Traveling with kids? How to keep your sleep routine on trackUpdated May 18, 2022
While it can be challenging to maintain your child’s normal schedule and sleep routines while you travel, there are certainly some things you can do to help preserve your progress and minimize setbacks.
Here are some things to consider regarding your routines while traveling:
It’s understandable that a child may feel apprehensive about falling asleep in an unfamiliar setting. Bringing a few key items from home (such as their favorite stuffed animal and books) can help children feel more secure.
Packing travel blackout blinds and a white noise player can help your child sleep easier when it’s noisy and/or bright outside their sleep space.
It’s normal for children to want more comfort falling to sleep and/or back to sleep when they’re in a new location. We recommend giving them lots of extra hugs if needed, but encourage them to fall asleep in the same way as they do at home. Of course, this may lead to crying and many parents want to keep that to a minimum while at a hotel or in family member’s home. Sometimes you have to do whatever it takes while on vacation for everyone to get some sleep, even if that means relaxing your sleep “rules.”
Try not to get discouraged if you end up back-sliding a bit on your progress. You’ll resume your routines when you return home. It may take a few days of full consistency in order to improve sleep once again and you may need to re-use the methods in your sleep plan to get back to independent sleeping. It’s common for children to protest the return to their sleep “rules” and routines, initially, if they’ve been receiving more help at bedtime on vacation. Stick with it!
Schedules and time zones
Here are some things to consider regarding your child’s schedule when traveling:
Overtired children often have a harder time falling asleep on their own and staying asleep. Many parents find it helpful to balance some late nights with some “early” nights to minimize overtiredness.
Traveling between time zones: West
Your child’s internal clock will govern when they will be ready to eat and sleep regardless of what time zone they are in. If you are traveling to a westward time zone, you’ll want to decide whether to keep your child on their home time zone OR actively shift their schedule so that they adjust to going to bed at the local time.
Consider staying on your home time zone if the trip is short (less than a week) or you’re only traveling back one time zone. For example, if your child typically sleeps from 8PM-7AM at home, you might aim for a 7PM-6AM schedule while on vacation so that it feels the same to your child and you don’t have to shift their schedule.
However, if you are traveling through multiple time zones or have a longer trip, it will be beneficial to help them adjust to socially appropriate eating and sleep times in the new time zone.
If you decide to shift your child’s schedule, you’ll want to keep the lights brighter at night before their new later bedtime and keep it dark in the morning for longer than you usually do. Keep in mind that babies under 12 months can typically handle a shift of 15-30 minutes a day, while children 1 year or older can often handle 30-60 minute shifts each day.
For example, if a child typically sleeps from 8PM-7AM in their home time zone and you will be traveling west 2 time zones, then they will be ready for bed at 6PM (local time) while on vacation. The first night, you would delay dinner and bedtime by 30 minutes and aim for a 6:30 PM bedtime in order to shift their schedule. They’ll likely wake at 5AM local time (7AM according to their circadian rhythm). Keep the lights off and preserve sleep mode until 5:30 AM. Continue to push bedtime and morning rise time later each day until they are going to bed at 8PM local time (in this example).
Traveling between time zones: East
It is typically easier for families to travel eastward. One caveat - it may be physically impossible for your child to sleep if you try to put them down at their “normal” bedtime. For instance, if you travel east one time zone, it will feel like one hour earlier to your child. If they typically fall asleep around 8PM home time, and you attempt to put them down at 8PM local time, it will feel like 7PM according to their internal clock. Unless they’ve missed a nap, they may not be tired enough to fall asleep until 9PM local time. If you’d like them to adjust to the new time zone, you can wake them 30 minutes earlier each day and expose them to light to help shift their internal clock earlier.
For further information
For a more detailed explanation on shifting schedules to adjust to new time zones, you can visit our partners at Baby Sleep Science. We recommend reading:
Note: The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from your doctor, pediatrician, or medical professional. If you have questions or concerns, you should contact a medical professional.