With Summer vacation plans in full swing, one thing that can be easily overlooked is how to maintain your child’s sleep habits while you’re away. Travel can take quite a toll on little ones, particularly if you are traveling through time zones. Here are some tips to save your child’s slumber—and your sanity—this travel season.
Enjoy Yourselves! Trying to keep your child’s routine and schedule exactly the same will likely be an exercise in frustration. If your little one is flexible and not very sensitive to over tiredness you may be able to throw caution to the wind and just get back on track when you return. More sensitive children will have a harder time rolling with the punches and, in that case, the trip may be more enjoyable if you still make sleep somewhat of a priority. Try to strike a balance each day. For example, can you get your child a great morning nap and then head out for the day? Or can you have a busy morning and then make sure to get in a solid afternoon nap? If daytime is totally off the rails can you coordinate an early bedtime to offset that?
Bring a Little Bit of Home With You. Be sure to bring pieces of home with you when packing. Pack his sleep sack, sound machine and lovey or favorite stuffed animal which can help ease the anxiety that often comes with sleeping in a new environment. If you will be using a pack and play, you may want to do a few practice sessions by having him sleep in it at home first so it isn’t a totally foreign space. If your child is sleeping in a bed, consider bringing a portable bed rail. Toddler air mattresses like the Shrunks toddler travel bed can help create a separate sleep space for children who have outgrown the pack and play. I even go so far as to pack a roll of thick black trash bags and tape to black out a bright room for my light sensitive guy. It’s nearly impossible to travel light with kids, anyway, so why not be prepared!
Start the Trip Well Rested. As much as possible try to ensure that your child is well napped before you leave. That way, if the rest of the day doesn’t fall into place, she (hopefully!) won’t be quite as overtired. That nap typically is the most important one and will give her a head start on the day.
Tackle Jet Lag Head On. If you are traveling to a different time zone the best approach is to get onto the new local schedule as soon as possible. When traveling late at night, it is fine to allow a day of sleeping in and off naps but then be sure to get onto the local schedule the next full day – even if it means waking your child the next morning. If she usually wakes at 7 a.m. at home, wake her at 7 local time. If you travel earlier in the day, but your child’s nap happens late, say starting at 3:00 instead of 12:00, wake him early enough from the nap that he can go down at his normal 7 or 8 bedtime on the local clock.
Don’t Skip the Nap! A few car or stroller naps on vacation are okay and certainly preferable to no sleep at all. If your child cannot sleep out and about your options are a bit more limited and carving out time for at least one solid nap each day in a sleep conducive environment may be necessary for everyone’s sanity.
Sleep Training and Vacation Don’t Mix. If you are in the process of sleep training at home you will likely need to resign yourself to a vacation from that too. Since consistency and scheduling are key to improving sleep habits, you likely won’t have much success while traveling. If you are hosting guests, you may be less willing and able to enforce the sleep “rules”. Just be sure to get back to your regular routines as soon as you get home and the guests leave.
What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas. That’s my motto regarding travel and sleep too. Meaning, if you need to share a room/bed or offer extra help to get your child to sleep or back to sleep while away (and don’t usually do so), leave those habits at the front door when you return. Be cautious not to drag vacation sleep habits back with you but, rather, go right back to putting your child down at home in the location and way you did before the trip.
Yes, it is ideal to keep your child’s schedule on track but don’t sacrifice all the fun of your trip! If you can jump back to an ideal schedule and house rules when you get home it takes many little ones just a few days to adjust. Even when you CAN stick to the schedule, travel can leave your child overtired and cranky. When possible, try to make the first full day at home all about catching up on sleep and recovering.
If all else fails and your little one moves into full meltdown mode remember that this too shall pass but vacation memories last a lifetime.
Originally Published on A Child Grows in Philly