Travelling and Sleep: The Ideal Sleep Environment While Away

By Jenny Hamilton

December 4, 2018

My name is Jenny and I’m a registered nurse, lactation counselor and sleep coach. I have been an RN for over 16 years and am fiercely passionate about making this Mama journey easier for the entire family. I am married to my high school crush and we have two beautiful, strong, and busy children. It takes a village to raise a child, and as Jenny the Mama Coach, I look forward to being one of your villagers!

You are a mama, and your life has completely changed when it comes to travel.  What was once a care free and often last-minute decision, is now full of intense planning and thought-provoking questions.  Perhaps these questions keep you up at night wondering if you’re ready to tackle this new challenge. Should you take the risk and book a trip to an unknown destination with child in tow?  The answer – absolutely! The latest research shows that it is our experiences, not our things, that shape who we become as people. Travelling is an amazing way to give our children those experiences, so let’s turn your apprehension into excitement.

 

As Mama Coaches, we want to set you up for success.  First things first – plan ahead and be prepared. Where are you going?  What will you need to bring with you and what items are you able to pick up once you get there?  Small items that pack light and travel well, by all means bring from home i.e. sound machine, baby monitor, and night lights.  For bigger items i.e. cribs, high chairs, and even car seats, check out baby equipment rental websites or get in touch with the place you are staying to see what equipment they are able to provide for you.  

If your child has their own room at home, try to search for suites or rental properties where this is an option. When in doubt, a large walk-in closet could serve as a separate sleep space or use a room divider to create visual distance. Our goal is to recreate your child’s home sleep environment, and we can do that effectively by appealing to their senses.

Smell

This is the most prominent of the five senses when it comes to memory.  We want to create the same smells as home in order for our babies to feel safe, loved, and remember their sleep skills.  We suggest packing your baby’s crib sheet, sleep sack, and lovie in your carry-on luggage the day you leave on your trip.  This will ensure the smells of home actually make it to your destination (as opposed to being stuck in your potentially lost checked baggage).  High quality essential oils can play a similar role to set the tone in baby’s vacation sleep space as well.

Sound

When replicating the sounds of home, we suggest providing your baby with consistent white noise that runs all night.  The continuous noise will remind them of home and help link their sleep cycles. It will also serve as a buffer in case the place you are staying happens to be noisy in the evenings or overnight.  Not all walls are created equal! There are many sound machines and apps to help you achieve success in this area.

Sight

Depending where you are vacationing, the sun is probably going to rise and set at different times then your family is used to.  In order to achieve 8/10 darkness in your baby’s sleep space, there are a few options. Travel black out blinds can be found in most baby stores and online.  You pay for the convenience and expertise of the product – this is what it has been created for. If cost is an issue, then we need to get creative with our inner Pinterest-mama! Purchase a few inexpensive black shower curtains or bring a couple over-sized black garbage bags in your luggage. It doesn’t matter how darkness is achieved, but it will make a big difference to how your baby sleeps.

Any light in your baby’s eyes will decrease their melatonin levels and could cause a full wake up between sleep cycles. This could lead to shorter naps during the day and/or early rising in the morning. It’s also a great idea to pack a few extra burp cloths (preferably red/orange in colour) to use over room lamps as dimmers for middle of the night feedings or diaper changes.  Light on these spectrums does not inhibit melatonin production, which will help baby get back to sleep quickly.

 

A few other things to keep in mind:

Sleep Schedules

It might not always be possible to stay on schedule while vacationing.  You have places to go and things to see. If your baby sleeps in a stroller, carrier, or in the shade on the beach or by the pool, that’s a win!  Be flexible and try to remember that lost day sleep might result in a cranky little person. Some days you might want to stick closer to ‘home’ in order to achieve one or two lengthy, recharging, still-sleep naps.  Some nights might start a little earlier or later. It’s a vacation and most of all you want to enjoy it. As I am finding out with my own little people, the secret lies in balance.

Travel Schedules

Your child will often adapt quicker to the new time zone than you do, but they can often experience the same jet lag symptoms.  If it’s a longer trip, then adapting to the new time as quick as possible is ideal for everyone. Try to book flights that land later in the afternoon or early evening and do your best to stay awake until bedtime (ideally 6-8pm new time).  Wake your child at their normal time and get as much daylight as possible before naps.

Routines

No matter where in the world you are, keeping your nap and bedtime routines consistent will help. Routine signals what comes next for your baby, and these familiar patterns will make the adjustment to your new living quarters easier. Bring a few favourite books from home and let your child pick which story they want to hear. Just like at home, a shortened version of your routine is better than no routine at all.

Home Time

Once the vacation is over, try to get back into the habits, patterns and routines your baby was used to before.  It might take a few days to adjust, but home mode will kick in quickly if you are consistent.

 

Most of all, cherish the moments that matter and try not to dwell on those you can’t control.  Focus on making lovely memories i.e. your baby’s first time with their toes in the sand, chasing the waves on the beach, or sleeping under a palm tree in the afternoon breeze.  There will always be a baby crying on the plane – once in a while it might even be yours!

 

Thank you for reading this article.  We hope you have a truly wonderful vacation and would love to hear about your sleep successes below.  If you know a mama who could benefit, please tag her and feel free to share widely.

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