Traveling with kids? How to keep your sleep routine on track
Worried about your child’s sleep regressing due to travel? 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.
IN THIS ARTICLE:
How to manage your child’s sleep schedule on a trip
Yes, we’re obsessed with age-appropriate sleep schedules at Huckleberry. They generally help kids fall asleep easier and stay asleep longer. But, let’s face it — they aren’t always realistic when you’re away from home.
We recommend looking for that middle ground as much as possible. Overtired children often have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep, and carting a sleep-deprived toddler around can be challenging at best. Many parents find it helpful to balance some late nights with some earlier ones to minimize overtiredness.
5 ways to maintain sleep routines while traveling
Here are some tips for minimizing the impact travel will have on your child’s sleep:
1. Bring a piece of home with you
It’s understandable that a child may feel apprehensive about falling asleep in an unfamiliar setting. Bring a few key items from home (such as their favorite blanket, a stuffed animal, and some familiar bedtime stories) to help your child feel more secure during sleep routines in their “new” bedroom.
2. Set up your space for sleep
Take a minute to think about your future sleep environment. Planning ahead can help prevent your child from waking the family up at dawn.
While a hotel will likely have some heavy-duty curtains to block out the morning sun, there can be a lot of loud noise from nearby neighbors. On the other hand, if you’re staying with family or renting a house, your kiddo’s sleep space may be set up next to a curtainless window. 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.
3. Offer more comfort
It’s normal for children to want more comfort while falling asleep at bedtime (or when they wake during the night) 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 a 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.”
4. Create boundaries with family and friends
While some parents are okay with embracing extra desserts and super late bedtimes while in vacation mode, it can be stressful for other parents to veer so far off from their normal routines. If you’re in the latter group, be sure to communicate your expectations ahead of time with loved ones: “We’re so excited to see you for the holiday! We can stay until 7:00 PM and then we’ll have to head back to the hotel for bedtime.”
5. Recommit when you return home
Travel can be challenging for families who have worked hard to improve sleep. 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.
Have you previously sleep-trained? 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 custom sleep plan to get back on track. 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!
Holiday travel checklist for maximum sleep
Depending on your child’s age, consider including these items in your luggage for better sleep while you’re away from home:
Favorite comfort items (e.g., blanket, lovey, extra pacifiers)
Small bag of quiet activities to distract during skipped naps (e.g., books, coloring items, figurines)
Meals, snacks, feeding essentials (i.e., bottles and/or pump)
Swaddle, sleep sack, pajamas
Portable white noise player
Tablet for lullabies/calm audiobooks/bedtime stories
Toddler clock to prevent early wake ups
Travel blackout blinds
Sunshade for stroller
Portable crib or toddler bed
Inflatable bed rails (or tuck a rolled-up towel under the fitted sheet to prevent your preschooler from rolling out of bed)
Motion sickness remedies (check with your pediatrician)
Managing time zone changes
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 in their home time zone OR actively shift their schedule so that they adjust to going to bed at the local time.
Consider staying in 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 8 PM - 7 AM at home, you might aim for a 7 PM - 6 AM 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 mealtimes 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 8 PM - 7 AM in their home time zone and you will be traveling west 2 time zones, then they will be ready for bed at 6 PM (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 5 AM local time (7 AM 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 8 PM 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 8 PM home time, and you attempt to put them down at 8 PM local time, it will feel like 7 PM according to their internal clock. Unless they’ve missed a nap, they may not be tired enough to fall asleep until 9 PM 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 of shifting schedules to adjust to new time zones, you can visit our partners at Baby Sleep Science. We recommend reading:
This if you are traveling westward 1 - 3 time zones.
This if you are traveling eastward 1 - 3 time zones.
This if you are traveling eastward 4 - 8 time zones.
Regardless of how flexible you intend to be while traveling, you might need to embrace your inner Anna and “LET IT GO” more than you anticipate. Some aspects of travel will inevitably be outside your control (we see you, airline delays and traffic) and that can mean skipped naps and very late bedtimes. Preparing ahead of time can help keep sleep disruptions to a minimum.
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.