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Secrets To Help Your Child Sleep While Traveling This Holiday Season

Mom kissing her baby's head while holding a wine glass and the christmas tree is in the background
Christine Brown

Christine Brown

As the holiday season approaches, many families are gearing up for trips to visit loved ones. With family dynamics, the holidays can be stressful enough. But for parents traveling with children this takes on a whole new level of stress, especially if their child is overtired and cranky. Sleep is crucial, especially for young ones. But how can parents make sure their children will sleep well while traveling? In this blog post, we will share some secrets to help your child sleep while traveling this holiday season.

Secret #1: Setting Your Child Up For Sleep Success Starts Before You Leave Your House

Children are creatures of habit so the more that we can keep the same for our little ones, the easier travel and sleep will be. Consider these things as you are planning your trip and packing up:

  • Before embarking on your trip, make sure that your baby or toddler is well-rested. This will make for a more flexible child.
  • If your child can have their own sleep space at the new location, this increases the likelihood of sleeping better.
  • Instead of sticking your child in the bed with you, ensure that they have their own sleep space. This means you may need to rent a crib; bring a pack -n-play or get your toddler a blow-up toddler mattress like this one.
  • Your child’s lovey or comfort item
  • A crib sheet from home – the feel and smell of the sheet from home will feel familiar
  • Your sound machine
  • A few books from home for bedtime reading
  • For toddlers, their ok to wake clock and any sleep safe nightlights
  • A travel blackout solution will help your baby or toddler nap well and sleep better at night. We love the Sleepout solution for travel. In a pinch, black trash bags and wide blue painters’ tape work well too. This short video shows how I blackout a hotel room when traveling with my kids.  
  • Your child’s bath products and anything else that you use for the routine – keeping the bedtime routine the same is important to help with the transition
  • An unwashed sleep sac – it will smell like home and may help to calm your child

Secret #2: Timing Travel at the Right Time Can Help With Sleep

You may have no choice, especially if you are flying, but here are some things to consider when planning your travel schedule.

  • Shorter car trips, between 1-3 hours, drive during naptime. 
  • Longer car trips, over 6 hours, can help to drive overnight, especially with younger children. 
  • For air travel, if it is in the budget, book a separate seat and bring your little one’s car seat.  This increases the likelihood that your child will take a nap.
  • Bring loveys or comfort items – this will help your little one to fall asleep.
  • For babies and nursing toddlers, nurse or bottle-feed at take-off and during landing.  This will help with the pressurization of the cabin and help your baby’s ears to clear.  For toddlers that are no longer nursing or bottle-feeding, provide them with a chewy snack to help clear their ears or have them drink something. 
  • On air travel days, sleep is likely going to be off – don’t stress about it.  If your little one naps – great!  If not, you can always compensate with an earlier bedtime.

Secret #3: The Golden Hour After Arriving is Important

Say your hellos, let your child get comfortable and then hustle to get your child’s room set up so that once it is nap or bedtime, you are good to go before your child melts down! Use this checklist:

  • Setup the travel crib or the toddler bed
  • Blackout the room or set up your Slumberpod (5% off code: BELLALUNAFAMILY)
  • Unpack and set the sound machine, toddler clock and any nightlights
  • Bring all the bath supplies into the bathroom
  • If you are room sharing:
    • Try to put the crib or pack-n-play as far away from where you will be sleeping as possible. 
    • Think outside the box – a walk-in closet can make an excellent, dark temporary nursery. 
    • Hanging a sheet with command strip hooks from the ceiling will create a visual barrier.  This can help your little one to settle at bedtime and resettle at night if they can’t see you.
    • Consider what you will need from the room to get ready for bed – like pajamas and toiletries. Take them out of the room so you aren’t fishing around in your suitcase by the light of your phone, while your child is trying to sleep. Once they are asleep, we never want to wake them up, right?

Secret #4: To Help Your Child Sleep While Traveling This Holiday Season Use The Bedtime Routine Is Your Secret Weapon

Your entire family may be exhausted from traveling and feel like just putting your kids to bed as quickly as possible. This may be a mistake and can affect sleep.

As I mentioned above, children don’t love change and they are super routine-oriented. It makes them feel safe. If you skip the routine and just put your little ones down, it will likely make it more difficult for your child to settle into sleep and they have more restless sleep overnight.

Instead, muscle through your child’s similar bedtime routine from home. It will pay you back! This can help your little one to feel safe in the new environment; prepare your little one to settle into sleep and it can improve night sleep.  Try to stay as close to the routine as you can. This may mean having family give kisses and hugs to your little one before you start the routine instead of after a bath.

If your child is already overtired from a long travel day or staying up late, do an abbreviated version of your routine.

Secret #5: A Flexible Schedule Will Make Your Holidays More Fun

If you are obsessing over your child’s sleep while visiting with family over the holidays, you’ll likely miss the opportunity to be present and to truly connect with your loved ones. Instead, aim for a flexible schedule. Here are my top schedule sleep tips:

  • Aim for at least one solid nap each day at home, in your hotel room/Air BNB or wherever your family is staying. This can help minimize overtiredness.
  • If you all else fails, plan travel times around nap time so your little one can nap in the car between destinations.
  • If you are trying to get a a family party on time, you can always shorten a nap
  • If you have an evening event, you can add in an extra cat nap for babies or let your child nap longer than normal to prevent overtiredness at the party
  • Try to keep bedtime at the normal time if at all possible.  Our children respond best to a consistent bedtime that will enable them to get the required amount of sleep based on their age.  Babies, toddlers and preschoolers normally need between 11-12 hours of nighttime sleep.  For school-aged children, they need 10-11 hours nightly.
  • To recoup sleep debt from an off-nap day or a tough night, move bedtime earlier, if you can.
    • For babies as early as 5:30-6:00 pm
    • For toddlers, as early as 6:00 pm.

Secret #6: Travel Doesn’t Mean You Have To Throw All Your Normal Habits Out the Window

We have to stay flexible when we are traveling for the holidays, but that doesn’t mean that we need to go completely rogue. Try to keep your normal habits as much as possible and make adjustments as necessary. Here are some suggestions to try to keep your healthy sleep habits while traveling:

  • Try to put your little one down awake, if that is what you normally do at home.
  • If your child has a hard time settling, consider quietly sitting in the room with your little one while they are settling to sleep. Or do frequent reassuring checks if your child is too overstimulated by your presence.
  • Try to ignore an early morning wake-up if your little one is happy – they may put themselves back to sleep!  If they are unhappy, try to soothe your little one back to sleep so you don’t wake everyone else.
  • If your little one wakes throughout the night, try to do as little intervention as possible. Scale back on your assistance if you can as your child adjusts to the new location.
  • Bringing your little one into bed with you should be a last resort. This is such a slippery slope and this can quickly become a new habit that you’ll have to break when you get home. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do!
  • For toddlers and preschoolers, if you do end up needing to bedshare, communicate that once you get home, they won’t be sleeping in your bed. It is helpful to set expectations up front and then follow through once you get home.

Secret #7: To Help Your Child Sleep While Traveling This Holiday Season Watch Your Energy

I get it! Traveling with children and worrying about their sleep can be really overwhelming, especially if you’ve recently worked on teaching your child to be a healthy sleeper! You’re human!

But here’s the thing…

We are all energetic beings. We feel the energy of those around us. That whole “your vibe attracts your tribe” thing.

So if you are feeling anxious about your child’s sleep, they may pick up on that and it may make sleep harder for them because they are already feeling unsure about the new environment.

If you are having big feelings, the best thing that you can do is BREATHE!

This box breathe exercise is easy to do and will help you calm down while traveling; when Aunt Rita starts asking inappropriate questions; and before your child’s routine, making sleep easier for your little one!

Secret #8: It’s Gonna Be Ok!

Sleep is probably going to be wonky for at least a few days. Knowing ahead of time that this may be a reality, allows you to be patient if sleep is off and gives you the opportunity to decide ahead of time to make the best of it. 

I know this is easier said than done, but try to relax and enjoy the holidays with your family!

If you get off track, get right back to your consistent routine and schedule when you return home. Also keep in mind that when you return home from vacation, your child’s sleep is likely to be a little bit off for a few days while they adjust to being back home and for your little one to recoup any sleep debt that they accumulated while traveling. 

But What If Sleep Is Still Off When We Get Home?

I hope that these secrets to help children sleep while traveling this holiday season get your family the most rest as possible!

If sleep hasn’t returned to normal within a week or so or if sleep is a hot mess all the time, we are happy to help you figure it all out! Book a free discovery call with one of our certified child sleep consultants and let’s talk about which service will help you to reach your sleep goals. Happy Holidays!

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