Traveling with small children can often feel more like work than vacation. This reality discourages families from venturing out for too long. Aside from the packing and lugging things for those too helpless to do it themselves, one of the most daunting things about vacation is the uncertainty of little ones’ sleep. Will they get ANY? Will it be adequate? And of course YOUR sleep hinges – ever so precariously – on the answer to these questions.
To answer my most pressing sleep questions, I consulted with Joanna Martindale (BCBA*), Sleep and Behavior Coach and owner of “All Things Behavior.” She provided valuable information and useful tips to promote restful sleep while away from home. If you plan to travel with little ones this summer (or ever), you will not want to miss her advice, because I think we can all agree – a restful vacation is a happy one.
- What can parents do while on vacation to mitigate nap and nighttime sleep interference that may occur because of travel or sightseeing?
- First things first – remember that when you’re taking a vacation with kids, you’re taking a vacation with kids. This is a whole new world and don’t expect it to be as seamless as travels before kids.
- Don’t over schedule yourselves! Yes, you are on vacation and may have a lot of different things you want to do, but your babies and children will still need to sleep. You wouldn’t deprive them of food on vacation, so don’t deprive them of sleep on vacation. Plan for a stroller/car ride nap if necessary, or a restful lunch in the hotel while baby sleeps.
- Maintain some semblance of your normal wind-down routine before naps and bedtime. So if a bottle of milk is usually given, books are read before a nap, or a bath is taken before bed – make sure you do these things even when on the road. If your child is still napping, aim to have their naps at generally the same time as at home. So even if you’re out sight-seeing, plan to have a shady walk in the stroller around the time baby usually naps. Making this small adjustment to your schedule will help keep your child well-rested and amenable to travel activities.
- If you’re flying, I generally recommend not taking a red eye – it’s better to miss out on some nap time than a bulk of overnight sleep.
- What are some tips to acclimate children (ages 0-4) to a different time zone?
- That depends on the time zone! In general, though, you just want to jump right into the new time zone. If you’re going overseas, anywhere really, make sure to get your child exposed to natural sunlight as early as possible during the day. Sun exposure tells our bodies that it’s time to be awake, while darkness tells us it’s time for sleep. If you’re only going 1-3 hours forward in time (so west coast to east coast), I recommend keeping your child on west coast time. It works to your advantage to be able to go out for late dinners and brunch! If you’re going backward it’s a little bit harder, but if the trip is just for a few days then keeping them on your normal time zone will help them with the adjustment coming back home.
- What is an ideal physical arrangement to optimize sleep?
- If at all possible, try to get your child their own room in some way, shape, or form (especially if that’s what they’re used to at home). Renting a house versus a hotel room is often a much more preferred scenario for young families because you get some separation of sleep space and hangout space, which can potentially ruin the vacation if you’re forced to sit in a dark room while your child naps. It’s also not uncommon for the child to sleep in a non-traditional room such as the bathroom, closet, laundry room, etc. if needed. That being said, make sure to mimic the same sleep environment that you have at home, on your trip. So bringing paper blackout curtains (easily bought on Amazon or at Home Depot/Lowes), white noise, and a security item (breathable lovey, stuffed animal, etc.) that the child is used to having is key. If it’s a young baby, bring the unwashed sheets from their crib so that their bed has a nice familiar smell. I’m mentioning white noise again, but in crowded hotels or even a room in a house can get noisy and disturb a nap, and who wants that?
- What sleep aids for little ones are on the must-pack list for restful sleep?
- White noise! I’m such a fan of white noise (true white noise not music or rainforest sounds which can actually disrupt sleep cycles) because it’s not only calming and familiar to the child, but drowns out other noises that could potentially wake them up.
- If your child doesn’t already have an attachment item such as a lovey (breathable if under 1 year of age), blanket, or stuffed animal make sure to introduce one before the trip. These items provide a sense of familiarity to the child allowing them to fall asleep without anxiety.
- What is the most common mistake parents make while on vacation that can sabotage their kids’ sleep?
- Over-scheduling themselves, not maintaining their child’s sleep rhythm, forgetting their sleep aides (see above) and thinking it’s okay if their napping child doesn’t nap. I promise that if your child normally takes a nap and misses it, you’ll regret it because they will wake up frequently and early. You don’t need to necessarily plan to go back to the hotel for naps, but make sure that you allow time for them during the day (whether it be in the stroller, carrier, or car) and do your normal wind-down routine before the naps as well. If you keep your child’s routine familiar, they will have a much easier time transitioning and adapting to changes when traveling.
For more information on Joanna Martindale, visit her website at www.allthingsbehavior.org.
*Board Certified Behavior Analyst