“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” I absolutely love this time of year and the excitement that builds as the holidays draw near, however there is also a lot of hustle and bustle that can come with it. And if you have young children, the stress around how they’ll do with all of the traveling and with sleep can be high! Enjoy this smattering of tips and tricks for your travels!
As most of us know all too well, changes in routine can really throw kiddos for a loop! For babies, especially, skipping naps is the quickest way to end up with an overtired kiddo, and overtiredness often rears it’s ugly head by disrupting night time sleep. So although it’s especially challenging to keep up with your normal routine over the holidays, and some days it just won’t be possible, try to stick to it as best as you can!
If you’ll be in the car around your child’s usual nap time, help cue your child that it’s nap time by doing part of your routine in the car; you might even consider using some white noise and/or a car seat cover to minimize distractions. Our favorite sleep sack is actually wearable in the car seat, so we often put our daughter in her sleep sack when it’s time for that car nap, read her a story, and sing her nap song. She would certainly fall asleep on her own if we were way passed nap time, but if we’re in the car and want to get her asleep quickly, we cue her body by using as much of our routine is possible, and it’s been successful! You can also bring your baby carrier or a stroller to help squeeze in a nap. Your child’s nap likely won’t be as long or as deep as normal if it’s on the go, but anything will help release some of that sleep pressure and better set you up for the night. If your toddler misses his or her nap during the day, make sure you do an earlier bedtime to help make up for the lost sleep.
If you expect to be out right up until bedtime or later, consider doing jammies before you leave and then much of your routine on the drive back (i.e. stories), so that when you get home you can put your child right to bed. It’s of course ideal to keep your kiddo awake on the drive back, but we all know that’s not always possible. If your child falls asleep on the drive home, don’t lose heart. Melatonin is working on your side at bedtime, so independent sleepers should be able to drift back into sleep once you put them down. If your child seems to wake up more fully when you get home, walk through the bedtime routine again to remind her it’s bedtime, and then put her down.
My two year old always has a harder time falling asleep in new places. Her personality is just one that takes longer to adjust to new people and places, and even the best sleep training can’t change that! However, I do everything I can to make her new sleep environment feel as close to home as possible – that means as dark as possible and white noise. If you want more details on what a sleep environment should look and sound like, check out my post here!
Having white noise is especially important for full houses filled with noisy adults and kids. Put your sound machine close to your baby/toddler’s bed (just make sure it’s at least three feet from his head). You can also get a second sound machine, or use an app on your phone, and either put it right inside your child’s door as an extra sound barrier, or by the wall where the sound will be coming from. You should of course remind your family and friends that your kiddo is asleep, but it can be tough to tame that holiday cheer!
Changing Time Zones
If you’re changing time zones, try your best to jump straight into the new time zone as best as you can. Sunshine is a natural energizer and helps set our body clocks, so try to get outside in the morning and evening to reset! Having strong routines and a sleep environment similar to home will also help cue your child that it is time for sleep, even though his body clock doesn’t feel like it.
If the time change is more than two or three hours, it will likely be a few days before your child is fully adjusted, and that’s normal! If you have extra early morning wake-ups, try to keep your child in bed, or at the very least, in a sleep-like environment until around 6 am so his body doesn’t think 4 am is play time.
If you have to share a room with your little one and that is not the norm at home, try to create some kind of barrier or partition in the room so that your child can’t see you from his or her bed. My favorite solution is finding a walk-in closet or even a spare bathroom that doesn’t need to be in use (yes, I’ve done this!), otherwise something so simple as opening a closet door and moving furniture around will go a long way. You can also hang a blanket between chairs to make a visual barrier. If your child takes longer to fall asleep than usual or has night wakings, remain consistent with how you’d handle them at home so your child knows you have the same expectations when away.
If your child sleeps in a crib at home, you’ll want to be sure you have a pack ‘n play with you while traveling. If you try to put a crib sleeper in a normal bed while traveling, you are likely in for some trouble! Save yourself the fears and sleeplessness and bring your travel crib.
A friend told me she doesn’t like how thin pack ‘n play mattresses are and wondered if it affects kids. I don’t think it does! For young babies, bassinets are just as thin and generally more firm than a pack ‘n play mattress, so they’re used to it (although I do find it frustrating to have to reach so far down to put baby in a pack ‘n play!). My toddler has always slept in a pack ‘n play, due to our living space, and although she has an extra mattress at home, she has no problem sleeping on the original pack ‘n play mattress while away.
If your child sleeps in a toddler bed or normal bed at home, remind her that the same rules of staying in bed at home apply when staying in a new bed while away! And if your child doesn’t follow those bedtime/overnight rules, you’ll want to give her some sort of consequence so she knows you expect her to follow the rules. Otherwise you’re all in for a rough night!
My kiddo packing list essentials:
- pack ‘n play and sheet for crib sleepers
- swaddles/sleep sacks (I bring 2, in case of a laundry emergency!)
- sound machine
- lovie, blanket, or other comfort item if your child has one
- bedtime stories
- monitor (video or sound)
- toddler clock, if you use one
- baby carrier
- foil and painters tape or travel black out curtains (these are a great option!)
- nail clippers (I know this is strange, but my girls’ nails grow so fast!)
At the end of the day, traveling is off routine anyway, and sleep likely won’t be perfect. Do what you can to keep your child’s sleep routines and environment as consistent as possible, and then make sure you get right back to your child’s normal schedule and stick tightly to it those first few days back home. And don’t forget to give yourself some extra grace; it’s tough enough to manage the details of travel let alone the changes travel brings upon your child and family, so let yourself enjoy the days off and extra time with family and friends!