When you’re planning a family holiday with a baby, an important thing to consider is how your travel plans are going to affect your child’s sleep routine. You’ll have a much more enjoyable vacation if you organize your trip in a way that allows for as little disruption as possible to your little one’s sleep schedule. This will help ensure she gets the rest she needs to be happy, healthy, and alert during your trip—which is bound to make your holiday more enjoyable for everyone!
Here are some tips to help ensure sure your baby gets the sleep he needs during your travels:
- Don’t over-schedule
- Be consistent with naps and bedtime
- Be patient as your baby acclimatizes to the new environment
- Make sure you bring your child’s sleeping toy and/or blanket
- If you’re not a co-sleeping family, don’t start now
- Give your baby (and you) some privacy
- If you’re taking a plane ride, ANYTHING GOES
- Adjust to the new time zone as quickly as possible
- Sunlight is your friend
- Darkness is your friend, too
One of the biggest mistakes parents make is to try to pack in all the fun and adventure they might have had back in their “child-free” days. The fact is, when you travel with a baby you can’t plan to go bungee-jumping in the morning, swim with dolphins in the early afternoon, go parasailing in the late afternoon, and go on a dinner cruise in the evening. It’s better to slow down the pace and make sure you schedule regular naps and early bedtimes, just like you would at home.
Tip 2: Be consistent with naps and bedtime
An occasional nap in the car seat or a later-than-usual bedtime probably won’t do too much harm, but if your baby’s naps are all over the place and she goes to bed much later than usual several days in a row, your baby will become so overtired and cranky that a complete meltdown will be inevitable.
Tip 3: Be patient as your baby acclimatizes to the new environment
Even if your baby is the best little sleeper in the world at home, when you’re in a strange environment things might be very different. It’s normal for babies and toddlers to test boundaries around sleep when they’re someone new. Just because you have certain rules at home, they won’t automatically understand that the same rules apply at Grandma’s house.
In a strange place, your baby might cry for a while at bedtime or wake up at odd times during the night. The best way to handle this kind of behavior is to react the same way you would at home. Go into the room every five minutes or so to offer a bit of reassurance, but other than that, don’t bend your rules. If you hang on tight to your consistency, within the first night or two, your child will be used to the new environment and will be sleeping well again.
Tip 4. Make sure you bring your child’s sleeping toy and/or blanket
Tip 5. If you’re not a co-sleeping family, don’t start now
Another big mistake parents make is to start sharing a bed with their baby or toddler while traveling. Even if it’s only for a few nights, if your baby decides this is her new preferred way to sleep, you could find yourself dealing with a big problem when you get home and put her back in her crib.
The good news is, most hotels have a crib you can use or rent. You could also take your portable playpen along and use that as a crib.
Tip 6. Give your baby (and you) some privacy
If your baby is eight months or older, try to give him a private space to sleep. If there aren’t separate rooms for you to use, put your baby’s crib or playpen in a walk-in closet or even the bathroom, if it’s big enough. The idea is to have some sort of a partition between you and your baby so that if he wakes up in the middle of the night he doesn’t see his two favorite people and then get so excited he ends up wide awake thinking it’s play time!
Tip 7. If you’re taking a plane ride, ANYTHING GOES
When it comes to surviving a plane ride with a baby, the best piece of advice I can give you is to do whatever it takes to get her to sleep! Normally I tell parents not to give babies older than three months pacifiers—and definitely not let them bottle- or breastfeed to sleep. But if you’re on a plane, I encourage you to do whatever you have to do to settle your baby down, keep her comfortable, and encourage her to sleep during the hours she normally sleeps.
Tip 8. Adjust to the new time zone as quickly as possible
If your baby has had a great schedule leading up to the trip, he should slide into the new time zone without too much trouble. Try to adjust to the new time zone as quickly as you can. If that means keeping your baby up a little longer so he can go to sleep at the same time on the clock that he normally does, go for it.
If you really feel like your baby needs an extra nap to catch up, limit his sleep time to 45 minutes. Also, try not to let him nap too close to bedtime. If it’s a choice between a strangely timed dinner-hour nap or a slightly earlier bedtime, go with the earlier bedtime.
Tip 9. Sunlight is your friend
Sunlight is a useful tool in helping both you and your baby adjust to the new time zone, since light is the most powerful time cue our bodies have. Try to get outside to enjoy some fresh air during the day, especially in the early afternoon, and you’re your meals and socializing during the times you normally enjoy these activities.
Tip 10. Darkness is your friend, too
When evening comes around, try to make your environment reflect the fact that it’s almost time for bed. Dim the lights during the last hour or so before you want your baby to go to bed. If you have access to black-out blinds in the room where he’s sleeping, use them. The darkness will help stimulate melatonin production, making him sleepier.
If it all falls apart, don’t sweat it In spite of their best efforts, many parents find that their baby’s sleep routine completely falls apart when they’re on vacation. The good news is, once you get home you should be able to re-establish your regular routine within a week or two. So hold tight to the memory that your baby does know how to take regular naps and sleep through the night—and make sure you reinstate your regular nap time and bedtime routines as soon as you get home.
And above all, enjoy your holiday!