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9 Sleep Tips for Kids (& Their Exhausted Parents) During Holiday Travel

Dec 16, 2013

9 Sleep Tips for Kids (& Their Exhausted Parents) During Holiday Travel

There's so much to love about the holidays. Spending time with family, hot chocolate by the fire, and all the twinkly lights. However, holiday travel can wreak havoc on your child’s sleep, thus putting a damper in your otherwise cheery holidays. If one of your holiday wishes is to get more shut-eye, read on for some useful sleep tips you can apply to your child’s routine.

1. Schedule travel during a nap or around your child’s bedtime. Many kids will get the most sleep on a red-eye flight and a five-hour drive seems so much shorter for little ones when three of those hours were spent napping. 

2. For older kids, explain what will happen on the trip. “Mom and dad will sleep in their bed, and you’ll sleep in your own bed in our room. We’ll brush teeth, put on PJs, and read books just like at home.” Make a simple book to show your child what will happen.

3. If you're traveling east, you can stay on your western clock. For example, if you live on the West Coast and your child normally goes to bed at 7pm and wakes at 6am, she’ll now go to bed at 10pm (so you can go out to dinner) and wake at 9am (woo hoo!). The key to making this work is ensuring that the room is very dark in the early morning (ask your hosts’ permission to tack up garbage bags with painter’s tape) and using white noise to drown out ambient noise.

4. If traveling east to west, your child will wake early the first couple of days, but help her s-t-r-e-t-c-h as close as possible toward her normal times for naps and bedtime. Hang in there--she’ll adjust in a couple of days.

5. If you do want your child to adjust to the time zone you’re in, expose her to lots of natural daylight during the day, especially between 2pm and 3pm if traveling west to east (which tells the brain it’s still light out at a time when it thinks it should be dark) and between 6am and 8am if traveling east to west.

6. Add an additional ten minutes to your child’s wind-down routine to help her relax in the new place. Going through her familiar routine will help make her sleepy even though she’s in a different environment.

7. Bring your child’s favorite lovey or stuffed animal from home. If using a crib, bring a crib sheet you haven’t washed in a few days, so it smells familiar.

8. It’s fine to do naps on the go in the car or stroller on vacation. If naps are shorter than usual, make bedtime earlier by 15-30 minutes so she’s not overtired.

9. If your child has trouble settling or wakes in the night, start with minimal assistance and work your way up: put a hand on baby’s tummy while you shush; then pick her up if necessary, calm, and return to her crib; and if all else fails, help her to sleep – you won’t enjoy your trip being sleep deprived. For older kids, offer some brief reassurance if they get up, but return them lovingly to bed – several times, if necessary – without making a fuss.

If all else fails, simply help your child to sleep while on vacation, or pull her into bed with you. Knowing how to sleep is like riding a bicycle: once your child knows how to do it, she won’t forget. Just return to good habits as soon as you get back home, allowing for a day or two if there’s been a time change.

Need more tips for fuss-free family travel? Click though our slideshow to get you smoothly through your journey.
By Jennifer Waldburger
Jennifer Waldburger, MSW, is co-author of The Sleepeasy Solution and Calm Mama, Happy Baby. As the co-founder of Sleepy Planet and MomAssembly, she has been working with moms and families for nearly two decades. Jennifer also helps care for more than 30,000 children through her support of the SQ Foundation.