How to Handle “Off” Days of Sleep

Regardless of where you’re at in your child’s sleep journey (struggling big time or enjoying their fantastic sleep), there will always be days that are just “off.”

Maybe you decide to spend a day at the zoo and your child doesn’t nap while you’re out and about.

Or maybe family comes into town and all of the activities prevent your child from following their usual daily schedule.

I know that these scenarios can feel overwhelming if you’re worried about your child’s sleep, but I want you to fully embrace those off days and appreciate the experiences your little one is gaining.

Instead of obsessing or worrying about your child’s sleep for the day, I want you to feel empowered to enjoy each day.

There’s one rule that I teach all of my clients in order to achieve the beauty of ensuring their little one gets the sleep they need while also being okay with the “off” days that come: The 80-20 rule.

What is the 80-20 rule of sleep?

The 80-20 rule of sleep is this:

80% of the days, you want your child to follow their usual, age-appropriate schedule. This means they wake up for the day at the same time, they take naps at the same time of day, and they have the same bedtime each night.

The other 20% of days, it’s okay if things aren’t “perfect.” It’s okay to take a day trip and enjoy the outdoor time with your little one, or to keep them up later to enjoy a fireworks celebration.

When your child is sticking to their routine and schedule 80% of the time, you can rest easy knowing they’re getting the sleep they need. Also, that structure they’re used to is still there, so they will be confident in knowing what to expect when it comes to their sleep routines.

How to successfully implement an “off” day

So now that you know the 80-20 Rule, how can you successfully implement an “off” day for your little one?

Here are a few ideas that you can do, depending on the activities you’re engaged in.

Let your little one nap away from home.

If you’re spending the day at a family picnic at the grandparents’ house, it’s okay to let your little one nap while you’re there. This may require a bit of planning on your end – you may need to bring a pack and play or the sound machines. And if grandma’s house is really bright, you might want to consider grabbing a SlumberPod (use code JOLIESLEEP20 for $20 off!) to tote around in your car.

Extend the morning nap, if possible, to allow for more flexibility in the evening.

If you know you’re going to stay out late to catch the town’s firework display, it’s okay to let your little one nap later than usual to give a bit of flexibility in the evening. 

Practice car naps!

Do you have a long day trip in the car planned for this summer? Let your kiddo doze off and take a car nap to alleviate a bit of the sleep pressure. You can get creative in blocking some of the sunlight, keep a portable sound machine in your car, and even leave a bag of loveys that your child can cuddle with in the backseat.

Move bedtime up a bit earlier.

If your little one enjoyed an exciting day at the library followed by a playdate at a local park and didn’t get an afternoon nap in, you can move bedtime earlier for the day. An earlier bedtime is also a great idea if your child didn’t nap well during the day and seems a little more tired than usual.

Add an extra nap in the day.

Staying out late for the evening? If you know bedtime will be later than usual, you can offer your child an extra nap in the day. Even a short cat nap can be beneficial!

What to do after an “off” day

After enjoying your time with family, doing what you can to offer your child naps, and adjusting bedtime as needed, how do you bounce back after having an “off” day?

When your child’s routine and schedule are off, the next 24 hours or so will be “off” too. And that’s okay! The best thing you can do is stay consistent to get back on track. Go back to your consistent routines and schedule, and within a few days, your child will adjust back.

If you have plans coming up and you want to talk with me in advance to get a game plan, I offer mini-consultations that are a perfect solution. Or if things have been back to normal after a few off days, but your child is still struggling to adjust back, let’s set up a time to chat about what’s going on.

Sometimes, having a plan of action is just what you need.

As your family plans for exciting days ahead, I want you to remember one thing:

Sleep can always be tweaked (that’s what I’m here for!). But the memories you’ll make will be priceless.

So go out and enjoy your time, knowing that the 80-20 rule allows for flexibility and freedom for you and your little one.

June 2022