep.com/ for more details.