Practical and proven advice from Pediatric Sleep Expert, Brittany Sheehan, on how to help protect your little one’s (and your) sleep while traveling.
As parents ourselves, we know that one of the biggest concerns when traveling with a baby or even a toddler is: “What if this trip messes up my little one’s sleep?!” After carefully planning a family trip, the absolute last thing any parent wants to deal with is the all-too-familiar repercussions of sleepless nights!
We connected with Certified Pediatric Sleep Expert, Brittany Sheehan, to provide practical and proven guidance on minimizing the impact of travel on your little one’s sleep habits. As a Sleep Expert, Brittany has literally helped hundreds of exhausted families establish healthy sleep habits for their little ones within a matter of weeks. In Brittany’s own words, here are the 8 things about sleep you must know before your next trip with your little one:
“The best thing you can do to prepare for sleep travel to be a success? Tighten up your sleep game at home. Before you leave, make sure you establish a good sleep foundation. Kids sleeping well at home are less likely to be traumatized by a day of travel, as they’re not operating on a sleep deficit. Having a good sleep foundation will allow you to run through the whole routine when you’re on the way to, or at your destination -- and your child will be able to receive and understand all the signals it’s time to sleep.”
“Be mindful about the timing of your departure - either for a road trip or a flight. Aim to leave right after your baby is fed, or right as your toddler should be going down for a nap. Ideally, your child will be sleeping for as much of the journey as possible. For road trips, plan your stops around your feeds.”
“Having a well packed carry-on can make or break a flight or road trip. It can be easy when you’re out of your element to forget to focus on the things that are top of mind at home. Pack bottles or water, an excess of food, and make sure everyone is staying hydrated and well-fed.”
“Whatever your child is used to having at night and for naps, don’t forget them on the road. Think: Loveys, favorite books, their sleep sack, a travel sound machine - or just your phone playing the same sounds. With a strong sleep foundation, all of these things combined with running through their regular sleep routine will signal it’s nap or bedtime.”
“For a flight, see if you can get the bassinet seat if it’s a long-haul flight. If you have the extra seat, they could sleep in their car seat. If you don’t have the extra seat, get them to sleep in any position that will get them to sleep comfortably for the longest time. For a baby it’s probably in the carrier. If it’s an older child, it could be sitting up and leaning against you. For a road trip, learning to sleep in a car seat sleep just requires a little practice. Do short trials beforehand. Possibly darken their surroundings a little by covering the window or using a light blanket or carseat cover, but make sure they do not overheat and get ample air.”
“The biggest mistake families make is trying to move to the new time zone piece-meal, this is just exhausting. For plane travel the best thing you can do the best thing you can do is start operating at that new time zone immediately -- just get on that schedule cold turkey! Whether it’s one hour or five hours difference, rip that bandaid! The truth is, kids are usually exhausted after a day of travel, so you’re more likely to be trying to keep them UP than to get them down. Regardless, when you wake up the next morning, you move onto the new time zone, which could mean naps begin a little earlier or later than usual. They will adjust in a day or two! One note is to NOT do this before your trip, as you want your child to be optimally rested before travel day.”
“In many situations, you only have one bedroom for the whole family so you need to get creative: Use bathrooms, closets, hallways for your child to sleep in so that their room feels separate. If you can afford to, then yes get a 2-bedroom accommodation and give them their own bedroom, or get a suite at a hotel that specifically caters towards families. In terms of setting up the room, the thing I always tell my clients is they don’t want their child’s bedroom at home to be pitch black, just a darker room with a clear distinction from the living room. If your child is used to only sleeping in pitch black, this makes traveling a much bigger deal.”
“The second biggest mistake families make is just completely throwing the schedule to the wind. There will be exceptions, but generally stick to your schedules. Be strategic when planning your activities so that you are able to stick to your feeding and sleeping schedules. Yes, of course we want to take advantage of the one time we can go to the beach with cousins, but completely ignoring your child’s usual routine away from home is a recipe for a miserable trip. Be prepared to discuss and negotiate with friends and family: ‘We would love to go down to the beach! Harry naps until 11, so we’ll plan to meet you guys down there then.’”
About Brittany Sheehan: Brittany is a certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant who has successfully counseled hundreds of families in developing healthy sleep habits for their children, starting with babies as young as 3 months through to 7 years old. She is based in southern California where she lives with her husband and three children. For more information about Brittany, her judgment-free, data driven sleep consulting services and programs, please visit brittanysheehan.com or find her on Instagram @brittanysheehansleep.