Road Trips and Sleep: How to Optimize Sleep in the Car

By Katie Roebuck

June 30, 2019

I am the mother of two children, an RN, Prenatal Educator, Lactation Counsellor, and Sleep Coach. My nursing career has been focused on Maternity and Obstetrics. I am based in the Niagara Region and I enjoy helping moms reach their goals with pregnancy and motherhood!

Almost every summer when I was growing up, my family and I went on a road trip as our family vacation. We rarely flew to our vacation destinations because the drive was half the fun! As a kid I traveled all over – all the way up to Moosonee, ON, and down into the eastern U.S, and most summers we headed east to our favourite cottages on the far side of Prince Edward Island. One summer we drove all the way from Southern Ontario to Tofino, BC (we flew back through, 28 days in the car with the family had already been enough)!

Now I am working on my own kids road trip skills and we’re keeping up with the tradition of our annual trip to P.E.I which is a 3 day drive.

Road tripping with kids is a bit of a skill for both kids and the parents. There’s the planning of rest-stops, preparing of snacks, and bags of items to keep the littles entertained. Another great way to pass the time in the car is sleep! But getting your children to sleep in the car isn’t always as easy as you may think.

keep your kids comfortable

Dress them in pajamas or light cotton clothes. Take off their shoes and let them settle in. Make sure they are buckled and secured properly, especially our older kids who use a seat belt and not a 5-point harness. You want to keep them safe while driving.

Pack their favourite blanket, stuffed animal, soothers (bring extras!), and whatever items will keep them cozy, and keep these all accessible. You can also use travel neck pillows or a small rolled blanket to help keep their heads and necks comfortable while sleeping in the car. Make sure that what ever you use, it does not go against your carseat manufacture guidelines, and is age appropriate for your child. 

Have something prepared for the sunshine, too. If the sun is coming in through the window, your child most likely won’t sleep and they’ll get hot. Get some sun shades, or even a towel or blanket tucked into the window will do in a pinch. Also keep the car a bit cooler so they won’t over heat if they’re sitting in the sun. You can use a small travel fan, but never attach them directly to the car seat. 

Watch your timing

My daughter is the car-nap queen, if she’s tired enough she’ll fall asleep as soon as we pull out of the driveway. This is a good thing since naps pass the time on road trips. However, napping too late in the day can affect bedtime. So as best as you can, try to maintain your nap schedule on a road trip. If your baby normally naps from 9am – 11am, plan a stop for the end of the nap to wake them up and get them moving. The end of the day and the afternoon nap can be the hardest. You can schedule a quick pit stop to wake them up, or plan for lots of loud sing-alongs to keep your littles awake until you hit your destination. There might be tears (from baby and from you), but try not to let it stress you out too much. 

Another option is driving at night. This would work if your trip is a shorter drive and you would be able to get to bed at a reasonable time. You also need to be sure your child will sleep for the whole drive and will transfer to a bed without a full wakeup. Some seasoned road-trippers swear by night driving, but I always suggest it with caution, especially if you’re not accustomed to long drives at night.

Try to stay at Hotels with a Pool

We really like to stay at hotels with a pool when our trips take multiple days to reach the final destination. After a long day in the car, a cool swim can be refreshing and it helps get that last bit of energy out so that your children will be ready for bed at a normal time. 

Like any vacation, it can be hard to stick to routines all the time. Try if you can, and keep the routines as close to normal as possible. When you get to your destination or back home, your child will hopefully adjust back to their normal schedule. 

Remember we’re here to help! If you’re nervous about your next road trip reach out to a local Mama Coach and we will be more than happy to support you and provide you with all the information you’ll need to feel confident and ready for your next family adventure!

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