By Brittney Stefanic
Sleep tips during travel
With the holidays quickly approaching, many families are gearing up for winter travel. You’ve put in the time, effort, and energy to get your travel planned, so now it’s time to start thinking about how to help your family get good sleep while traveling.
If you’re like most parents, your biggest fear is that vacation will go south quickly because of cranky and tired kiddos. If the mere thought of leaving your house for a few nights has caused you to postpone a trip or are avoid travel all together, you are not alone.
The good news – you do not have to cancel all travel plans and risk cabin fever! It is possible to have children who get great sleep while traveling if you keep these top tips in mind.
How to get good sleep while traveling
- The biggest mistake parents make is that they over-schedule themselves. This is especially true with holiday events and late nights. It is great to get the most out of your vacation, but be sure to not OVER plan because this is when overtiredness and overstimulation occur, especially with bright lights, sugar and new faces.
One helpful tip to avoid overtiredness is to “stagger the busy”. When possible, follow a long day with skipped naps or a late night with a lower key day and extra sleep periods. When this schedule hack is followed, a very full day is followed by a more mellow one to recover any lost sleep.
- An occasional car nap or slightly later bedtime will not do too much harm, but if your child spends multiple days in a row taking car seat naps and having later bedtimes, they may become so overtired that by the time bedtime rolls around, a meltdown in inevitable.
If you start to notice overtiredness setting in, consider a slight change in plans to allow for a little extra sleep. This might look like holding your baby for a nap while at the relative’s house, baby wearing during the church service or driving around a bit longer to prolong an accidental car nap.
- It’s very normal for babies and children to test the boundaries around sleep when they are somewhere new. Just because the rule is the rule at home, that does not necessarily mean the rule is the same at Grandma’s house. This may mean that your child protests for quite some time at bedtime or has a night waking or two where they come out of their room.
The best way to handle this is to stay as consistent as possible. When little ones know what they can expect (and that we are holding those expectations form), within the first night or two, they will likely get used to the new environment and will be sleeping well again.
- Make sure you bring your child’s lovey and/or blanket, sound machine, sleep sack and favorite books for bedtime. The more closely the travel environment mimics the home environment, the less chance of confusion and set back!
Pro tip: If you are worried about a sleep space being dark enough, pack a few black trash bags and some painters tape to help make any room dark!
- When little ones are used to sleeping in their own space, it can be a shock to their system (and quite overstimulating) to suddenly be sharing a room or be sleeping right next to you.
When possible, try to make some sort of a private space for them to sleep. This could be the bathroom (if it’s big enough), a closet, or a partition between you and your child made by moving a dresser or desk. When we create this separate space, we lessen the likelihood that they will get stimulated and excited upon seeing you if they wake in the night. Of course, getting an extra bedroom in an AirBNB or VRBO for your child is great if that’s an option for you.
Grace and space when traveling
In spite of all best efforts, many parents find themselves reverting back to old, familiar sleep props with their little ones when they travel. If you find that sleep and schedules have fallen apart during your vacation, remember that it is always possible to get back on track once back to “normal” life at home!
So as soon as you get home, set clear expectations, hold your boundaries and remember that sleep is a skill that can always be recalled. Hold tight to the memory that your child is capable of doing this, they might just need a little “post travel” reminder from you!
Enjoy and be merry
The holidays are a magical time with children, so be sure to ENJOY the travel and holiday spirit. It can be so easy to get wrapped up in the schedules and rules, but the memories are worth it! Remember that with the 80/20 rule works with pediatric sleep – if 80% of the time, all is on track and routine, the remaining 20% can be spontaneous and free flowing… So, hang in there and travel safely!
Brittney Stefanic is a whole-family certified sleep consultant and founder of Sleeper Teachers®. She is an avid traveler and knows that hitting the road with little one’s in tow changes the travel experience quite significantly. Brittney and her team love educating and support families around the world in finding sleep solutions through their customized sleep plans. You can follow the Sleeper Teachers on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook @sleeperteachers for funny Reels, lots of blogs and frequent sleep Q&A sessions.