Summer vacays can be perfect for relaxing and refreshing–unless your child is melting down due to lack of sleep.
If you’ve worked hard on your child’s sleep training, you may be nervous about the disruptions that can come from traveling. Maintaining children’s sleep schedules can be difficult while away from home, but these tips will help keep your family on track.
Travel can be exhausting to anyone, but especially to children. Be sure to begin your journey well-rested. Keep track of sleep on the days leading up to the departure and work on your child’s nap training, scheduling good restorative naps. Children with full sleep banks will adjust easier to schedule changes and the possibility of losing sleep while you’re away.
As children can get overstimulated by the excitement of travel, it may be difficult for them to sleep on the way. Especially for younger children and babies, starting the trip at nap time might make this easier. Be sure babies have clean diapers and full bellies as you head out.
Planes, trains, or car rides rarely facilitate top quality sleep. On top of napping during transit, you should also plan to arrive at your destination before your child’s normal bedtime. For older children, getting some physical activity and playtime in as soon as you reach your destination should help them settle down when it’s time for bed.
If possible, give your child their own sleeping space while on your trip. Sharing a bed with grownups or older children who aren’t on the same sleeping schedule may end up disrupting everyone’s rest. Give each child their own bed, cot, crib, or sleeping area. Pack a travel crib or pack-and-play or make arrangements with your host to get the right equipment at check-in. (Make sure to call in advance. If you’re at a hotel, limited supplies can run out quickly in summer.)
Do what you can to create a comfortable sleeping environment. It should be cool and dark to prevent waking throughout the night. If your family is staying in a hotel room, it may be worth the splurge to book a larger room or something with a kitchenette, perfect for heating up bottles and grabbing quick midnight snacks. Don’t be afraid to rearrange furniture, hang up sheets to create separation, or place cribs into large closets.
Creating a comfortable environment for children to sleep in also includes familiarity. Pack your child’s favorite cuddly toy and blanket, as well as pajamas they’re used to sleeping in at home. You may also want to bring a night light. This will keep children comforted and calm if they wake during the night.
Other helpful sleep accessories include white noise machines and sheets from home that feel and smell familiar. For babies and younger children, strollers can be a great sleep assist, especially during travel delays.
When traveling across different time zones, shift your schedule to the new time zone as soon as you can. Keep in mind that your child may experience jet lag. Children are less likely to be affected by jet lag than adults, but you may notice some extra grumpiness or resistance to the new times. A good way of countering this is with careful planning.
Before your trip, try gradually shifting times for meals, naps, bedtime, and waking. A good rule of thumb is to move activities 15minutes earlier or later each day, depending on which direction you’re traveling, in the 3 to 4 days leading up to departure.
If the time zone difference is large, exposure to bright lights at waking and dim lighting at bedtime can help shift circadian rhythms and ease them into the transition.
If bedtime routines at home include teeth brushing, books, and baths, be sure to keep this up while on vacation. Even with changes in scenery and schedules, this sense of normalcy will help your little one to unwind, relax, and get quality sleep. If you’re visiting with family or friends, have them join in!
Practice runs may also be beneficial. Keep the routine the same, but talk to your child about what may be different while you’re away (if they’re old enough to understand). If you’re bringing a travel cot or sleeping bag, etc. let your child sleep with it at home for a few days before you leave.
Keep your expectations at a reasonable level, and try not to stress too much about strict vacation sleep routines. If your child misses a few naps or enjoys some late nights with relatives while away, everyone is going to be ok! Enjoy yourself, and let your family have fun.
When you get back home, however, it’s important to get back into a routine as soon as you can. It may feel like slow going, and you might have to deal with a few post-vacation meltdowns, but children are adaptable and should get back on schedule soon. If this isn’t the case, and you’re struggling to maintain a sleep routine for your child, you may want to consider working with a child sleep consultant.
Interested in learning what it takes to develop a career as a baby sleep consultant? Get more information here.
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