Your Child’s Sleep and the Family Vacation

I have a PASSION for sleep. So much so, I help families get the rest that they need as a Sleep Consultant. One topic that comes up often is how to vacation without totally messing up your little one’s sleep. I hear ya! 

Our family loves to travel, even just to get away for a weekend here or there, it is important for our sanity. We all need a break from the grind, and travel usually does the trick.  “BUT JENNIE,” you might say! “Sleep, is WAY up there on our sanity list, too!” Amen, and amen! Unfortunately, sleep can sometimes be one of the first things to go out the window on vacation. Let’s change that!

If our kids get too far off of schedule, sometimes it can be difficult to bring them back. You may know this all too well. Perhaps after travel, you’ve ended up with a child who doesn’t want to go to bed or is even waking in the night. 

I remember our first trip after we helped our first son achieve great sleeping habits. I was nervous about messing up my precious little sleeper’s sleep! That first trip went well, with only one hiccup and all subsequent trips have gone very well, even if hiccups occur. So I want to share with you how we make it work, and still get to have fun!

Plan Ahead:

  • If you can book accommodations with more than one room, this way you can stick to bedtimes most nights and you don’t have to go to bed at the same time as the kids. We tend to look for vacation rentals or suite type hotels.
  • If you are flying, book a morning flight. With kids who are still on more than one nap, it is always better to skip the first nap over the second. You can try for that nap on the plane, but if it doesn’t happen – no biggie. Though, a window seat, so that you can draw the shades might help encourage sleep!
  • If you are driving, leave early in the morning or before bedtime. We drive to North Carolina a few times a year and we get prepared to leave the night before and then set off on our road trip right after breakfast in the morning. This way we attempt naps in the car (sometimes they happen, sometimes they don’t), but we ensure that we have reached our destination for bedtime. If you leave before bedtime, pack them in the car in pjs and transfer them to bed once you reach your destination.

What To Pack:

Pack the comforts of home. Comfortable sleep for our littles is often tied to environment and even “things.” Depending on age these “things” change:

  • For younger children still in a crib, pack the pack n’ play. You can even sleep with the pack n’play sheet for a few days ahead of travel, so that it smells like home. 
  • For older children, who are of age to safely have additional objects in their bed or crib – pack those that they are attached to. This includes loveys, stuffed animals, blankets and pillows.
  • For all ages, try to recreate their home sleep environment. Pack the white noise machine (you want to drown out the noise of the hotel or even just you watching tv at night). Don’t forget the monitor. Lastly, pack black garbage bags and tape. Yup, that’s what I said.  Part of a good sleep environment is a dark one. Don’t be afraid to tape those black garbage bags to the windows to ensure that naps happen. Last year in our beach rental – each kid had 3 windows in their room. It took me 20+ garbage bags – BUT THEY SLEPT.

Flexibility in Schedule:

So, let’s be honest, we can’t stick to our schedules 100% of the time when traveling. It is so important in childhood to have experiences and not be locked down to naps all the time. Here is my suggestion on how to have flexibility without creating an over-tired and cranky child:

  • Stick to the plan 80% of the time.
  • 20% of the time you can vary from it by way of skipped naps or later bedtimes.
  • You will though, want to make up for any lost sleep with an earlier bedtime.

Don’t Worry Too Much:

Finally, try not to stress about sleep on vacation too much. This was a mistake I made in the beginning. I stressed about 30 min less of a nap or arriving too late to our destination. Any lost sleep can be caught up on if you do so quickly and follow the 80/20 rule

Vacations become memories that last a lifetime. It is so important that we have them, that our kids can really experience new places to the fullest. It is also important that they are well-rested enough to enjoy it. I hope that this helps you find that balance that you need to enjoy your time away. Be sure that you have fun too!

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