Holidays, Travel and Baby’s Sleep

Holiday travel and events can affect your baby or toddler’s sleeping patterns.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… unless your child isn’t sleeping, that is! Many parents find that the extra holiday travel, parties and excitement may add up to some big bedtime trouble or can rock the nights of even the most trusted sleepers!

So, what should you do, when traveling or faced with a midday party or late night event that is sure to disrupt naptime, bedtime or both?

Here are some tips for getting through the holiday season:

  1. Evaluate your expectations. If your baby is having some trouble before your travel, chances are things won’t improve while you are away. It may be helpful to spend a few weeks solving sleep problems BEFORE you go away, setting you up for better success on your journey.
  2. Maintain normalcy. Plan to bring the same books and lovies your child is used to at home. Implement the same bedtime routine you do at home while you are away, and try to maintain a schedule consistent to yours at home. If naps were pretty good on your travel day it may be helpful to put your baby to bed 15 mins later than your normally would on your first night in a new place. This will increase her sleep pressure (sleepiness) without making her overtired and can make it easier to fall asleep in unfamiliar surroundings. If you are changing time zones – be sure to think about your baby’s schedule in terms of her biological time. For example, what time does her body think it is – which may be different from social or clock time in your new location.
  3. Keep it dark. Remember that darkness and light cue your child when to sleep and when to be awake, so keep her sleeping environment as dark as you can. Room darkening material and a box of thumbtacks or an inexpensive “Reddi Shade” packed in your suitcase can work wonders.  
  4. Be prepared to deal with over-stimulation. Your baby may be up later than usual and spend lots of time in different people’s arms. Try to anticipate that your child might be a bit overtired and cranky by the end of an evening of partying and spend a bit of extra time soothing her before sleep and winding her down. Be aware that your child might wake up at night due to some over-tiredness and be prepared to handle it consistently in the way you do at home.
  5. Anticipate the checking response. Babies naturally wake and do a quick check of their environment between sleep cycles. Because your baby’s environment will be significantly changed from what he’s used to, be prepared to offer some extra comfort and reassurance in those first few nights while he’s adjusting to the new place.
  6. Pack your white noise machine. Room sharing with parents and siblings, or perhaps house sharing with noisy cousins or friends are common during holiday travel. Don’t forget to pack a white noise machine! It can also help drown out adult conversation and revelry during baby’s nap time and at bedtime.
  7. If baby misses a nap, don’t panic. If it’s the morning nap that has been lost, go for the second nap a bit earlier than you would have otherwise. If it’s the afternoon nap, TRY to avoid a late afternoon ‘bedtime sabotage catnap’ and opt for a bedtime that is a bit earlier (at least 30 mins or more) instead.
  8. Relax and have fun. Virtually any non-medical sleep problem can be fixed – really! Your primary goal should be to enjoy your special family time, have fun, do the best you can at preserving your child’s schedule and know that when you return home to the status quo you can quickly get things back on track.

Is your baby is a great sleeper at home? Temperament and adaptability play a role, but for many babies it’s perfectly reasonable to expect she’ll continue to do well while traveling or having some holiday fun here and there. If you are noticing a lot of problems popping up during this holiday season, you may be trying to do too many activities and your child’s sleep is suffering.

If you can’t scale back your holiday schedule, just enjoy your time away but be prepared to get right back on track when you return home. For babies who have some problems to begin with – or for tips on getting back to normal when the holidays are over – you may consider one of our personalized sleep consultations, conducted by phone. We consult with families from all over the world! Learn more >>

You may also find it helpful to watch our free Sleep Webinar recordings on this topic: Holidays, Travel & Infant Toddler Sleep and 
Travel and Time Zone Changes OR for more in depth coverage purchase our new sleep e-class at a great introductory price and listen to the chapters devoted to travel and solving problems for when you return from vacation.

We hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

Nancy Holtzman, RN BSN IBCLC CPN and

Meg Casano RN BSN MA and Erin Evans PhD RPSGT
Isis Parenting Sleep Team Leaders

About An Isis Instructor

Instructors and staff at Isis Parenting include some of the most qualified and skilled perinatal professionals in Boston, Atlanta and Dallas/Fort Worth. Our team consists of experienced nurses, educators, lactation consultants, psychologists and fitness instructors, and each of us is committed to doing whatever we can to serve you.

6 Responses to Holidays, Travel and Baby’s Sleep
  1. grace
    November 29, 2011 | 9:07 pm

    We don´t go anywhere without our Chicco play yard and our MamaDoo Kids mattress topper, and our The First Years On the Go Booster Seat.

  2. Elise
    November 30, 2011 | 5:57 am

    What about time zone changes of three or more hours for a one week trip?

    • Meghan Casano
      November 30, 2011 | 11:51 am

      Hi Elise,
      Time zone travel is like daylight savings time – MULTIPLIED!! You might want to check out our past blog entries for DST for more detailed info about adjusting your child’s sleep rhythms. Remember it will take a good 3-5 days for the circadian rhythm and new exposures to light and dark to take effect so by the time your baby adjusts, it can be time to turn around again! Here are some tips:
      1. if you are traveling west your baby will want to go to bed extra early (and wake up early, too!). Keep your baby up later than normal (EST) which might actually mean she’s still going to be earlier than normal on the west coast. Older toddlers can handle large changes in bedtimes then the youngest babies. If baby is very young you will have to move bedtimes more slowly and may even want to prep for a few days before you leave. In the morning, keep the lights off until you WANT baby waking up. Even if he’s up ultra early on the west coast, sitting in a calm, dark room until a more reasonable west coast wake up time will start to extend morning sleep in.
      2. If you are traveling east, your baby will want to stay up late and sleep in late! Start in the morning by waking baby at a time you’d like her to bed up and then putting her to bed a bit earlier the next night. These changes won’t happen in one night – go slowly over the course of 3-5 nights.
      3. Bring room darkening shades (Home Depot blackout Reddi Shade is an awesome $5 product you can buy in most big cities, or a swatch of blackout material and some thumbtacks)
      4. bring a white noise machine and use it all night to mask those those unfamiliar hotel noises, rowdy cousins playing, or simply grown up parties!
      5. Above all – HAVE FUN! Enjoy your fun family time with baby and when you return to EST after allowing for 3-5 days to re shift the schedule get back on track to your normal sleep routine!

  3. [...] unsafe–it’s best to bring along a portable crib like the Baby Bjorn Travel Crib. Read this post from our sleep experts to learn more about travel and baby’s [...]

  4. Janet Dubac
    December 19, 2012 | 6:33 am

    Thank you for these tips! They are really helpful especially for travelling parents with their little ones on board. For sure, no one wants to miss the fun of the holiday season just because of their baby’s lack of sleep. Enjoy the holidays! :)

  5. [...] 5. Enjoy your winter and holiday vacations. Really! Bring a few familiar things from your child’s home environment like a lovie, blanket and favorite bedtime book with you on vacation to ease wake to sleep transitions. Try to keep your child’s nap schedule and bedtime the same if you can, but don’t worry if this doesn’t happen every day. When you return home, go back to your home sleep rules and in just a few days your baby should be back to normal, even if things were a little off while you were on vacation. Read this blog for more tips on holiday travels and baby’s sleep. [...]

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