I’ve had friends cancel travel plans because their child’s sleep is such a challenge and they don’t want to risk it getting worse. OR they go on vacation and are miserable the whole time because no one gets any sleep.
If so, it doesn’t have to be that way! Sure, your child’s sleep might not be as awesome while away than when you’re at home (I mean, mine isn’t!), but their sleep does not need to be the kill joy of your entire trip, or the reason you don’t go!
Why sleep training helps babies, toddlers, and older kids when traveling or on vacation.
I am NOT saying that just because you’ve sleep trained, sleep is going to be perfect when you’re traveling or away from home. Our kids are real human beings, not robots!
But I WILL say, I have found that babies and kids who are already confident and independent sleepers at home often do better when sleeping in a new environment. Let me explain…
For little ones who already rely on quite a bit of help getting to sleep (i.e. feeding, rocking, hand holding, etc.), not only is sleep already a question mark, but now being in a new environment adds an extra layer of challenge and uncertainty.
For little ones, however, who are confident little sleepers and are able to soothe themselves to sleep, the sleep piece is already taken care of! So now the only question mark is the new environment – sleep is taken care of.
[If you’re wondering if now is a good time to sleep train, or if sleep training is right for you, read this blog post.]
So here are my top tips to help you feel more confident in your child’s sleep while traveling this summer.
Set your child up for success with a solid sleep environment when traveling!
Just as your child’s sleeping environment at home is crucial to getting great sleep, we want to ensure your that their sleeping environment while away is as solid as possible, which includes total darkness and white noise!
One of my all time FAVORITE baby and toddler sleep products is the SlumberPod, and it’s especially helpful when traveling. If your baby or toddler will be sleeping in a mini-crib, pack ‘n play, or toddler cot while you’re away, I highly recommend bringing a SlumberPod along! (You can read about all of my favorite uses of the SlumberPod here.)
If your child will be sleeping in their own room while on vacation, the SlumberPod will make their sleeping space completely dark without covering any of the windows.
If you’ll be room sharing with your child on vacation, not only does the SlumberPod provide total darkness, but it offers some sort of barrier between you and your little one. So if they wake in the night, or when they wake up in the morning, they don’t instantly see you!
Using our SlumberPod in a hotel room has allowed us to still have a light on so my husband and I can read before bed, or watch a show on our computer with head phones in. We’ve even started packing while one of our girls napped right there in their SlumberPod!
If you don’t have a SlumberPod, or your child will be sleeping in a standard-sized crib or bed, you can still achieve total darkness! Another sleep-consultant-vacation-hack is bringing some trusty foil and painter’s tape to cover any windows in your child’s room.
I’ve also been known to turn a walk-in closet or spare bathroom into our nursery-away-from home, because total darkness really makes a difference! (Did you know Olivia actually slept in our walk-in closet the first two years of her life? Hello, small space living.)
Checkout this blog post about some of my other favorite products to help you achieve total darkness in your child’s room, whether at home or away.
Bringing your child’s sound machine is also helpful in keeping their sleep in tact when traveling or on vacation. If they are used to sleeping with white noise at home, having that white noise while away will help their sleep remain consistent!
Likewise, when your traveling, there’s a good chance there will be new or unfamiliar sounds in your accommodations, and the white noise will help drown out those sounds.
Similarly, if your vacationing with other people, especially, having white noise will allow you to continue enjoying your company while your babies are napping or while your kids are asleep for the night.
Bring familiar items from home when on vacation.
If your child is 12+ months and sleeps with some sort of lovey or comfort item, make sure you pack it! We want their sleeping space while away to feel as similar to at home as possible.
Similarly, don’t forget your newborn’s swaddle, your baby or toddler’s sleep sack, or your child’s favorite pillow and blanket. These are all little pieces of home that help them feel more comfortable when in a new environment.
I even bring a stack of my daughters’ favorite bedtime books when we go on vacation, or even when we visit my parents who have plenty of books at their house…anything that will help them feel more at home!
For toddlers and older kids who use a toddler clock, don’t forget to bring that along, as well! It’s important for your child to recognize that the same boundaries you have around sleep at home are the same expectations you have while traveling or on vacation. Remember, that consistency helps them feel more safe and secure!
Spend time in your child’s new sleep environment when away.
For older babies, toddlers, and school-aged kids, try to spend some time in your child’s new sleep environment before their first sleep, if at all possible. If not the first day, try to make a point of it the next.
Aside from doing the nap and bedtime routines in their new room, get them dressed in that room, read some stories, look out the new windows, say hi to their bed, etc., so when it’s time for sleep, there’s not so much extra distraction because the environment is already somewhat familiar.
With older kids, it’s also helpful to show them where you’ll be sleeping and to remind them that you can hear them on the monitor, or you will check on them before you go to bed, so they have an extra sense of security while sleeping in a temporary environment.
Make time for naps while traveling or on vacation.
My general rule of thumb while away is to aim to have half of your child’s naps at “home” whenever possible. Naps on the go will absolutely happen, but they likely won’t be as long or as restorative as those in an independent sleep space. So trying to make space for more independent naps will help avoid a build up of overtiredness throughout your vacation.
If you will be out and about during your child’s usual nap time, bring your stroller or your carrier so they can sleep, or plan one of your drives for nap time. That on-the-go nap may not be super long or your child’s deepest sleep, but it is still helpful.
And whether at home or on the go, try to give your little one the chance to sleep around their normal nap time, whether you’re still following awake windows or are on a clock-based schedule!
If you don’t give your child the space they need to nap during the day, overtiredness will quickly settle in, making any more sleep that day and/or night much harder. And it’s way too easy for that overtiredness to build up over vacation!
Stick to the same nap and bedtime routine while traveling.
Adjusting to a new space can be tricky enough on little ones, so support your child by following the same routines you would at home; your child’s nap and bedtime routines are SO important! Not only do they help alert your child’s mind that sleep is coming, but also their body (think melatonin, our natural sleepy hormone).
It’s easy to skip a story, or rush through getting jammies on, because maybe you’re running a bit later for bedtime. But your little one needs that space to transition to sleep time, so still aim for 20-30 minutes!
And if you’ll be in the car when you’d normally be doing the bedtime routine?
Do part of the routine in the car! You can put your little one in their jammies before you leave, read a few books in the car, and then sing a song once you’re “home” and lay them down.
Try to keep a consistent bedtime when traveling, but adjust it when necessary.
If you have a baby who is still following an awake window schedule, base bedtime on those awake windows, just as you would at home. Similarly, if your baby or toddler is following more of a set schedule, try to continue following that schedule while on vacation, as well.
I know some people are worried about trying to stick to a schedule and routine while traveling because they’re nervous about what others will think; if that’s you, read this blog post! A well-rested child is way happier and can handle the off days traveling may throw at them much better than a sleep-deprived little one and it’s okay to want to keep their sleep on track when possible!
However, we all know that we can make grand plans for the most perfect day ever, to swim in the ocean, go play putt putt, and get an ice cream cone, all while still being home for nap time and bedtime, but sometimes that just doesn’t come to fruition.
If that’s the case, it’s okay! We have to be flexible.
If your toddler missed their one and only nap of the day, or your baby missed her last nap, or she had three micro naps during the day, do an early bedtime! I’ve definitely put my girls to bed around 6/6:30 on those off days and it is so necessary.
And rather than seeing an early bedtime as a sure way to get an early morning, consider it making up for lost nap time! Most kids just tag that missed sleep right on to their total overnight sleep and still wake up around their normal time in the morning.
Or oppositely, if your child doesn’t usually take naps but happened to fall asleep while adventuring, or your child squeezed in an extra nap, you’ll likely need to push bedtime back. We want to make sure your child has enough sleep pressure to really be able to fall asleep at bedtime, and an unexpected or extra nap can make it much more challenging to fall asleep “on time.”
[If you’ll be traveling coast to coast, or abroad, and you’ll also be dealing with changing time zones, check out this post to learn more about how to adjust bedtime and navigate jet lag with your little one. And if you’ll be road tripping quite a bit on your vacation, read this blog post!]
When you get home from vacation…
No matter how you structure your days while traveling or on vacation, your child’s sleep will likely not be perfect. Whatever it looked like, I always suggest the first few days back home after time away be slower-paced, mostly at home, and getting back into routines.
If your little one is running on any sort of sleep debt, those first few days at home, getting back into your daily rhythms, will help make up for that sleep debt.
If, for whatever reason, your child’s sleep got totally thrown off while away – they ended up sleeping with you when they usually sleep independently, you had to rock them to sleep when they usually put themselves to sleep, you had to hold their hand while they fell asleep when you can usually say goodnight and walk away…you can get back on track!
Think back to the sleep training methods you used before and either do a sped-up version of that plan or go back to square one! Your child had those sleep skills before and they can absolutely get them back; consistency that is key, and now that you’re back home you can get there again!
Or if you haven’t really sleep trained before, or you don’t think your previous sleep training method will work well at your child’s current age, don’t hesitate to reach out! I’d love to help you get back on track.
What we don’t want to do when traveling or on vacation is forget about sleep hygiene for the week we’re away and hope our children can keep up, because it doesn’t take much time for sleep debt to build up. And sleep debt/overtiredness makes sleep so much more challenging.
However, we also don’t want to be so focused on sleep and schedules that we miss out on vacation. Sleep will likely be off to some extent, and that’s okay!
The good news is, no matter how awesome or how rough your child’s sleep is, vacation will soon be over, the traveling will eventually come to an end, you will be back home, and especially if your child already has independent sleep skills, you will get back on track. So give yourself grace!
And if your child’s sleep is already a challenge and you have 2 weeks before traveling (3 weeks for toddlers and older kiddos), book a free call with me now so we can talk about what it would look like to get you to a place of confidence before you head out on vacation!