Helping Your Child Sleep Well on Vacation
A tired child is not a happy child. Use these tips to make the trip more enjoyable for all.
While vacations can be fun for the whole family, they come with struggles too. For families with young children, keeping them well rested while on vacation can be a challenge, but there are ways to make the trip more enjoyable for everyone.
If it is a short drive (just a few hours), leave 30 minutes to an hour before nap time. Your child will adjust to being in the car, and (hopefully) fall asleep around their normal nap time. If the trip is longer, consider traveling around bedtime or through the night, as your child will likely sleep in the car. Before leaving, put on pajamas and do your normal bedtime routine. Once you arrive, transition them to their sleep space. Make sure you offer naps often the next day, as they will be tired from the drive.
Book early morning flights if possible. Children handle schedule changes better after a full night of sleep. Once you arrive, you have most of the day remaining for fun, and time to adjust to.
Time Zone Changes
Adopt the new time as soon as you arrive, especially when it comes to meals. Your child will be tired, so let them sleep when they are tired the first day. Make sure their bedtime is early, providing an opportunity to sleep at least 12 hours at night to catch up on missed sleep. Start the next day by opening the blinds and enjoy the morning sun. Follow their daily schedule according to the new time zone.
If staying in a hotel, try to book a suite (or connecting rooms), and give your child a separate room. It will also allow you to still watch television or read at night. If you are sharing a room, keep the room dark to promote sleep. Rely on e-readers or tablets with headphones. Remember to turn them off at least 30 minutes before you go to bed (as the blue light can affect your sleep). Whether you are staying in a hotel, renting a house, or staying with family/friends try to keep your child’s sleep environment similar to their room at home.
Some Things to Pack
- A travel blackout blind, or use black garbage bags, to block out sunlight.
- White noise machine
- Crib sheet or pillowcase directly off their bed, so that it smells like home
- Favorite books
- Animal to cuddle with (not for babies under 1 year)
Try to stick to your normal daily schedule as much as possible with respect to naps and bedtime. Keep the bedtime routine the same to help them relax before bed and fall asleep easier. Follow the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the time, plan events around naps and bedtimes, and protect sleep as much as possible. By protecting their sleep, you can have an "off-schedule" day 20 percent of the time. Children who are well rested are more likely able to manage a day with less quality sleep, meaning your activities will still be enjoyable.
If your child is struggling with falling or staying asleep more than usual while away, you can rub their back or sing to them, but try to keep them in their own sleep space. When you get back home, go right back to the sleep patterns and routines you typically use, and your child should adjust easily.
Julia Walsh is a mother of two, and a certified sleep consultant with Good Night Sleep Site North Carolina.