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Tips to Help Your Child Sleep on the Road

It’s family vacation time!  Parents often make the mistake of failing to consider how travel plans will affect their little ones’ sleep.  This can result in a cranky baby spoiling the fun.  Organizing your schedule so that you minimize disruption to your baby’s sleep schedule will ensure that he is well-rested, happy, and alert – which will help make the vacation more fun for the whole family!

Following these tips will help keep your baby’s sleep schedule on track while traveling.

Tip 1: Take it easy

A huge mistake a lot of parents make is to cram too much activity into the trip.  Sticking to an overly busy schedule can be stressful, but trying to do it with a cranky child is nigh impossible.  When you’re traveling with a child, you can’t plan surfing in the morning, going to the zoo in the afternoon, and a trip to the theater in the evening.  It’s just too much!

You will get much more enjoyment out of your time if you plan activities around nap time and an early bedtime.  A well-rested child will be alert and curious about that zoo trip if she got enough sleep the night before.  Plus, you’ll have more fun because you’re not trying to calm an overtired child.


Tip 2: Be as consistent as possible

I get it, from time to time you have to be out during naptime or keep your baby up past bedtime.  The occasional car seat nap won’t ruin his sleep schedule.  But doing it every day will!  Too many days in a row of inconsistent sleep will result in an overtired and grumpy little one.  The eventual meltdown will really put a damper on your plans!

Try your best to stick to your home schedule.  If he had a good sleep schedule before you started your travel, changing time zones shouldn’t be too much of an issue.  You may need to darken the room a couple of hours before bedtime so that his body starts preparing for sleep. 


Tip 3: Be patient

Even good little sleepers will test boundaries in a new environment.  This is normal; just remember you are in charge and stick to his routine as best you can.  Be patient, adjusting to a new environment can take time. 

Most children won’t understand that the rules apply everywhere (Grandma & Grandpa’s house, the hotel, the tent, etc.).  You’ll need to be patient and firm to reassure them that the rules are the same everywhere.

Babies may have a harder time adjusting than an older child.  She might cry at bedtime or wake up during the night.  The best way to handle this is to react the same way you would if you were at home.  It’s ok to go check and offer a little reassurance, but stick to your rules.  If you are consistent and patient, it will only take a night or two for him to adjust and sleep like he’s at home.


Tip 4. Don’t forget the lovey/blanket!

If she sleeps with a favorite toy or blanket, take it with you.  It’s comforting, familiar presence will help her feel safe enough to fall asleep. 

Tip 5. Don’t start bed-sharing

If you’re not already bed-sharing (co-sleeping) don’t do it while traveling.  This is a pretty common mistake; it’s easier than carrying a portable crib or renting one from the hotel.  But if your little one decides that he likes this arrangement better than being in his own bed, you’ll be in for a lot of protest when you try to put him to bed alone when you get home. 

It’ll be worth the extra space or cost to give your child her own bed.  Most hotels have cribs available, some even offer them at no charge.  


Tip 6.

Hotels can be tricky with very small children.  If you’re in the room, they want to be doing whatever it is you are doing.  This can make it hard for her to fall asleep, and if she wakes up during the night and sees you, she’ll want to get up and join you.  If your child is eight months or older, putting her crib in a separate space works well to help her fall asleep.  Sometimes this means putting her in the bathroom, closet, or the sitting room. 

It means you may have to go to the lobby when nature calls, but it’ll be worth it to have a well-rested baby the next day.


A few notes on time zones and traveling with a baby:

If you’re flying, be sure to bring plenty of things to entertain your little one.  It’s ok to bend the rules a bit to keep your child calm.  If you think feeding him will help him stay calm, do it.  But once you land, it’s back to home rules.

If you feel like your child isn’t adjusting to the new time zone well and needs an extra nap, that’s ok.  Try not to let her sleep longer than 45 minutes and don’t let her nap too close to bedtime.  It’s better to put her to bed early than let her stay up late.

Sunlight is very good at helping you adjust, so playing outdoors can help get you and your little one on track. 


If, despite your best efforts, your little one has trouble sleeping while you’re traveling, or has decided to continue pushing the rules, take comfort in knowing that it’ll only take a week or two to get him back on track once you get home.


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