Traveling across time zones can be very exciting, but if you are flying with a baby or toddler, it can also be filled with anxiety about changing nap and sleep schedules. A rested baby makes the vacation so much more enjoyable for parents.
I have flown with my children frequently to see my family in Australia— where I grew up, and I have had extensive experience in dealing with the eighteen-hour time difference. I am fortunate to apply my professional training as a sleep consultant with my overseas travels.
When you’re traveling with young children, it is important to plan before you go and to take control of what you can to ensure your little one adjusts
Pack items from home
It is a good idea to take the used crib sheet from home because it will feel and smell familiar to your child. You should also have your child’s lovey or special sleep toy for comfort. For children, pillow cases are easy to pack.
White noise machines
The white noise machine can block out any unwanted noise from a hotel room or when staying with family. White noise also provides a soothing element to make getting to sleep easier for a jet lagged child. Make sure you have it on a pure white noise setting (no waves or rain) and turn it on nice and loud. My favorite is the Marpac Zohne, which has a built-in power converter and comes with international plugs in the box. My second favorite would be the HoMedics Soundspa which does not have a power converter, but does have a battery-powered option. As a back up option, there are white noise apps that work well to block out noise but do not provide the same soothing benefits as pure white noise machines. If your hotel room has an i-phone player/charger and can run all night, you can download a white noise app. In a pinch, the website Simply Noise can work on your laptop provided that you can turn off all of its lights over night. But don’t forget to close browser windows on Facebook or your other applications so no alert sounds go off throughout the night.
In my experience, the nicer the hotel, the darker the room can be for sleep. But occasionally, curtains won’t fully close, or the newer modern roll blinds can let light in around the perimeter. And all bets are off if you are staying in a home. You can still make the room nice and dark by packing six dark black garbage bags and painters’ tape. Yes, garbage bags! If you tape the garbage bags up to the windows, it will create a serene sleep environment for you and your family. If you forget your garbage bags and tape, you can clip together curtains that won’t shut using the skirt hanger clips from the closet.
Once you arrive at your destination be sure to get your child onto the correct time zone as quickly as possible. (The only exception to this might be if you will only be away for 2-3 days, then you might try to maintain their normal routine as much as possible.) Baby’s natural circadian rhythm is greatly impacted by daylight, so get your baby outside into the daylight and fresh air to help adjust their body clock. The dark bedroom you created with blackout shades or garbage bags will also help your baby’s body understand when it’s time to sleep.
Naps in cribs are best
Preserving your child’s naps can be particularly hard when traveling. Some stroller naps are ok, but for babies over the age of 6 months, they don’t provide the same quality of sleep. Try to have your infant take the morning nap in a crib or pack’n’play when possible. That will give your child a good foundation to get through the day and any additional stroller or car seat naps will be a bonus.
Traveling can be tough on all of us and your child might be confused by the time change. Try to be consistent with their schedule and your responses to them, but if your baby still wakes in the middle of the night, give him/her some time to settle on their own but if they are still upset, it is ok to comfort your child with a back rub and words of reassurance. Try not to pick them up if possible as this will stimulate them further.
Do the best you can, and don’t beat yourself up. Coming home will be another adjustment and the same rules apply to help your baby adjust to the new time zone. Get your baby back into their routine as quickly as possible and understand that it could take two to three days for their bodies to adjust fully.
When Paula’s first child was born prematurely one of the biggest challenges she faced was sleep deprivation.
She worked in New York as an infant/toddler sleep consultant for more than 5 years then received a postgraduate degree in Pediatric Sleep Science from the University of Western Australia. Now based in Los Angeles, Paula is excited to bring Serene Sleep Science to the West Coast. Paula works with families who have babies between the age of 3 months and 2 years of age to create happy, healthy, independent sleepers.