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Keeping Sleep Schedules while Traveling with Baby

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

When it comes to sleep schedules, every baby is completely different. Because of that, it is hard for me to tell you “here is the best sleep schedule to use while traveling.” What I can say is that whatever schedule works best for you at home on the day you leave for your trip (considering baby’s schedules are always changing) is the schedule that you should try to keep for your vacation.

And as always flexibility is key.

This will likely mean arranging your daily schedule on vacation to accommodate the sleep schedule of the baby even if it is not the most convenient. That should be the priority if you are hoping to minimally disrupt any sleep progress that you have been making throughout your baby’s life.

It is important to consider the type of vacation that you will have and how that may impact the sleep schedule. A laid-back trip to the beach or in the mountains is fairly easy to workaround. But how will you make due on a busy trip to a big city like New York or Disney World where there are many things to see and hear?

It is also important to think about the environment that your baby sleeps best. Does Baby sleep in your arms? Could they fall asleep while in a carrier? What about in a stroller? Do they need total darkness? A sound machine? Sleep sack and pacifier? The list can go on and on. Whatever your child’s best sleep environment is, it is worth trying to replicate that as much as you can.

Time Changes

The best advice that I got from a friend when we were talking about jet lag and time changes was to just ride through it. Is it hard? Yes. Is it forever? No.

If the time change is small, an hour or two, my suggestion is to just shift your schedule to match the times that baby already has.

For example, if at home Baby usually wakes up at 7 a.m. and you are now an hour behind… your day will now be starting at 6 a.m. and you should continue on from there with the normal schedule you have at home just an hour earlier. If you are an hour ahead and Baby usually goes to bed at 8 p.m., you will probably be putting baby to bed at 9. If you are going on a short weekend getaway, I would just stick this out throughout the trip.

A general rule for time changes and jet lag is for every hour of the time difference, that is how many days it will take to adjust. So it is very possible if you are on a longer holiday, the schedule could change as the baby adjusts just like it would for yourself.

If you are adjusting from East to West a good solution would be to add a small nap in the late afternoon to help baby stay up later until they have adjusted to the time difference. If you are traveling from West to East, shorter naps and an earlier wake up will help baby adjust quicker.

Sound Machines

Sound machines are an essential part of keeping your sleep schedule with Baby. So much so that it also deserved its own blog post.

Maintaining Your Sleep Environment but with a Twist

By no means am I telling you that you need to stay on your strict sleep schedule and inconvenience yourself and anyone else that is on your vacation. But I do think that it should remain a priority. And that you can try to find ways that resemble Baby’s preferred environment but still work for you.

Making it Work in the Big Apple

The ultimate test for us ended up being our trip to New York. Stella loves to sleep. Big Nap Gal. But at home, she has white noise and a dark room with her crib to sleep in. She does not contact nap or sleep in my arms (much to my dismay because I miss those #cuddles). She is also a super curious baby who wants to see and hear everything and definitely won’t sleep while being in a carrier in a city where there are one million things to see and hear.

Took off the cover to a successfully sleeping baby

One thing she does do well though is falling asleep in her car seat and in the car so I knew it could be possible in the stroller. What I was hoping would happen, would be that we could form a little nap nest for her while we were out and about walking around the city. This would help us see more by not having to continuously go back to the hotel each time that she needed a nap and she also would not be an overly tired nightmare.

In all honesty, I was fully prepared for this not to work. I was ready to see very little of the many options that NYC has to offer because of the time I would spend traveling back and forth to the hotel for nap time. And although not ideal, I was going to be ok with that because I would much rather do that than deal with, and again I cannot emphasize this enough, an overly tired nightmare.

Luckily the stroller plan worked well for us but there was a key to the success. We were able to put a cover on the front of the stroller when she got tired so she couldn’t see out (but it was still breathable) and relied heavily on our portable sound machine to block out some of the street noise.

Our travel system had such a cover already built in but if you are looking for something that will cover and darken but won't overheat bay and is still breathable... I recommend the CoziGo (use code TRAVELWITHBABIES for $10 off at checkout).

Sleeping Through the Night

For the babies that are able to sleep through the night, it is best to make sure the room is pitch black for a long night’s rest. This helps them differentiate between daytime naps and overnighters when they should fall back asleep if they wake up. This is also likely to be the way Baby’s room is at home.

This, surprisingly but also not surprisingly, was something that we needed to address in our hotel room in New York. The city lights and sounds penetrated the window effortlessly. As always, we had our trusty sound machines with us but we also had to block out a lot of light pollution. Thankfully we had a hotel room with large curtains that blocked out just about all of the light from outside but if that was not the case we would have made do with some good ol’ fashion MacGyvering.

Ways to Block out Light/Noise for Baby

When babies are younger, you can usually get away with just bringing them out with you to dinner or someplace else in the evening. They are likely waking up often to feed anyway, can sleep through most activities in their car seat, and bedtimes are not as important at that point. But once they start sleeping through the night, they might start to have an early bedtime to promote a good night’s rest.

And when you are on vacation, the worst thing ever is to be enjoying your trip and then you are back in your hotel by 7 pm with all of the lights off and no sound. Or hiding in the bathroom in order to do anything (unless the bathroom is really nice, lol).

There are a few options that you have depending on the circumstances to still create a nice night for yourself in the hotel while Baby sleeps. These are things that specifically worked well for us at different ages/stages of traveling with Stella.

  • Noise-canceling headphones: When Stella was still sleeping on her back and not rolling, we utilized these a lot! She could wear them while she slept and we were still awake. This allowed us to watch tv, listen to music, or even just have a nice conversation in bed with some wine and enjoy our evening in the room while she slept. Once she was bigger and started rolling over or sleeping on her stomach, this was no longer an option.|

  • Bassinet with a canopy: While she was little, we typically traveled with the bassinet option for her stroller. This let us walk around with her in her stroller for longer periods of time (The ‘Two Hour Rule’ also applies to time in the car seat in a stroller, not just on road trips!) It also acted as her bed on those first set of road trips. We placed it in a darker corner, facing the wall, with the canopy up. Combine that with the headphones mentioned above, it can definitely be a nice evening in with minimal disruptions.

  • Crib Cover: Once Stella grew out of her bassinet, we had to start requesting pack n play/cribs at our hotels. We started off using a blanket over the crib to try and create a light and sound barrier. The blanket blocked half of the top and then the sides to form a dark cover but we could still see in to make sure she was ok but we blocked the direction of the tv lights. This method was cheap (actually free) but it didn't do a great job of blocking the light or sound. We still had to keep quiet and tip toe around the room when we needed anything. Since we kept running into this issue, we decided to purchase something to make our lives a bit more comfortable while traveling. We ended up purchasing the slumberpod (discount already applied) and let me tell you that we do not regret it. It was essentially created a little room for baby to sleep during the day and at night that was completely dark no matter what and kept a safe sleep environment. We added the fan for air circulation and put her sound machine inside the tent as well. This essentially put up a sound barrier so she couldn't hear anything going on outside of her tent. If you are looking for something a bit more affordable, I can also recommend the SnoozeShade. It is a blackout cover for your pack n play similar to the slumberpod above but doesn't get as dark and doesn't allow for as much room to grow. Once baby can stand in the pack n play and their head is taller than the edge, this product would be outgrown.

Hopefully, by keeping these things in mind and taking up a few tricks, your vacation will not be a disruption to Baby’s sleep progress and you can get some sleep yourself.


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