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Perspective | Sleep and travel: How to cope?

How to help little ones catch z's while you're away from home.

A little forward thinking and some preparation can make all the difference when it comes to your child sleeping whilst traveling. Here are my top tips for helping little ones to sleep when you are away from home.

Plan travel times around nap times

If you can, this would be my number one tip. Obviously, you can’t dictate what time your plane takes off, but you can take steps to ensure that your little one is due a nap around the same sort of time. If you’re driving, you’re in better control, and you can make sure that you’re on the road for sleep. This will make the whole journey a lot easier all round.

Bring comforting items from home

If your little one only sleeps with a certain blanket at home, for goodness’ sake don’t forget to bring it! Lots of kids are soothed by home comforts, so it makes sense to bring a few with you to make relaxing and falling asleep a lot easier.
White noise will not only help your child sleep at home but will also help their sleep whilst you are away.

Stay flexible

Children pick up on our stress, so if you’re worrying about nap time and how on earth you’re going to make it happen, it’s not going to do anyone any favors. Stay calm, and be as flexible as you can. This might mean your little one has to take a nap in a pram, rather than a bed for once, look to the last tip if they always have a certain blanket for their nap take it with you for the nap on the go. It may mean that nap time needs to move a little. Just remember that traveling is very short term and you can readjust the routine once you reach your destination.

Get plenty of rest before you travel

There’s nothing worse than setting out on your travels on limited sleep! Make sure you prepare well in the days ahead of your journey so that you can minimize the exhausting effects of traveling. This goes for everyone, not just the kids!

Take steps to adjust to a new time zone as soon as possible

Jet lag is no fun! If you’re traveling to a new time zone, it makes sense to try and adjust to it as soon as you can. Wake your child at the local time rather than the time your child should be on and stick to this as much as you can. Of course, stay flexible, but the more you insist on the new time zone, the easier the transition will be for your child.

Don’t be tempted to skip naps

When you’re traveling, it can be tempting to skip naps, or you might even forget about them altogether in the busyness of the journey. This is not a good idea! Overtired kids on journeys are not much fun, so make sure you stick to your schedule as closely as possible. Having a little downtime during the day will make it much easier for your child to nap, bring any comfort items including white noise. The white noise can help your child relax by blocking out other noises around.

Don’t attempt to sleep-train on vacation

Hopefully, you will have already completed your gentle sleep training program before you travel, but if you’re in the middle of it, then it’s a good idea to hit the pause button for a while. Take your cues from your child and go with the flow while you’re away. You can pick back up again when you return.

Don’t worry about changes in routine

While you’re away, you might find that the easiest way to get a night’s sleep is by bringing your child to bed with you. Lots of families end up doing this, and there is nothing wrong with it at all. That said, if you don’t usually bed share at home with your child, make sure that this situation doesn’t continue once you get home. It’s important to return to your usual routine quickly to make the transition easier.

It’s normal for a little disruption to sleep to occur while you travel, but if you follow my tips, you should be able to minimize the effects and have a happy vacation. Good luck!

This column was previously published on Reprinted with permission from Rebecca Michi. 

Editor’s note: Publication of an opinion piece does not mean Seattle’s Child or its staff endorses the views of the author.

More on getting a good night’s sleep:

Sleep training for parents: After young kids, adults often have to relearn how to sleep soundly.

New Mom Dispatch: Confessions of a sleep trainer

Sleep consultants offer solutions to children’s sleep problems

About the Author

Rebecca Michi

Rebecca Michi is a Shoreline-based children’s sleep consultant and author of the book "The Baby Sleep Plan."