All parents know that vacationing with kids is not usually 'a vacation' at all, but if we are prepared and have a plan of action we can spend less time worrying about sleep and more time worrying about how much sand they've eaten :-)
Before your trip
- Make sure you are calling the hotel ahead of time to be sure that there is a crib for your baby/toddler to sleep in. If not, bring along a playpen (there are many hotels whose cribs may not meet the Canadian standards so you may want to think of bringing yours from home anyway).
- Prepare a 'fun pack' for the car/plane. Bring along snacks, books, new toys that will keep their attention longer, a portable DVD player, I-pad, and whatever other tricks you have up your sleeve to help pass the time. Take one thing out at a time and drag it out for as long as possible.
- Bring along everything from baby's crib to make their environment as similar to home as possible. This can include their white noise machine (very important!), stuffed animals/loveys/blankies, an unwashed crib sheet, and any other objects your child may use to feel at home.
At your desination
- Prepare baby's room once you arrived so that it is set for nap/bedtime. A great place to put baby's playpen would be in the bathroom or a walk-in closet if one is available. This will ensure that the room is dark and quiet. It seems a little nuts but I can ensure you that baby won't mind!
- If the bathroom is too small or there is not a closet large enough for a playpen, then try and designate an area of the hotel room as 'baby's room'. This might mean being creative and tacking a bed sheet to the walls to divide baby's room from yours. This is where white noise is important as it will help to drown out the sounds from the rest of the room. Darken baby's 'room' as much as you can using black construction paper, tin foil, or a blanket/bed sheet on the window.
- You really want to avoid co-sleeping if it's entirely possible (unless of course you are already co-sleeping). Depending on the length of your trip, baby will become accustomed to this new sleeping arrangement and you may find it difficult to kick the habit once you're back home. As well, a baby that is not used to sleeping with mom and dad (and a mom and dad that aren't used to sleeping with baby!) may find that they do not get a restful sleep together.
Time Zone Shifts
Having a plan in place and understanding the effect that travel has on your child's sleep pattern is important to avoid worry and limit problems. Children and adults cannot adjust instantly from one time zone to another, although children often have an easier time adjusting than adults.
If you are travelling west (1-3 time zones)
- Try to keep baby awake until the 'correct' bedtime in the new time zone. If the change is too significant to accomplish the first night, do it gradually over a couple of days.
- You may have to wake up early with your child for a day or two. Try to leave him in his crib as close to 6:00am the new time as you can, but if he's very upset it is not fair to leave him crying since he has not fully adjusted, so you may have to live with an early wake-up for a couple of days. Chances are you will be awake as well as your body will have not adjusted either.
- Do not let your child 'over-nap' to make up for a loss of nightsleep. We want to avoid baby making up nightsleep during the day as this will only lead to less nightsleep the following night and the cycle will continue. Try to delay his naps (but only by about 15-30 minutes for younger children) to get them as close to 'normal' nap time as possible.
If you are travelling east (1-3 time zones)
- Your child will probably be staying up later than he usually does for the first night or two.
- Wake your baby the next day up at the 'correct' wake-up time according to the new time zone. Again, if the change is too large to accomplish in one day, do it gradually over a couple of days.
- Do not let your child 'over-nap'. Naps, like bedtime, will run late by the amount of the time change, so allowing him to nap longer than usual will only push bedtime even later.
If you are travelling across more than 3 or 4 time zones
- Children handle these large changes much more easily than adults do. This is because the drive to sleep during the day when our adult bodies aren't supposed to sleep is much higher in children (especially, of course, with those that are still napping). Parents often find that their children adapt quickly so there is no need to make big, elaborate plans.
- You can't force a child to sleep when he is not tired but you can force a child to stay up (within reason) when he is sleepy (or when he should be awake according to the new time zone). Baby will self-correct quickly by making up for the lost sleep at proper times according to the new time zone. If you wake him up when he is asleep at the 'wrong times' he will want to sleep at the 'right times'. This is the most important advice so if you keep it in mind, everything will work out.
- If you travel east - your child will probably fall asleep much later than usual at first and have to be awakened in the morning. If you travel west - he will want to fall asleep much earlier and you will have to keep him awake. Either way, the times he wants to sleep or be awake are going to be very erratic for a couple of days but it should not last for more than that.
Travelling, especially across time zones, with children can be stressful, but if you have a solid plan in place and are prepared that it will take a couple of days to adjust, it doesn't need to be a major headache. The best way to re-set our biological clocks is sunshine. Especially if you are travelling to an exotic place, it shouldn't be too difficult to make sure your child is getting plenty of sun during the day (especially early morning and early evening depending on which direction you are travelling). Most people make the necessary changes without even thinking about them because of expectations driven by activities, meals, and other obligations. Safe travels!