Motoring-without-meltdowns-2d7f5461a1204931a101dd1b278635bcDuring the summer months, it can be a challenge to stay on schedule with your children’s sleep. Routines can hit a roadblock between the long summer days and traveling to weekend getaways or family vacations. But if the little ones are overtired, it can make all those trips and activities a lot less fun. For families planning a summer vacation away from home, here are my top summer travel sleep tips:

  • Stick to the regular schedule and routine as much as you can.  An overtired kid is a cranky kid.  To prevent meltdowns, don’t push bedtime too late and try to protect their naptime.  While naps on the go are not ideal, it beats missing the nap entirely, so try and plan to be in the car, on the plane, or in a comfy stroller for naptime.  If you’ve got a long car or plane trip of several hours or more, consider changing the kids into their pajamas and book a red-eye or plan an overnight drive in which the grownups take shifts.
  • Bring along comforts of home.  If you use a sound machine at home, pack it, or add a white noise app to your iPod or other MP3 device. Babies and young toddlers often do best in a familiar travel crib (Dr. Carr recommends the Baby Bjorn Travel Crib Light) which parents can break in by having their children sleep in at home before a trip.  Familiar favorites like a pillow (or at least the pillow case), blanket and sheet can all help add a feeling of security for toddlers. And of course, a lovey or favorite stuffed animal should come along for the ride. If you use a small blankie like those from Angel Dear, you can even bring a spare just in case one gets lost or there’s an unexpected “bleachable moment” on the road.
  • Turn to the dark side. Little ones sleep best in a dark environment, especially in new, potentially stimulating locales.  Make sure your hotel or guest room is set to the shade of sleep by bringing along temporary blackout shades like Redishades brand, or a black bed sheet with tools for hanging, like safety pins and non-marking painter’s tape. In a pinch, a few black trash bags taped directly to the windows work as well as the most deluxe curtains.  For portable car seat and stroller napping, check out the Snoozeshade. Dark and breathable at the same time, they create a perfect cocoon for your little caterpillar.
  • Get everyone onboard with the plan.  Before you set off, make sure everyone is in agreement or at least aware of your priorities regarding sleep. If you’ve decided to head back to the hotel for a midday rest at Disney so that your young toddler can get a good nap in before a jam-packed afternoon and the evening fireworks, explain to your 6 year-old why this plan equals more fun for her later in the day.  If your strategy is to wing it during the day then fall back on the refuge of an early bedtime, make sure your in-laws get the memo so they’re not too surprised by your early-bird dinner plan.
  • Don’t be afraid to bend to the rules a little.  While it is important to be consistent with sleep, a big part of vacation is about getting away from the everyday, so it’s okay to let some things go.  Once Dr. Carr’s clients have gotten their families’ sleep on track at home, she recommends they follow a “90/10 rule” in which they stick to their schedule and routine most of the time, but let things slide every once in a while. On vacation, you might loosen it further to 80/20 or even 70/30, as long as meltdowns don’t ruin the fun for everyone. If your kids are already on a good routine they should fall back into it after you get home just fine.  But for now, what happens at Sesame Place stays at Sesame Place.

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About Dr. Sasha Carr Dr. Carr is a licensed psychologist and certified child and family sleep coach dedicated to helping families get healthier sleep. Dr. Carr serves on the faculty of the Family Sleep Institute and partners with several pediatric practices to provide sleep help for babies, toddlers and children.  She also travels with her own family on a regular basis.

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