Whether you are a first-timer, or a more seasoned parent, traveling with babies is always stressful even under the best conditions, especially when it comes to baby sleep while traveling. Traveling is a part of life, and there’s no need to avoid it just to avoid the headache that comes with disrupting your baby’s routine. It’s true, travel can wreak havoc on anyone’s sleep, especially a baby who will be in unfamiliar environments or possibly even different time zones. As parents, there are things we can do to help minimize the struggles and help our babies sleep better while traveling. There really is no quick fix, but following these practical solutions may help to offer a better overall travel experience.
Prepare a sleep station for your baby
Upon arrival at your destination, make sure to designate a specified sleep area for your baby. Try to incorporate as much from home as possible, within reason. Bring the same white noise your baby is used to at home, bring the lovey they sleep with at home, the same sleep sack, etc. If your child will be sleeping in the same room as you, be prepared to constrict their line of sight to you. This means to wrap the pack n play in a blanket, or drape towels over the chairs, whatever you have to do so that your baby cannot see you, as this will encourage them to fight their sleep.
Make the room dark
Just like their room should be at home, your baby’s room while away should be nice and dark as well. There are several commercial products that can travel with you to help you achieve room darkness. Mini blinds or suction cup window shades are some good examples. If you do not wish to invest in these items, the best trick in a pinch is to tape up tin foil to cover the windows. It’s fast, inexpensive, and won’t damage the walls.
Be consistent with your baby’s pre-sleep routine
A consistent wind-down routine should be used before all sleep starting from the newborn stage. This routine should remain in place while traveling as well. The major benefits of these types of routines are to provide cues to your baby that it’s sleepy time, and with consistency, they come to rely on these cues. Having these cues while away from home is extremely important for maintaining strong sleep patterns. If your child seems fussy, overtired, needy, or generally cranky from traveling, it may be a good idea to extend your normal bedtime a bit to allow for some extra cuddle time and TLC.
Be consistent with baby bedtime and wake-up times
This is a big one! It can be a challenge to stick to a consistent bedtime and wake-up time when on vacation, but this tip can help make all the difference. By controlling the wake-up time, you are protecting the rest of the day’s layout. Wake your baby at the same time they are used to waking up at home. This means they will be ready for a nap at the same time and therefore ready for bed at the same time. Staying on this routine, or as close to it as possible, will really help to encourage restorative nights and more predictable days.
Do the best you can for naps
Sometimes it’s just not an option to be a slave to your baby’s nap schedule while traveling. If this is the case, do the best you can. For example, if a mellow quiet time is the best you can do, that’s perfectly fine. If your kiddo knocks out in the stroller, that’s okay. If they skip a nap entirely because they are too excited by the family outing, it’s all good. Skipping a nap every so often should not disrupt the overall patterns of the baby. Do the best you can and if needed, you can move bedtime a little earlier to make up for a skipped nap. Do your best to only skip naps entirely on a rare occasion, since skipped naps can lead to overtired kiddo.
Plan ahead for a few meltdowns
If you are facing a major tantrum or sleep-deprived meltdown, try not to overreact and be prepared for this from the get-go. In your diaper bag or travel bag, stash a few surprise toys that your kiddo maybe didn’t know were on the trip, or pack a few special snack treats to whip out in an emergency. These little surprises and treats can go a long way in helping to calm an overstimulated or emotional child.
What about time changes when traveling?
This is a big pain-point for a lot of parents when they think about what it will look like to travel with their kids. The truth is, it’s not easy. Even as adults, we know how hard jetlag, insomnia, and time confusion can hit us. It’s only expected that it will be that much harder on a tiny human. There are a few things you can do to help make things a bit easier for you and your family.
First is to use the sun as much as you can to your advantage. Our internal clocks are heavily reliant on light and dark, so keep this in mind with your children and get them outside and in the sun as much as possible during the day. This will help prevent their bodies from beginning to produce melatonin and making them sleepy. On the other hand, when it’s time to mellow out and get ready for sleep, turn down the lights, don’t expose them to any screen time, and keep playtime before bed very minimal for the last hour of the day.
The most important things to keep in mind for time changes during traveling are to remain consistent with your wind-down routine, and also prep the sleep space for success. Your child is used to the sleep cues that the wind-down routine provides them, so always make sure you have the time needed to go through that the same as you would at home. Also, keeping the room as dark as possible is always going to benefit you.
Back to the basics when you are home again
If you have followed these baby sleep tips while traveling, then going back home and to your regular schedule should be fairly painless. If everything went out of the window and you are feeling back at ground zero, don’t panic! You have gotten your little one on a predictable schedule before, and you can do it again! All hope is not lost, just be patient and consistent and it will fall back into place.
No matter what, keep in mind that travels are temporary! This one trip will not make or break your baby, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself or your child. Try to enjoy the process, roll with the punches, and go with the flow the very best you can. Believe it or not, it does get easier with practice and you will learn along the way the things that you can do to stay on track and avoid a breakdown in sleep patterns. Every child is different, and everyone responds differently to the stressors of travel. Be kind to yourself and love your baby, in the end, that’s what they truly need from you.
Traveling with children is hard! But it's also incredibly rewarding. My overall best advice is to do your best, be patient, and try to be as consistent as you can with as many things as you can. Once you are back home, you can do some tweaking to get things back on track – there’s nothing that can’t be undone once you are back home.
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