A holiday or vacation with children is not always completely relaxing. One of the challenges in travelling with kids is their reaction to the disruption of their normal sleep patterns and routines. Children are often even more sensitive than adults to sleep cues – like their own room, their own bed and their regular times for lying down and getting up. All of this is gone once they leave the comfort of home and many kids find it very hard to settle down to sleep as a result. Add to this the normal challenges of travel such as change in diet, the stress of travel itself and adjusting to changes in time zones and you often find yourself with a crew of cranky, sleepless kids!
How can parents help their babies, toddlers and children adjust to sleep disturbances during holidays and vacations?
Minimize the Changes in Their Sleep Routine
In all situations, adjusting to change is easier when change is kept to a minimum. If they nap in the afternoon, then plan activities around their afternoon nap. If they sleep until 10 am, then don’t travel until ten. If they like to sleep with lots of pillows and toys around them, make sure you pack those extra pillows and toys. The less change, the better.
Prepare Them for the Change
Infants can be gradually desensitized to changes in routine, so that the vacation or holiday is not a shock for them. For example, if your destination has a warmer climate than where you live, then turn the temperature in their room a fraction of a degree higher in the days before your trip. If they will be sleeping in a large bed at a hotel instead of a crib, then transfer them to your bed the week before the holiday. If your children are old enough, show them pictures of the place you are travelling to including the city and the place where you will be staying. If you have a picture of the bedroom you’ll be using, all the better! Sometimes you will be able to provide actual photos (for example, when you pick a hotel on an Internet travel site or when you are staying with relatives and you have photo’s of their home and town), and sometimes you’ll be able to use pictures of the city garnered from computer or travel books.
Consider Bach Flower Remedies
The Bach Flower Remedy Walnut can be given to a child 4 times a day starting the week before traveling in order to help the child adjust more easily to changes in routines, foods, and environment. Walnut is the transition flower, increasing a person’s flexibility and making change easier on the body and mind. Bach Flower Remedies are available at health food stores and on-line. Two drops in a small glass of liquid, given 4 times a day, is the optimal dosage. You can find more information on the Bach Flower Remedies online, in books, and throughout this site.
Expect Over-Excitement at First
Many adults have trouble sleeping in a new environment and travelling kids usually have more trouble. They are often overstimulated by the new experiences they are encountering and overexcited about the trip. This affects their brain chemistry, making it much harder for them to relax their little bodies and minds enough to settle into a quality sleep. If they’re too “wide awake” the first night or two of travel, don’t insist that they go to bed; they’re just going to lie awake for hours waiting for their adrenaline to settle! Let them stay up a little later, but wake them at the regular time in the morning. After a couple of nights, they should be good and tired and more able to sleep despite continued feelings of excitement.
Bring the Usual Gear
The place may not be familiar to your child, but the bedding, pillowcases, blanket and huggable toys can be the same. If you can bring stuff that kids associate with their sleep routine at home to your holiday or vacation, it won’t hurt and it just might help!
If your very young children wish to sleep with you (in your room or in your bed) while on a short vacation, it’s fine to let them do it. They’ll be home soon and you can get them back into their normal routines in their own rooms. However, vacation stays can be so disorienting that small children really need the comfort and stability of their parents near by. This isn’t the time to insist on independence. Try to provide the kids with the security they need. You can (and should be) firm, once you get home.
Gradually Ease Them Out of the Holiday Routine Upon Getting Home
Kids don’t just need to adjust during your holiday proper; they may also need to adjust upon returning home! This is especially true if the vacation is bit long, like the entire summer. Upon getting home, be flexible. If your child is still attached to the vacation routine, just try to wean him or her out of it slowly. It helps to allow a week’s transition time between the vacation and daycamp or school, just so that the child can get used to going to sleep and waking up on a stricter, probably earlier, schedule.