Summer is finally here and luckily, it seems that travel and vacations are starting to pick up again. That said, I know people (including myself) who struggle with travel because of how it will affect their children’s sleep 🤦🏻♀️. It’s true, changes and new sleep environments can throw off our children's sleep patterns, but it isn’t forever and there are things you can do to make the process a little smoother. Here are some helpful tips:
- Enjoy: Easier said that done, but remember to have fun and relax! If we are nervous, our kids will sense it, so try to make this trip fun for you, too!
- Hello, New Space: If possible, when you arrive at the new destination (and before they are totally exhausted), familiarize your child with their new sleep space as well as your new sleep space. If they know where they will sleep and where you will sleep, the process may feel less overwhelming
- Routine: Keep your bedtime routine consistent to what you do at home, i.e. bath, bottle, book, song, bed.
- Sleep Environment: Make it sleep inducing by blacking out the room (get creative!), bringing a portable sound machine (or white noise app), and bring their sheets along (the smell is familiar). If your child will be sleeping in a travel crib, have them sleep in the travel crib at home a few nights prior.
- Sleep Items: Bring your child’s top 3 sleep accessories, i.e. stuffed animal, book, sleep sack. Keep it simple.
- 80/20 Rule: Stick to a consistent schedule 80% of the time, i.e. crib naps, normal bedtime, consistent routine. Go off schedule the other 20% of the time, i.e. nap on the go, late dinners, etc.
- Sunlight: Expose your child to lots of sunlight during the day and get them physically active!
- Morning Flight: I'm a fan of taking an early morning flight (if possible). There are usually less delays, kids are less cranky, and you get to your destination early to set up your kids sleep space.
Time Zone Changes: What To Do Before, During, and After
If your trip is a few days long, keep them in their original time zone. If it's a week or more, adjust to new time zone.
- Adjusting To New Time: Whether there’s a 1 hour time difference or 6 hour time difference or whether you’re traveling east or west, the process is practically the SAME.
- The Week Before Travel: A week before leaving, try moving your kid's schedule (bedtime, wakeup time, and nap times) somewhat closer to the new time zone. Ex: if you live in NYC and you’re traveling to California, get your child to go to sleep later each night (15-30 min increments) until their bedtime is 8/9pm. That way, once you get there, they will have an easier time adjusting to the new time zone.
- Once You Get There: 1. Once you get to the new destination, adjust your child to the new time zone from Day 1. Put your child to bed at their usually bedtime and wake them up at their usual wakeup time, according to the new time zone. 2. Help adjust your child’s circadian rhythm by providing lots of daylight exposure during the day and dimming the lights when it's closer to bedtime. 3. Allow for flexibility on your travel day and try not to over plan on your first day there so your kids don't get too overtired.
- Coming Back Home: Early bedtime can help your child catch up on any travel sleep debt. It can take about a full week for your child to fully adjust, especially if there was a large time zone change. Go back to your normal routine, normal schedule, and normal sleep environments.