5 Holiday Travel Baby Sleep Challenges and Lifesaver Solutions

By Natalie Willes, Infant and Toddler Sleep Expert

holiday sleeping baby

Photography by Michele Sylvester at www.michelesylvester.com

Traveling during the holidays can be strenuous enough without a baby – add a little one to the mix and you have a recipe for disaster! Trying to get from one family get-together to the next can wreak havoc on your baby’s sleep schedule, leading to less sleep for everyone in the family.

But, have no fear, your baby sleep travel tips are here! Read on to learn how to tackle the most common travel-related baby sleep issues including plane rides, road trips, time zones changes, family sleepovers, and hotel stays.

1) Plane Travel

Plane travel is DEFCON 1 when traveling with children. Hold nothing back when it comes to helping your little one fall asleep on a plane. Keep in mind that baby may not be interested in sleeping at their normal sleep times when on a plane. In this case, revert to plan B and worry more about keeping your baby happy, than about getting baby to fall asleep. If you are able to help lull your little one to sleep, congrats! Here are a few methods used to soothe baby to sleep: Nursing or bottle feeding upon take-off can do the trick. You can also strap baby in to an infant car seat with a paci or bottle while covering the carseat with a blanket to create a dark environment. Remember to leave a small crack for ventilation. Now go ahead and watch that movie you’ve been wanting to see since before you were pregnant! Once the plane lands and you make it to your destination with baby, you may find he slept most the plane ride – but now it’s bedtime and he’s wide awake when you arrive at your hotel. If you were lucky enough to have your babe slumber his way through the whole flight, fear not! As long as you give baby about 2-4 hours of wake time between landing and bedtime (depending on age – the older the baby, the longer the wake time), he should be able to go down for the night just fine. A late bedtime is perfectly okay after a long day of travel, provided the baby has had a substantial amount of sleep on the flight. Just be sure to follow the time zone tips below as you transition through your holiday vacation.

2) Road Trips

Car trips are another challenging situation when it comes to babies and sleep. While it’s always best to have your little one sleep at home in their crib when at all possible, entertaining kiddos in a rear facing car seat can be extremely challenging. For that reason, it’s best to time your car trips over a nap period. In particular, you may want to leave right around nap time and then have your child spend the latter half of your road trip awake. That way, they are more likely to be rested and happy for the remainder of your car ride. If your baby does manage to take a snooze in the car, put her to bed about 2-4 hours after she wakes up (just like you do in the case of plane travel). If your road trip is seven hours or longer, consider leaving at baby’s bedtime and driving straight through the night. Your baby might not fall asleep right away, but the darkness and road noise are sure to lull her to sleep soon after you start to drive. An added bonus: less traffic. Don’t forget to make a coffee stop!

3) Time Zone Changes

Time zone changes are not nearly as challenging to deal with as parents usually think they will be. The formula is actually quite easy. Regardless of if you are traveling east or west, keep your child on your home time zone until your kiddo starts waking close to 6am or 7 am local time to start their day. Once that happens, immediately switch their schedule so they are taking naps at their usual times. Going east expect your 7 pm to 7 am night time sleep baby to sleep from 10 pm to 10 am local time, but to start waking earlier and earlier in the morning such that by day 3 to 5 they are waking closer to 7 am. If you are traveling west, your 7am to 7pm baby will want an early bedtime well before dinner, but will then attempt to wake well before the sun rises. In this case, push your child’s bedtime later 30 minutes each night, and in a few days your baby should be waking later in the morning. In either case, keep moving their nap times commiserate with their morning wake up time. See, no need to fret about time zones and baby sleep. Now all you have to worry about is your own jet lag!

4) Family Sleepovers

It seemed like a good idea at the time to have 30 of your closest family members and in-laws all sharing the same cabin for Thanksgiving. To make the most of your de facto family reunion, be sure to pack baby’s Pack n’ Play, a loud white noise sound machine that stays on all night, and some painter’s tape and tinfoil to block out light from any windows. If possible, get dibs in advance on the master bedroom, or arrive early to snag a bedroom with an attached bathroom or closet that might be large enough to put the Pack n’ Play in. Another valuable tip: When crazy Aunt Sally criticizes you for not keeping baby up for late-night caroling, remind her that she probably had a great time when she was raising her kiddos, and now you SO enjoy being a parent and making well-thought out choices for your own family. Oh no, did you remember to get Aunt Sally a gift? Good luck!

5) Hotel Sleepovers

Just like family sleep overs, sharing a room with your kids sounds great until you encounter the realities of your children being able to see you all.night.long. Tip: When you book a hotel, ask for a handicap accessible room which might afford you some extra space to separate your child’s Pack n’ Play, and re-create their own sleep environment. Remember to pack along that PNP as unfamiliar hotel cribs can sometimes give babies of all ages the heebie-geebies. Now, what’s the secret to getting baby to fall asleep in a hotel room? Put baby down and then leave the room and stand in the hallway for about 10-15 minutes until he finishes falling asleep on his own. By leaving the deadbolt lock in between the door and the door-jam, you can still have a direct line of sight and be within ear shot of your babe. Final hotel stay sleep secret: Place pillows on the floor around the perimeter of the Pack n’ Play to prevent your infant from seeing you as soon as he wakes. Now get some sleep! You still have to finish checking off that holiday shopping list tomorrow!

Final Thoughts

Don’t forget that sleep should be a priority for everyone! Remember to plan ahead and think about these two very important things before you depart for that holiday trip:

1) Where exactly your baby will sleep during your holiday travel and stay.

2) What you can do to create an environment as conducive to sleep as possible.

So if you asked Santa this holiday season for quality sleep and energy to survive all the festivities, this may just be the greatest GIFT of all to get baby, mommy, daddy and the entire family the sleep you all so desperately need. Now, go enjoy the fabulous holiday traditions surrounding this season!



Author bio: Natalie Willes, Infant and Toddler Sleep Expert, has been working with families all over the world as an infant and toddler sleep consultant since 2008. Natalie has worked with over 700 families to help their babies sleep through the night and nap consistently. By offering custom tailored approaches to each family and child, Natalie draws from her extensive experience to make sure each family feels confident in their sleep-training journey. Natalie works with infants starting as early as 14-weeks-old through toddlers 3 years of age. She is based on the west coast and enjoys the outdoors with her two children Olive and Milo, and her husband Michael. Have any baby sleep questions for Natalie? She can be contacted through her website www.babysleeptrainer.com or at 310-279-9299.


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Natalie Wiles_sleep consultant

Photography by Elizabeth Clark at www.elizabethclarkphotography.com

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