When it comes to sleep, there’s no place like home. But if you’re planning for a trip, here’s some sound advice for a good night’s sleep for your little one that is.
WORDS SIEW MEI FONG
Family vacations present wonderful opportunities for families to bond over experiencing new lands, different cultures and fun adventures together. But if you are travelling with very young kids, vacations can be quite a challenge. Sleep, in particular, is a common concern. Lack of shut-eye in a new place, together with disruptions to junior’s usual sleep habits, can result in a cranky and grouchy kid. Parents in turn may not be able to get a good night’s rest, and a fun holiday can be completely ruined.
With some planning, however, it is possible to minimise disruption to your little one’s sleep so that everyone in the family stays rested, alert, happy and healthy to enjoy the vacation together.
Time Your Travels
Do consider how the timing of your flights, rail or road trips affects your child’s sleep. There are parents who avoid taking night flights so that their child’s regular sleep schedule is minimally changed or disrupted. It would certainly be wise to plan your trip such that long drives or rides take place away from late afternoon or evening time. Young kids, especially babies, tend to be lulled by motion and snooze away while travelling. Therefore, plan to arrive at your destination way before junior’s bedtime or you might find yourself with a wide-eyed child who is raring to go even though it’s time to sleep!
Plan, Plan, Plan
Being on a vacation often means variation to your usual routine. For little ones, especially those who still need naps, try to accommodate their daily sleep routine. For example, teacher, Mrs P. Lee, said she made it a point to head back to the hotel to give her toddler his usual afternoon nap when her family visited Disney World in Orlando. Other parents get round this by travelling with a stroller or baby carrier to provide their little one a place to nap while on the go.
Adhering to your child’s regular sleep schedule can also be useful in easing the transition into a new time zone faster. Mrs Lee recommends observing the child’s usual schedule according to the local time at the destination. This means you may initially have to wake your little one up earlier, or keep him up a little later so that he can go to bed at the time he normally does at home.
It’s a mistake to think that if you exhaust your young child completely, he will fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. When young kids are overtired, they become cranky and may fuss more as they struggle to unwind and rest. Very young children who are overstimulated with too much excitement in a day may find it particularly hard to settle down for bedtime. Sleep may also be fitful. Everyone may just end up getting very little and poor quality sleep for the night.
Slow down. Ditch the jammed-packed schedule of sightseeing you used to plan in your child-free days. Instead, focus on savouring the time spent bonding with your child while on a holiday.
Limit Excitement Before Bedtime
Don’t expect your young child to drop off into Slumberland immediately if he had had an exciting cable car ride to enjoy the night scenery just before bedtime. Tone down activities in the evening to help your child wind down for bedtime.
It can be extra challenging if you are visiting relatives during your vacation, for they may be trying to maximise every bit of time to catch up with you and spend time with your child. A doting aunt who had not seen your child for ages could willingly play with him all night long! Explain gently yet firmly why Junior has to get his sleep, and suggest that everyone wakes up earlier in the morning to continue a fun activity.
Children can find it difficult to fall asleep or sleep well if they are uncomfortable. Ensure that your child has a proper and comfortable place to sleep in that is not to warm or cold. If you are travelling with a baby on a plane or train, do reserve a bassinet ahead of your trip so that your baby can sleep in it instead of in your arms. You may want to line the bassinet with your baby’s soft receiving blanket. At the same time, dress your baby in light comfortable clothes. One piece garments with a snap crotch will make it easier for you to change your sleeping baby’s diaper without disturbing him too much.
Likewise, request for a cot at your hotel, especially if your young child is used to sleeping in one at home. Most hotels have limited number of cribs, so be sure to reserve one in advance.
Kids need a sense of security, so re-create the sleep environment at home as much as you could. Bring along your baby’s sleep aids, such as his pacifier. Some parents even bring along their own crib sheets so that the familiar smell, which babies are more dependent on, reminds Baby of the smell and feel of home. Your toddler’s bolster, blanket or a favourite plush toy that he sleeps with at home, can be very reassuring to him in a new sleep environment. If your child sleeps to his favourite music, remember to download it in your mobile phone so that you can play it for him.
Stick to Bedtime Routines
While on vacations, do carry out the bedtime rituals that you usually do at home, such as taking a warm bath, teeth-brushing or singing lullabies to your baby. Read to your child his usual bedtime stories. It may be helpful to bring along a couple of his favourite bedtime storybooks. These familiar rituals will help your little one settle down and remind him it is bedtime.
Plan to minimise disruptions to your child’s sleep routines but do not be too insistent that things must work the way you had planned. With all the brand new experiences and stimulation, your child may be too excited to sleep despite your best efforts.
Let it go if your toddler is not able to sleep a wink during his usual afternoon naptime. Be flexible and be prepared to adjust your plans along the way. If your tot refuses his afternoon nap but gets exhausted by evening, allow him to snooze but limit it to a short period so that it does not interfere with his bedtime later.
Expect to break some of your golden rules. For instance, one mother who was normally against nursing her baby to sleep, said she resorted to this as her baby girl was fussing non-stop during a long-haul flight.
Relax and Be Patient
Bear in mind that even adults take time to adjust to a new environment. Be patient as your child may take a couple of days to adjust. You may thus want to plan an extra light first two days to accommodate adjustments, such as jet lag or recovering from a restless night flight.
Do avoid worrying excessively, such as whether baby is getting enough sleep. Being tensed throughout your holiday is not going to help you or your child sleep better. Children are more resilient and adaptable than we think they are, so after you have done what you could, relax. Even if junior’s sleep patterns go haywire, he would get back to his normal ways after the vacation. Remember that the whole point of a vacation is to have fun, so focus on creating lovely memories of your travels with your little one!