It’s that time of year where families are so excited to plan for a vacation away however, parents often feel wrought with anxiety about how this may disrupt their child’s current sleep routine. I have definitely dealt with setbacks in my own child’s sleep over the years due to vacations and illnesses but, I have also learned how to now prevent those issues from resurfacing. Here are some tips and tricks to help you stay on track when traveling.
1. Book your flight or plan for the day you depart to be centered on your child’s sleep schedule. Let’s say your kiddo takes a killer morning nap at 9 AM, keep that in mind when you are starting your travel day. If you’re experimenting with flying for the first time, it may not be the best idea to have your child’s first flight start at 9 AM. Instead, aim for an 8 AM flight, this way your child will have some time to get adjusted to the new environment before comfortably drifting off into a peaceful slumber. Likewise, if you are driving someplace, plan to leave an hour or so before the nap starts to give your child some time to unwind in the car before nap time. You can also plan to leave an hour or so before bedtime if you think that may help your child sleep more soundly on your long car ride.
2. Plan ahead for a consistent sleeping environment. Let’s say your child is in the birth-3 year old range; use a pack n play for all of those travels in that age range. Keeping a consistent sleeping place for your child will make it so much easier on you when you go anywhere. Bring the same exact pack n play with you, the same sheets, the same blanket (if over the age of 1), same loveys (if over the age of one) etc. If your child is over the age of the 3 there are plenty of good toddler travel beds out there! My daughter loved the Leachco BumpZZZ and it got a solid 2 years of usage. Once they are over the travel bed/ pack n play stage, you will find that they get very excited about sleeping in a hotel cot or real bed! If you are using a pack n play or travel bed for the first time, make sure you expose your child to it for the weeks leading up to your vacation to give your child time to get comfortable around it! This will ease the transition to using it without any issues. You can leave this travel bed in their room for a week prior to your vacation, even allowing them to sleep in it for practice!
3. Bring along your positive sleep associations. This is kind of a given, but anything that is healthy and positive in helping your child sleep at home, bring it with you on vacation to keep your child’s sleep routine as consistent as possible. Examples of positive sleep associations are: your child’s favorite sleep books, sleep routine chart/schedule, sound machine, favorite bedding, favorite stuffed animals, pacifiers, travel blackout curtains, favorite pajamas, sleep sack/ sleep suit/ swaddle.
4. Maintain the same soothing routine. Regardless of where you go with your child, keep things the same when it comes to that 30 minutes of soothing prior to bedtime. This will help cue your child in to sleep and decrease any anxiety about sleeping in a new place. Let’s say your routine is bath, PJ’s, books with a snack, then songs and bed. Follow the same sequence of events on your vacation, even if the timing is not perfect. This will help make bedtime less of a battle!
5.Try to stick to your sleep schedule. This is a hard one on vacation, I know, but it does help to try and stick to your child’s sleep schedule as much as possible to avoid over-tiredness and a regression when you get home. I think on vacation if you can plan for most sleep (80%) to be in the same consistent place (hotel, condo, house) and then about 20% of sleep can be on the go in the car/stroller/carrier, you’ll be in good shape. Following this 80/20 rule, is generally the best way to avoid any sleep issues in your child, while also allowing you to feel like you can still go out and enjoy your vacation destination.
6. Have some fun. As a certified child sleep consultant, I am known to be a bit strict with my own child regarding sleep however, as she has gotten older I am much less rigid on vacation. It’s okay to go off schedule a bit and have fun too; after all you are on vacation! If they go to bed a little later than usual or skip a nap here of there, that is okay, just plan accordingly. If you’re going to skip a nap, your kid will probably need an earlier bedtime. If you decide to stay up later than usual and watch a movie with some ice cream, totally fine but then plan for a later start to your next day or squeeze in an extra nap!
7.Get back to the normal routine as soon as you get home. Sometimes the hardest part of a trip is to resume normal routines when you return. Try your best not to bring vacation habits home with you. Once you are home, get back to nap and bedtime routines as soon as possible - knowing that it might take a few days and cause a few tears to get back on track.
Author: Emily Klein, licensed professional counselor and certified child sleep consultant. Emily is a member of the Family Sleep Institute and International Association of Child Sleep Consultants.