A lot of parents tell us that they refrain from travel because they’re worried it will unravel all of their sleep training and ruin their routine. Others fret over flying during nap times or visiting different time zones (rightfully zone – this is hard). Can travel and sleep go hand in hand for your baby or toddler?
Certified Sleep Consultant, Alanna McGinn, of Good Night Sleep Site, answers some of our reader’s baby and children travel sleep questions:
(1) My baby is used to her own sleep environment. She only knows how to sleep in her room, in her crib, and in total darkness and silence. How can I get her to sleep while we travel in cars and on planes?
Alanna: Just like many of us, it’s normal to not sleep as well when we aren’t in our usual sleep environment. We have to expect that on travel days our baby’s or toddler’s daytime and night time sleep may be disrupted.
For car travel:
You want to choose the best time for road tripping. Synching sleep times to their usual sleep patterns will encourage your child to fall asleep, even when they aren’t in their usual environment. When you leave on your car trip depends on the duration of the trip. If you are planning for an hour drive and nothing more I would recommend you leave after your baby’s morning nap so he is well-rested during travel. Once you arrive at your destination you can get him down for his afternoon nap.
If your trip is longer in duration, leave at least 30 minutes to an hour (depending on how sleep sensitive your child is) before naptime. This way your baby will have time to relax and unwind and then hopefully fall asleep right around his usual nap time.
Try and avoid overnight flights with little ones in tow. The best gift you can give yourself before a flight is a baby or toddler who has had a good night’s sleep.
Heading into a busy day of travel well-rested is the perfect start for your family’s trip. If you can, try to book early morning flights so that you can make sure bedtime is nice and early once you’ve arrived at your destination and you can start off the next day knowing your baby has had another full night of sleep. To achieve naps mid-flight bring products that promote sleep: travel white noise machines, familiar blankets and lovey’s, or car-seat shades if using your car-seat on the flight. Using some of these products both during planes and car trips, coupled with practicing your child’s usual nap time or bedtime routine, can encourage sleep even in the most unusual places.
Sleep Tip! When booking your flight try and book a bulkhead seat, which will give you more leg room and a possible area for your child to create a little nook to rest.
(2) We find it easier to co-sleep when we travel (to make the change easier on our baby) and then put him back in his crib when we get back home. Is this ok or does it disrupt sleep habits too much?
A: It’s not unusual to have to shuffle around with different sleep environments when away from home. Many parents turn to co-sleeping with their babies because logistically it’s what works, and it can also help their little one feel more secure in an unfamiliar environment.
As a sleep professional I always have to recommend the ABC’s of safe sleep. To have your child sleep Alone, on their Backs, in their Cribs. While there are safe co-sleeping practices, it can be difficult to do so in a hotel or as a guest in someone’s home and suddenly we could be potentially dealing with an unsafe sleep environment. If you are able to set up in your room a travel sleep cot or pack n’ play you can have your baby in the same room as you while also keeping their sleep environment as safe as possible. Many resorts or hotels have crib rental options as well.
If your child shares a room with you while away, don’t worry. Provided your child had strong sleep skills and a consistent sleep environment at home, once you get right back on track when you return from your trip all should be fine.
(3) Our toddler is crib trained but when we travel, he sometimes wakes up scared, or needs water, etc. Is it ok to break the “never go to your sleep-trained kid in the night” rule when you travel?
A: Absolutely! The 80/20 Sleep Rule works perfectly when your family is away on a trip. Whether it’s because your little one can’t sleep at night because he’s scared, maybe a nap had to be missed, or bedtime got pushed out a little later than usual you can practice the 80/20 sleep rule and a well-rested baby can handle it perfectly.
80% of the time protect your little ones sleep.
Protect bedtimes, naps, and typical sleep habits as best you can. Keep things simple with little ones in tow. If you know bedtime will be pushed out later then focus on proper naps that day.
20% of the time, if you have to veer off the norm, no big deal!
As long as you aren’t doing it consistently for consecutive days your child will adapt. Remember, it can be a slippery slope and a sleep debt can slowly accrue. If you feel like you’ve pushed things for a few days or responded to too many requests at night make sure to then focus on your child’s usual sleep routine and habits.
Sleep Tip! If you are thinking about sleep training and soon have a family trip coming up my recommendation would be to hold off until you return from your vacation. It’s so important to remain consistent throughout the sleep training process and that can be difficult to do while away from home.
Certified Sleep Consultant, Alanna McGinn provides free child and family sleep support on her Facebook page and she invites you to join her sleep community as she works towards Good Night Sleep Site’s mission of a healthier rested family unit.
For more sleep tips please visit Good Night Sleep Site and visit her on Instagram and Twitter. Join the GNSS movement and #BringBackBedtime.