Travel and Your Child’s Sleep
Traveling is a tricky endeavor when you’re trying to keep your child on a sleep schedule. There’s always something exciting going on, friends and relatives who are anxious to see them. They may have no idea how hard you’ve worked to get your little one sleeping through the night.
First and foremost remember you are traveling with children, which means that you’re in survival mode rather than holiday mode.
You will get there, and it will be okay.
Traveling on a plane.
If you are traveling via plane sleep “rules” can be put on hold. Meaning you have to help them to sleep, that’s OK. The important thing is that they are getting sleep. Remember you can always focus on getting back on schedule once you land. Bring lots of things to keep them occupied for awake times, snacks, books, music, movies, etc. Be sure to allow them lots of fluids-dehydration makes it harder for the body clock to adjust to the new rhythm.
Help their body clock adjust.
When traveling to a different time zone, the body’s circadian rhythms are slow to adjust and can take a few days to get out of their original biological schedule. This may mean that bedtime is a little late for the first few days. In order to adjust to the new time zone as quickly as possible, it’s important to make sure that you get outside and get a lot of natural daylight during the daytime hours. This will help to reset the body clock. At the end of the day, 2 hours prior to bedtime turn the lights low or dim. This will help the their body produce enough melatonin to fall sleep easily and stay asleep.
Don’t over schedule
It can be tempting to let baby skip a nap, or let bedtime fall back an hour or two, so that you can fit in extra activities into your trip. Do your best not to over schedule. It’s better to slow down and make sure you schedule a regular nap and early bedtimes, just like you would at home.
Carve out space
If there is space available have them sleep in their own room. You may want to pack a dark flat sheet and some pins to help make the sleeping space nice and dark. You can show your child the room when you arrive and let them know this is their special sleep space. This way when bedtime comes they will at least have a little bit of a heads up and be familiar with the space.
If you have to share a room with your little one, try to create some kind of partition so that baby can’t see you from their crib. Hang a blanket from a line running across the room, or a wall of pillows at the end of your bed, if necessary. I suggest not bringing them into bed with you if you can avoid it.
Stick to the routine
Changes in the routine are the quickest way to end up with an overtired baby. Over-tiredness will result in protest and will put you in a position to revert back to old sleep props. If baby’s tired and cranky, you’re going to have a lousy time. Sticking to the schedule and keeping baby well-rested will assure that the time you do get to spend with friends and family is fun, happy and relaxed.
Bring along comforts from home
Bring along blankets, lovey, familiar books and sleeping clothes. Anything that smells familiar and reminds them of their home sleeping environment will help them get to sleep in their new surroundings.
Patience will be your best friend.
Be patient as your kiddos acclimatize to the new environment. Even the best of sleepers when in a strange environment can have troubles sleeping. It’s very normal for toddlers to test boundaries around sleep when they’re somewhere new. Being in a strange place may result in crying at bedtime or waking at odd times during the night. The best way to handle this kind of behavior is to react the exact same way you would at home. If you keep consistent, within the first night or two they should be used to the new environment.
If you are going east for a week or less
I suggest you keep your child on home time. This will allow them to stay up later and visit in the evenings, and sleep in in the mornings. Their schedule may slid a little each day. When you get home, adjust back to the schedule as it was prior to your trip.
Depending on how long you were gone it may take a few days to settle back into their original biological schedule. You can help this by applying the same suggestions as above; getting out for fresh air, lots of daylight in the daytime hours, and turning the lights low in the house a couple hours before bed for optimal melatonin production.
If you’re about to head out on an amazing adventure traveling with your little ones and would like sleep guidance, ask me about my travel sleep packages.