Traveling with a Toddler: Sleep Disruptions

June 21, 2012

We’re linking up at Travel Tips Tuesday!

By far my biggest concern when traveling with a toddler (as opposed to a baby) is how it will disrupt our daughter’s normally wonderful sleep schedule. She and I both thrive on our predictable routine, and I’ve literally had nightmares about how a trip could ruin all of the happy sleep habits we’ve worked so hard to implement. I know some moms who are easy-going and flexible about naps and bedtimes. Not me! At home, our little girl happily plays in bed until the generously late hour of 9:00 or 9:30. She goes down for her nap at 1:30. She sleeps for 2.5-3.5 hours. Daddy puts her to bed for the night around 8:30. This is predictable and our normal. This works for us.

But an early flight messes with nap time. Strange hotel rooms make it difficult for our little one to fall (and stay) asleep. And a change in time zones throws off all of our internal clocks. On this particular trip, we dealt with all three of these fear-inducing obstacles.

Thankfully, I’ve learned that I need to relax my (sleep) expectations when we travel. (Nate has always been easy-going about such things.) I now know that our dear daughter won’t sleep as much or as peacefully on the road as she does at home–so be it! Traveling and jet lag are two of the many obstacles that kids will face as they learn how to become good sleepers. I don’t want this to be the issue that keeps us from traveling. And the experts say that the good habits will return, in time, once we’re home.

One part of “relaxed expectations” for us means a few sleep-related exceptions that wouldn’t fly at home. For instance, if our girl could have her way, we’d hold her hand and stay by her side through every nap and night. We obviously don’t/can’t do that at home. But on the road? Sure, I’ll stretch my arm from the front seat to the back back seat to hold her hand and help her relax. We’ll also let her have her pacifer more, and sing, talk, or shush as much as she needs.

One thing we don’t change is her pre-bed routine. Whether we’re in the air, car, or hotel, we read her a few books, tell her it’s time to go night-night, offer her a snack and drink, pray, and sing. At her age (20 months), she responds well to verbal explanations and a bit of time to transition from being awake to going to sleep. When we take our time, she adjusts well and fights sleep less.

We all sleep better when A is in a separate room. We’ve tried having her in our room and even in our bed, but she will inevitably wake up, see Mommy and Daddy, and assume it’s time to party and play. For the first half of this trip, we had a condo with lots of space. We put A’s bed (a Pack ‘N Play like this: Graco Pack ‘N Play Element with Stages, Oasis) in the dark entryway where we wouldn’t disturb her either during the night or during her day-time naps.  Because it was “only” a three- hour time difference, and we were “only” going to be gone a few days, we decided to put her to bed about halfway between her normal bedtime and what bedtime would be if we switched completely to local time. (That is to say, we split the time difference.) With this setup, we were all able to enjoy a few peaceful nights of completely uninterrupted sleep. Yes, she woke up early according to local time, but 6:00 a.m. felt like 9:00 a.m. to us, so it wasn’t a big deal.

One thing that is (now) a permanent fixture in our life is this video monitor that we bought off Amazon (of course): Motorola Digital Video Baby Monitor with 1.5 Inch Color LCD Screen. We love that thing!  With the monitor, we can “peek” into her room and see if she’s really awake or if she’s just talking/fussing in her sleepy way. Before we had this monitor, I can’t tell you how many times I went into her room to get her up from a nap only to find she was actually settling herself back to sleep! The other bonus for both travel and home is that it has a 2-way microphone; we can comfort her, sing, or shush her without disturbing her with our physical presence.  It’s by far our favorite baby “splurge,” and Baby #2 will get one of her own as soon as she moves to her own room.

For the second half of the trip, we were in a normal hotel room with no separate area to give her a bit of space. So we improvised. We moved the TV, lampstands, and tables and covered them with the extra hotel blankets. The end result was an elaborate wall of blankets that created a visual barrier that kept her from seeing us or the fun we were having without her. It was effective and made sleeping in the same room a surprisingly pleasant experience!

My final sleep-related fear was that the time change would throw things off when we returned home. Before our trip, I read that parents should give their children four or five nights to adjust before they freaked out about how messed up things seemed. So I braced myself for middle-of-the-night tears and early-morning wake-up calls. But, thank God, it was like we never left. Maybe it was because she was tired from the shorter nap on the plane or maybe God just chose to encourage us by making the transition home EASY. Either way, we all adjusted well, and my fears about traveling with a toddler have eased ever-so-slightly.

Now for our next challenge: traveling with two little ones!

(Since we buy everything from furniture to diapers from Amazon.com, we decided it was time to try their Amazon Associates program. Therefore, the links in this post are referral links that all go to products we genuinely use and recommend. We don’t expect to make more than a few pennies from this program, but here is our official disclaimer: Nateandrachael.wordpress.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.)

One comment

  1. It sounds like you have really been successful figure it all out. We found that having a pretty strict schedule at home helped our kids to be better sleepers on the road. I hope it will be the same for you with two little ones.

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