Editor’s Note: While the pandemic is ongoing, the CDC will continue to update its travel advisories. Make sure to check the latest guidelines for your departure city and your destination here before planning to travel.
After a year of staying home, the thought of packing your suitcase and heading to a new destination is probably so exciting. Vacations are the perfect way to connect with your children and leave behind the daily to-do lists. Whether it’s to the beach, mountains, or to visit extended family, changing up the scenery can be refreshing for the entire family.
When traveling with children, there’s so much to consider. Did I pack enough baby wipes? Do we have enough snacks? Did I forget their favorite lovey? I always tend to overpack on diapers and bring our entire pharmacy (as if stores do not exist on vacation). But amidst the enthusiasm and overpacking for a vacation comes the concern of possibly derailing your baby’s existing sleep habits. As a certified sleep consultant, here are my top tips for keeping sleep on track so that you can thoroughly enjoy your time away.
1. Use an Early Bedtime on Travel Days
Whether you’re driving or flying with kids, travel days can be exhausting for the entire family. The best way to make up for a lack of consolidated sleep during your travel day is to have an early bedtime when you arrive at your destination. This will help prevent your baby from becoming overtired and overstimulated.
2. Recreate the Sleep Environment and Routine
The most helpful way to ensure your baby’s sleep stays on track while traveling is to recreate their sleep space. Bring familiar sleep associations from home, such as a sleep sack, lovey, or sound machine. A dark, cool environment is also beneficial to uninterrupted sleep while away. If you’re staying in a hotel where you’ll be sleeping in the same room as your baby, consider utilizing a blackout solution like portable black-out curtains or the SlumberPod.
Since babies can’t tell time, routines are very useful in helping them recognize that bedtime is approaching. If you’re able to do so, keep your baby’s bedtime routine consistent. This might mean bringing a book along and singing the same song as you do at home.
3. Use an 80/20 Perspective
Vacation should be a time to relax and unwind from the usual day-to-day. While traveling, use an 80/20 perspective with regard to your baby’s sleep schedule. What I mean by this: 80% of the time, try to make sure they’re sleeping at their usual times. 20% of the time, I encourage you to go to the scheduled activity during nap time or that late dinner.
This perspective will allow you to enjoy your vacation without derailing your baby’s sleep. If your baby is expected to miss a nap or nap on the go, plan an early bedtime. If you have a late night planned past their usual bedtime, make sure they have a solid nap during the day.
4. Time Zone Considerations
When making travel plans, it’s helpful to proactively consider the time difference. If you’re expecting a 3-hour plus time change, I recommend shifting your baby’s schedule 1-2 weeks prior to travel. Use 15-20 min increments backward or forward at a time (depending on the time change) for a total of a 1-2 hour shift. By doing so, you’ll ease the drastic change and experience less sleep disruptions upon arrival.
The best way to reset our circadian rhythm is with exposure to natural light. Wake your baby up to the new desired time and let the sunlight in. Getting outside with your baby during the day and keeping their sleep space really dark at night will help them quickly adjust to the new time zone.
5. Routine Upon Returning Home
If sleep becomes difficult on vacation and your child experiences a regression upon returning home, don’t worry! Utilize the consistent routine you were using prior to traveling. Your baby will usually return back to their normal sleep habits within a week.