FAQ Series: Sleep and Travel

With the summer months quickly approaching, now is often the time when families plan big trips to the coast or to visit family across the country. And as more businesses open up and it becomes safer to travel, many families are starting to dream about the way they’ll spend this summer. One of the top travel adventures popular this year: road trips.

If you’re planning on taking a family trip this year, there are a few tips to keep in mind when it comes to your child’s sleep.

Set Realistic Expectations

Whether traveling by car or by plane, getting your child to nap or sleep will be different. Some children can fall asleep relatively easy in their car seat, so if that’s your child, great! For other kids, you may need to get creative and bring some of “home” along for the ride – a pillow, favorite blanket or toy, or a sound machine that your child sleeps with every night.

But keep your expectations realistic. Car seat naps won’t be perfect, and that’s okay. Unless your child is used to sleeping on the go, most kids will usually sleep through one cycle (around 30-40 minutes) before waking up for a while. 

Even when you reach your destination, the change in setting can make it harder for your child to fall asleep, especially if they are younger. Be prepared to assist your child if needed – they may need more rocking or may need someone to lay with them for the first few nights.

Let Go of Some Structure

If you decide to spend a day at the beach and have to miss a nap, that’s okay. Just try to get the kids to bed a little earlier that night. If you stay out late catching up with family over dinner and your child misses their bedtime, no worries. Just try to make bedtime the next night.

It’s not realistic to always follow the same schedule while on vacation, and that’s okay! Do your best, follow your child’s cues, and have fun!

I don’t want you to feel like you have to follow a strict schedule while on vacation, but if you prefer to plan the family outings around naps, go for it. You know your kids best – can they go without a nap today, or will that just create a struggle at bedtime?

Do what’s best for your family and what’s going to allow for the most fun.

But Don’t Completely Throw Out the Routine 

Although you’ll be in a different environment and won’t have the same amount of structure as normal, don’t completely throw the routine out the window.

At bedtime, try to follow as much of the bedtime routine as possible.

Give them a bath, read them a story, say your prayers, and kiss them goodnight. 

Or give them a bath, dress them in pajamas, talk about your day, and cuddle for a few minutes.

While there may end up being nights where the routine doesn’t happen because they fall asleep watching a movie or grandma and grandpa want to watch them while you and your significant other go out on the town, keeping some consistency will benefit your child, especially when they return home.

And as mentioned earlier, don’t forget to pack some of your child’s comfort items. Pack the extra pacis, the favorite pajamas, the light projector, the sound machine. Recreating home in your temporary home will help your child relax and get the best sleep they can.

Room-Sharing on Vacation

If you’re going to be room-sharing while on vacation, whether that means you and your children in one room or the kids in one room and the parents in the other, and that’s not normal for your family, consider the following tips.

-If parents and kids are in the same room, try to place your children’s bed further from the door and the parents’ bed closer to the door. After you put your kids to sleep, there’s less of a chance that you will wake them up by coming back into the room if their bed is further from the door. If you use a sound machine, position it in the middle of the room to serve as a buffer for when you come in to sleep.

-If it’s the kids that are in the same room, you can always try to put them to bed at the same time. If that doesn’t work out for your kids, put the youngest to bed first. After they are asleep for 20-30 minutes, put the older kid to bed. Again, having a sound machine will help cover up noise from movement.

Traveling with kids can often seem stressful at first, but it doesn’t have to be (at least not in terms of their sleep). Have fun, enjoy your trip, and do the best you can to stick to a routine and schedule that works for your family. When you return from vacation, you may need to spend a few nights resetting the routine, but that will be well worth the memories that you helped create.

Share with us – what are your plans for this summer?

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I’m Katie

certified pediatric sleep consultant

Fueled by equal parts caffeine and passion, I spend my days helping exhausted mamas get their babies the sleep they need. 

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