Aug. 25, 2017Getting a kid on a sleep schedule is hard enough when you’re not on the road, but once you set out on a family vacation, all bets are off. Naps disappear, bedtimes fall apart, and meltdown after meltdown keeps everybody on edge.
It’s hard enough traveling with littles — let’s not compound the problem by letting them get overtired and grumpy. Here are a few things you can do to keep your kids’ sleep schedules on track so that you can all enjoy a more peaceful and well-rested vacation.
Account for Time Changes
If you’re traveling somewhere in a different time zone, try to account for this before you go, slowly working into that routine at least a week before your scheduled departure. Though their sleep schedule might be a bit bizarre at home for a while, it’ll help you to get the most out of your time on your trip with a schedule that’s more fitting of the local time zone.
Get Off to a Good Start
Before you hit the road, make sure that everyone is well-rested — no staying up all night the night before, making a ton of noise and letting the kids run wild. Get everyone to bed at a decent hour, particularly if you have an early rise the next day.
Get There Well Before Bedtime
New places are exciting! When you get to where you’re going, no matter how late it is, anticipate at least an hour of mayhem as your child checks out the new digs. For this reason, aim for getting to your destination at least an hour — or better yet, two — before bedtime, to give them ample time to get settled in.
Take It Easy When You Land
If you’re in for a particularly long trip, be sure to add in plenty of buffer time between your activities starting and your arrival. The first day or so after lots of travel, kids and adults alike are usually worn out and irritable, so keep things simple by staying in, or close to home base. Focus on letting your kids have plenty of free play and unstructured activity time while you take a load off and get settled in.
Give Them a Quiet Sleeping Space
It’s for this reason that I so strongly prefer to just rent a whole house a la Airbnb, but if you’re staying in a hotel, it’s not impossible to swing setting up a private, quiet sleep space for your child.
In some cases, parents get an adjoining room next door and set up a baby monitor to keep an eye on them, but if you’re limited to just one room, you can also get creative and set up a barrier of furniture and sheets. Just do what you can to divide the sleep space from the living space, unless you plan on going to bed at the same time as your kids (which, admittedly, is sometimes just plain easier).
Bring a Portable Bed
In the case of toddlers and babies, it can be particularly helpful to bring a portable bassinet, crib, or playpen, rather than getting a double room and creating the standard don’t-fall-off-the-bed wall of pillows.
Get them used to it at least a week before you set out on your journey, encouraging them to sleep in it as much as possible, so they can get used to it. Add their favorite blankets and consider getting a special mobile just for the occasion to make it exciting to sleep in their special bed.
Stick to Your Routine
It can be easier said than done on the road, but make sticking to your sleep routine your absolute fire priority. While you can’t do much while you’re physically en route to your destination, once you’re at your accommodations, quickly set the pace for a nap and bedtime routine to get things back on track.
Do things in the same order you do them at home, and make sure your child has everything they have when they fall asleep at home, right down to their favorite night light. Don’t let travel be the excuse to let them skip naps and stay up late, or you’ll be asking for trouble from overtired toddlers the following day.
Don’t Skip Naps
I know this seems impossible, and on days when you’re on the road, it definitely can be, but do absolutely everything in your power to make sure your kid gets an opportunity to nap. Make it at the same time as it is at home, in a comfortable, quiet, and dark place, and make it as important as filling your car up with gas.
If you’re visiting with relatives, suggest a quiet cup of coffee in your hotel room or on the patio while your child naps inside, so you’re not pulled away from precious family visits for one to three hours a day.
Travel makes everything a bit chaotic, so as you try to maintain a degree of normalcy, also try to maintain your expectations. Kids are very much constantly adapting to a changing circadian rhythm, and as such, their sleep habits change frequently anyway, without travel in the mix.
When you’re on the road, try to hold onto your patience, and don’t get too committed to any one way of doing things. If they’ll only sleep in your bed, try to accommodate that as best you can. Sleeping new places can be scary for young children, so try to accommodate their discomfort with some flexibility on your part.
Be Wary of Overstimulation
For kids under four especially, it’s very easy for the excitement of the day to overstimulate them, making it that much harder to wind down come nap time. Try to limit new experiences to just one a day, and give them plenty of independent quiet time to be bored and relax.
An overstimulated child is one that resists sleep, so don’t be shy about telling relatives to give your child some space if they need to wind down a bit for the day.
Write naptimes and bedtimes into your travel itinerary like they’re critical business meetings that you can’t afford to miss, and plan your daily activities around them.
Most people are very understanding and admire a parent that prioritizes their child’s sleep schedule so much, so don’t worry about putting anyone out. Just make your child’s sleep schedule a priority by planning ahead above all else, and count on enjoying a vacation with fewer meltdowns as a result.
Planning any trips with your kids? Any tips for fellow traveling parents? Share them with us at @AvocadoMattress or #AvocadoMattress.