Sleep and Summer Vacation: Tips For Your Family

picture of a mom and her baby swimming on vacation
Christine Brown

Christine Brown

Thinking about sleep & summer vacation can bring on a full blown anxiety-fest in parents.

“What if my baby doesn’t sleep on vacation?”

“How can our toddler nap when we are on vacation?”

“Is this vacation going to completely derail sleep?”

We want to enjoy ourselves, but as any parent knows, overtired kiddos can be *really* challenging. These sleep & summer vacation sleep tips are going to give you advice on preserving healthy sleep habits so your family can have more fun! (and you can have a plan so you can chill before your vacation!)

Realistic Expectations & Patience

Babies and toddlers aren’t that fond of change – like at all.  It will help to know that sleep will likely be a little off for a few days at the beginning of the trip and when you return home.  This is normal and not a reason to cancel all vacations forever!   

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. 

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.

Tip: Get right back to your consistent routine and schedule when you return.

Packing for Your Trip

Bringing along some items from home will help your littles to feel more comfortable and to adjust to their unfamiliar surroundings.  When making your list or throwing things into a bag, make sure you’ve got these items along for the trip:

  • 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
  • For toddlers, their ok to wake clock and any sleep safe nightlights
  • Black trash bags and wide blue painters’ tape.  You can black out hotels, Air BNBs or a relative’s house, which will help your baby or toddler to nap and sleep well at night. 
  • 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

Getting to Your Destination

Here are some summer vacation sleep tips to help you on the journey.

  • Shorter car trips, between 1-3 hours, drive during naptime. 
  • Longer car trips, over 6 hours, it 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.

Setting Up the Sleep Space

You’ve arrived!  Yahoo! Here are some tips to help set up your vacation digs.

  • If your little one has the option to have their own room, that is the best option. 
  • 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.  Also, think outside the box – a walk-in closet can make an excellent, dark temporary nursery.  Another good option for families that travel a lot is the Slumber Pod or the Snooze Shade.
  • Hanging a sheet from the ceiling with command strip hooks 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.
  • Black out the room with the black trash bags and painters’ tape if the room doesn’t have adequate blackout shades/curtains
  • Turn up your sound machine

Bedtime Routine

In a new environment, your child’s bedtime routine from home will help to make them feel safe and prepares your little one to settle into sleep.  Try to stay as close to the routine as you can.

Wake Time, Naps and Nighttime Sleep

There is NO WAY you will be 100% on schedule on vacation and that’s ok!  But try not to completely throw the schedule out the window.  Here are my top schedule sleep tips:

  • 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 as to not wake everyone else.
  • Try to book your room near the beach or the pool. This will help you sneak back to the room for a good-quality nap.
  • If you are on the go, have a stroller that reclines so your little one can get a snooze on the go.  If you can rest your feet while your little one naps, even better.
  • Sunglasses on your little one (if they’ll keep them on) can help create a darker environment for sleep. Or you can use a breathable cover or shade.
  • Plan travel times around nap time so your little one can nap in the car between destinations.
  • 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 in between 11-12 hours of nighttime sleep.  For school-aged children they need 10-12 hours nightly. 
  • If your little one didn’t sleep well the night before and took naps on the go, you may want to move bedtime earlier. This will help them make up for the lost sleep. 
  • If your little one wakes throughout the night, try to do as little intervention as possible. Scale back 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

Back to reality

Once your vacation is over and you are getting back to reality, keep in mind that it will take a few days to adjust back to normal and for your little one to recoup any sleep debt that they accumulated over vacation. 

I hope that these summer vacation sleep tips help you and your entire family to enjoy your vacation AND get the rest you all need to truly enjoy it! 

Let’s Connect

Need help getting back on track when returning from vacation? Or is sleep a hot mess all the time? We’d be happy to help you figure it all out. Fill out our contact form and we can talk about working together during a free intro call. Tag us @bellalunafamily in your vacation pictures to show us your sleeping kiddos! 

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