Summer Vacations and Sleep Schedules: How to maintain healthy sleep while enjoying your time away!

Vacation Sleep Schedule

Your child’s sleep doesn’t have to be compromised in order to enjoy your summer vacation. Believe it or not, there is a way to keep your children on a schedule so that their normal routine is not permanently disrupted, while also being able to relax and enjoy your vacation. Although it’s important to be realistic, you will not be having late nights with no concern for time, and then expect your child to cooperate the next day with appropriate behavior.

Always remember sleep begets sleep, in order words, the more they sleep the more they sleep! When your child is put to bed at a much later time than usual, this can be acceptable if, and only if, your child is on a solid routine to begin with. It is much easier to make an exception for a special occasion, and have your child snap back into their normal schedule the following day, if their schedule is solid and consistent. However, a week’s vacation goes beyond a special occasion.

Getting to your Destination
Let’s begin with some sleep tips and suggestions for your time spent traveling to your destination. If you are going to drive to your vacation spot, start your trip at the beginning of your child’s nap time. (This is one of my few exceptions to my rule of motion sleep, which I typically don’t recommend.) This will give your child a good amount of time to nap and by the time they wake up, you will be several hours into your trip.

If you are flying to your destination, nurse or bottle feed your baby during take-off and landing to help with the pressure on their ears. Keep them entertained by bringing a small toy that your child has never seen before, along with some snacks and comfort items. When it is time for them to nap, hand them their usual comfort item that they bring to bed (pacifier, lovey, teddy bear, etc.) and let them know it is time to sleep. Every once in a while, take your toddler for a walk up and down the aisle in order to get their wiggles out.

Sleep Environment
Once you have arrived at your destination, set up your space in a way that will be as familiar of a sleep environment to your child as possible. For example, bring the big blanket you use to cover them in their crib at home, not just the small one that they use for comfort. Bring some of their stuffed animals or dolls.

If you are in a hotel room, you can use a dark corner of the room to set up their Pack ‘n Play, or you can also use the bathroom and treat it like their own room. Pay extra attention to your bedtime routine, go slow and provide extra comfort and soothing time. Your child might be apprehensive about the new environment at first, but just keep reassuring them that Mom and Dad are nearby, just like at home.

Always Be Prepared
I always travel with everything I would need if my baby were to get sick while we are away. It is very common for a child to catch a cold if they are on a plane, and you don’t want to be caught off guard in the middle of the night, in an unfamiliar place, around unfamiliar people. Here is a list of “Must Haves” and some “Just-In-Case” items that I recommend.

Must Haves

  • Baby Monitor – Your child might have some extra night waking’s because they are in unfamiliar territory. If you have a monitor that is attached to a camera, bring that in order to keep a closer eye on the situation in case you need to intervene.
  • Thermometer – Make sure it has batteries if needed, and also the cover to go over the tip that gets changed after each reading.
  • Tylenol and Motrin -Always bring medicine. I bring both Tylenol and Motrin in case I need to switch off using them every four hours.
  • Nose syringe – This is essential for when your child wakes up with their initial symptoms and is having trouble breathing because they are all stuffed up.
  • Saline Drops
  • Vicks Vapor Rub
  • Gripe water or Gas drops

Just-In-Case

  • Teething tablets (Teeth like to present themselves at the most inconvenient of times, especially the molars!)
  • Orajel – It works quickly to relieve teething pain while Mom and Dad work to provide comfort.
  • Prune juice or natural child laxative – Many child experience constipation while traveling.
  • Portable Vicks Vaporizer – Put baby on your lap and let them breathe in the vapors to help clear up their congestion.

Summer Nights
Let’s be realistic, you didn’t spend all of this money and go through all of this hassle to go on a vacation and not spend some nights out relaxing and enjoying yourself, whatever that may mean for you. In an ideal world we would bring along a babysitter/nanny, a sibling, or a parent who would remain at the hotel after the kids are in bed, so that you and your spouse can enjoy some nights out. If that isn’t an option for you, just plan it out in a way that gives everyone time to enjoy themselves without compromising your children’s need for healthy sleep.

Here is what I suggest: If you are going somewhere where you can sit on your porch and relax after you put the kids to bed at a reasonable hour and can enjoy yourself and the company around you, this is an ideal situation. It is also something to look for when planning and booking your vacation destination. If you are on vacation with a group of people, plan your nights out in advance and take turns with your spouse. This will eliminate all surprises and will give everyone a turn to relax and enjoy things such as a late dinner or a show.

Going Out and About
Motion sleep occurs when your child sleeps in motion; such as in a car, a swing, or in a stroller. I usually discourage this since when the child is in motion, although they appear to be asleep, they never enter the deep sleep phase and therefore never benefit from the mental and physical restoration that sleep provides. However, vacations are an exception to my rule of motion sleep. Although it is not ideal, it is also not detrimental. Motion sleep is often used to “save the overtired state,” meaning that if you are out and about during your vacation and unable to go back to your hotel room in order to put your child down for a nap, let them sleep in the stroller or car. This will prevent them from being overtired at bedtime and ultimately having trouble falling asleep and waking during the night.

The key to a nap during a busy and exciting vacation day is a comfort item. For example, if your child is attached to a lovey, keep it in your bag and then right at their usual nap time, hand the lovey to your child and this will signal to them that it is time for sleep. Try your best to put a blanket over the stroller to darken the sunlight, or if you are in a car perhaps use a shade for the windows.

Time Change
Remember that they will not adjust to the time change as quickly as you, so this needs to be taken into account. I advise parents to watch their child more than they watch the clock and really pay attention to sleep signals.

Go about your family’s daily routine as normal and your child will follow your cues and understand when it is time for sleep. If they are a sensitive sleeper, don’t push them to adjust to a schedule that you know they will not take to very well. It will just mess with their regular schedule that you probably spent a lot of time and effort getting them on in the first place. If you have a child that adjusts easily to sleep situations, you are lucky and are able to be more flexible. Either way, no matter how quickly your child may adjust, everyone needs healthy amounts of sleep in order to function, and ensure that the whole family enjoys your summer vacation!

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