With the holiday season quickly approaching, many families will be traveling with their children. For some, this means car naps (or plane or train or boat), new sleep environments, room sharing, and many unknowns when it comes to sleep routines.
Does this also mean complete disaster when it comes to sleep? Not necessarily!
If you have ever worked with me (or if you’re a friend who has asked a sleep/behavior question in passing) you’ve probably heard me say “be consistent” more times than you can count 😉.
But I will say it here again as the most important part of sleep and travel: be consistent! Do as much as you can to replicate your child’s existing routine and environment. Here are some ideas...
- Bring a travel crib, air mattress, or sleeping bag so your child has an independent sleep space
- Bring your sound machine or OK to Wake light
- Stick with nap and bedtimes as much as possible
- Find out in advance if you need to bring room darkening shades
- Follow the same bedtime routine to the closest extent possible
- Don't create new sleep associations when they can be avoided (for example, don’t bring your child in bed with you if you could have them sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor)
- Bring your own childproofing supplies
Being consistent is ideal, but let’s be realistic, it’s not always going to happen. Here are some tips for acclimating to new environments and routines while sleeping away from home.
- Assess your sleep space: Whether you are staying with family in their home or in a hotel, there may be some unknowns. If you have the opportunity, find out as much as you can in advance. Will there be a separate space for your child to nap and sleep? Will you be sharing a room? If you and your child (or children) will be room sharing, think about where you and your child will sleep and plan ahead (remember, per the AAP, bed sharing and adult mattresses are not safe for infants). If your child won’t have their own room but he/she struggles if they can see you when sleeping, get creative; a bathroom, hallway, large closet, or reading nook might give some separation! If your child does have their own room but will be sleeping on the floor, on an air mattress, or in a bed (and may wander), be sure to take some time when you arrive to look for safety hazards. Check that outlets are covered, furniture can't tip, closets are secure, and cords are out of reach. You may want to bring your own outlet covers or door handle locks.
- Create familiarity where you can: Bringing your child’s sound machine or night light will allow for some of the comforts of home while away. If your toddler or child uses an OK to Wake clock/light; bring it with you! You should adjust your expectations (for example, you might set the light to 6:30am for a child who usually stays in bed until 7:00am), but the routine can be carried over. Following your typical bedtime routine from home will set the stage for sleep, even if it’s occurring at a different time.
- Think about timing for the car ride: Consider whether your child is a car napper or not. If your child is likely to be excited by the upcoming plans and won’t sleep in the car, try to leave after the nap (starting the trip off well rested). If your child always falls asleep in the car regardless of the time, plan to travel during naptime to ensure the car nap happens at the best time (thus keeping the rest of the schedule intact).
- Give yourself permission to not stress about sleep: Don’t let sleep schedules rule your vacation- have some fun! Go see those Christmas lights at night, or stay up watching a movie as a family. There might be some regression, but you can get back on track when you get home. Recognize that any new sleep avoidance behaviors are probably related to the trip, and should resolve once you are back into your consistent routine for a few days.
Pour yourself an extra-large cup of holiday coffee or hot chocolate (peppermint for me please) and enjoy your holiday away. Happy Holidays!
Here are some products I love for traveling: