Traveling with young children can be quite an adventure, so I gathered some of my best travel sleep tips for kids.
We’ve just returned from our big summer vacation- from one end of the country (South Florida) to the other (Seattle, WA) with a 4-year-old and almost 2-year-old. We hadn’t actually REALLY traveled with both kids so we were nervous to say the least…how would we survive the 6-hour plane ride? Would the kids sleep in unfamiliar beds? Would we all have to go to bed at the same time if we shared a room?
Through trial and error, I compiled my best travel sleep tips for kids:
Don’t assume your child will sleep on the plane. It’s a nice idea but unless you have a really young, easily-soothed baby, your child may be too uncomfortable or excited to sleep. We had a 6-hour night flight and my youngest child did NOT sleep; she simply writhed, squirmed, and squealed for about the last 2 hours of the flight. It was a challenge, but I had a sinking suspicion this might happen so I was mentally prepared. However, my 4-year-old did sleep for about two hours of the flight and we encouraged this by bringing her favorite blanket in her carry-on and a small travel pillow. For young babies, I also recommend changing them into their pajamas before the flight to signal it’s ok to sleep.
Before you leave, practice napping in the travel crib. For two days prior to our trip, I used naptime to let my daughter practice sleeping in her travel crib. I put her own familiar sheets on the travel crib and went through her same soothing routine.
Bring all your familiar sleep essentials: loveys, blankets, sound machines, blackout curtains, even the baby monitor! Unless you have a super easy-going child, it’s important to bring all your sleep tools. Make sure you bring their special lovey (but also have an extra at home in case it gets lost traveling). Bring your usual blankets or sheets that smell like home. Traveling with the sound machine is a win-win for everyone, especially if you all need to sleep in the same room! This trip, I just assumed that our hotels would have black-out (or at least really dark) curtains…. boy, was I wrong. I didn’t realize that summer in the Pacific Northwest meant sunset at 10 pm and sunrise at 4:30 am! I really could have used this product: http://gro.co.uk/gro-anywhere-blind (travel blackout curtains!). For those traveling with babies who will be sleeping in a pack n play or travel crib, consider bringing this blackout shade that goes around the travel crib: http://www.snoozeshade.com/shop/for-cots/. What a great solution if you need to share a room!
Give everyone enough time to adjust/recover from jet lag. Even a small time zone change can make a big difference in everyone’s sleep. Traveling from the west coast to east coast, we went back 3 hours and it felt like it took a whole week to recover. Every day felt like a jet lag hangover! The kids were sleeping until 9 am and not going to bed at night until 9 pm. Instead of forcing a change right away, give everyone at least 3 days to just sleep and recover. Then gradually start moving bedtime earlier by 15-30 minutes and waking everyone up earlier. Also, get outside in the sunlight frequently during the day to help set your circadian rhythm. Everyone will need to hydrate extra to recover from airline travel as well.
You may need to use some last resort techniques– like sleeping in the same bed or nursing to sleep, etc. Some sensitive sleepers really struggle when they’re away from home. To enjoy your time away, you’ll probably have to resort to some sleep crutches. Often parents will end up sleeping in the same bed as their child, nursing baby to sleep, napping in strollers/car seats, etc. That’s totally fine! However, you will need to do some recovery work when you get home. I’ve had several clients come to me after a small vacation that threw everything off. If you go back to our old methods and stay consistent, your child will get back on track, but it can take as long as 2 weeks to fully recover.
For toddlers and preschoolers, pack a flashlight or nightlight. Being in a new environment can be intimidating to little people, so make sure to pack a little flashlight or nightlight to ease the anxiety.
Get creative with the bed/crib situation. What do you do with toddlers who still sleep in a crib at home but are too big for the travel crib? You have several options- all of which will require some coaxing and patience. If your child really can’t fit in the pack n play or it’s become too dangerous (they keep climbing out, they exceed the weight limit, they might tip it over), then consider some creative solutions: purchase a travel cot or inflatable toddler airbed; or put a mattress on the floor. A fellow sleep consultant got really creative and actually used their pop-up princess tent. She put her toddler’s bedding in the pop-up tent and made it like her own little safe haven. This seems like a great solution because it provides a separation from other family members sleeping in the room, limits stimulating light, and provides a safe barrier from them getting out.
Remember just do the best you can and enjoy your time traveling with your children- it’s truly where memories are made! You can always fix the sleep crutches when you return.
If you need help adjusting back to great sleep, check out my sleep coaching packages.