Science of baby sleep
Sleeping soundly: Tips for maintaining a traveling baby’s sleep routine on vacation
By Cradlewise Staff
Science of baby sleep
Sleeping soundly: Tips for maintaining a traveling baby’s sleep routine on vacation
By Cradlewise Staff
Picture this: once upon a time, you were a carefree couple sipping cocktails on a tropical beach, basking in the sun without any idea what time of day it was.
Fast forward to the present, and your sunny getaways now involve packing strollers, diapers, and the all-important sleep routine of your little one.
Being on a vacation with your baby can be challenging. At home, you’ve likely mastered the art of lulling your little one to sleep, but venturing into unfamiliar territory can throw that carefully crafted schedule out the window, and you’ll probably remind yourself of the common parent saying, “It’s a trip, not a vacation.”
But don’t worry! We know it can be scary to remove babies from a bedtime routine or environment that works for the family—and it can make parents especially anxious to travel without Cradlewise, which can feel hard to replace on the road. But our tips will help make the transition easier.
So whether you’re planning a cross-country road trip, an overseas flight to meet relatives, or a weekend getaway to a nearby town, we’ve got you covered with practical tips and strategies to ensure your travels are memorable and restful for you and your little explorer.
Trust us, with the right approach, your next trip will be a vacation!
How vacations impact baby’s sleep routine
While baby sleep continues to be an unpredictable enigma, there are some things we know about it for sure. One of them is this—babies are creatures of habit. They thrive on routines, consistency, and familiarity.
During vacations, there’s a change in your baby’s immediate surroundings, and with the disruption of familiarity, babies have a hard time coping with change.
“ By the time babies are a few months old, they are familiar with their surroundings and when things are different, they know it. Suddenly having new things to see, hear, smell, and touch is very stimulating to a baby’s brain and may result in difficulty shutting down when it’s time to sleep.
Your baby’s sleep routines are built around familiar sleep spaces (like their Cradlewise Smart Crib), bedtime rituals, and cues they associate with rest.
But on vacation, hotels can be bustling with activities and music. And relatives’ homes may have different noises compared to your own—the hustle and bustle of family gatherings, a lot of people talking, and little cousins playing around—all this potentially affects your baby’s ability to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Dr. Kimberly Langdon, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Medzino, suggests that the mode of travel and the time of the day most impact a baby’s sleep routine. So if you haven’t solidified travel plans quite yet, keep reading to find out when you should book those plane tickets or rent that car.
What changes occur for a baby on vacation
Here’s a list of changes that may impact your baby and their sleep routine when you go on vacation:
1. Jet lag disrupts circadian rhythm
While jet lag may affect everyone, babies and adults experience it differently. Babies develop circadian rhythms, like internal clocks regulating their sleep-wake cycle.
When you cross time zones, their little internal clock gets a bit haywire, leading to confusion, fussiness, and change in appetite.
So while adults might feel fatigued and disoriented for some time, they usually recover within a day. For babies, it might take longer to reorient their circadian rhythm. While you might be getting ready for bed—your baby might think it’s playtime!
Tip: To help your baby adapt, gradually ease them into the new routine. Expose them to natural light during the day and keep things dark and calm at night. On the other hand, some parents may opt to keep babies on their “home” time zone schedule, especially if it’s a short trip.
2. Formation of new sleep associations
Babies often associate certain pre-sleep rituals, activities, music, and so on, with falling asleep.
At home, you would have a set of carefully curated bedtime routines. But on vacation, babies can form new sleep associations when they fall asleep to the sound of ocean waves crashing or exotic birds chirping…or even the wedding party celebrating next door.
These new associations can make things tricky when you’re back home.
3. Post-travel sleep regressions
Just when you think your baby has mastered the art of snoozing, post-travel sleep regressions can sneak up on you. During this phase, your baby’s sleep routine might become a bit wonky, and they might wake up more frequently at night.
4. Separation anxiety
Vacations can also amplify separation anxiety in your baby when you return home. Your little one has been by your side, exploring new places hand-in-hand, and now they’re unsure about being apart, even during naptime or bedtime.
How to handle time zone changes and jet lag while on vacation with a baby
Time zone changes are hard for everyone, but they’re even more difficult for babies. Here are some tips that might help:
- Gradual adjustment is the key: Before embarking on your adventure, prepare your baby for the time zone shift.
Tip: Gradually adjust their sleep schedule in the days leading up to your trip. Shift bedtime and nap times by 15-30 minutes each day until you reach the destination’s time zone.
If you’re traveling longer distances like Europe or Asia, you can start shifting your baby’s time up by an hour each day.
- Natural light exposure: Once you arrive at your destination, use natural light to help regulate your baby’s circadian rhythm. Spending time outdoors during daylight hours can aid in adjusting their internal clock to the local time.
- Sync with local time: Once you’ve arrived at your destination, make a conscious effort to sync your baby’s schedule with the local time as soon as possible.
It’s important to remember that every baby is different, and their response to time zone changes may vary. Be patient with your little ones as they adjust to the new schedule. If your baby’s sleep is disrupted, give them time to adapt.
How does travel and being in a new environment affect a baby’s brain?
“ The change to the actual sleep routine, time zone shifts, loss of naps, and delayed bedtimes during travel impact the baby the most. Specifically, it is light shifts that impact the secretion of melatonin in a baby’s brain. Additionally, if there is stress around the travel for the parents, it can also create a stressful reaction in the infant.
When on vacation, your baby is bombarded with new sights, sounds, and experiences. The short-term effect of this new information can be:
- Overstimulation and fatigue: Traveling can often mean a bustling airport, the hum of engines, the cacophony of chatter, and the bright lights all around.
That’s a lot to process! When traveling and on vacation, your baby faces an avalanche of unfamiliar sensory input, which can lead to overstimulation, making your little one a bit cranky or tired during your adventures.
- Cognitive processing: Your little one’s brain is like a sponge, eagerly absorbing all the sights, sounds, and even the unique smells of new places. But processing all this fresh data requires some serious brain power!
Like a computer running multiple applications, their tiny brains need to work harder to adjust and integrate all this novel information. This cognitive processing can make babies tired. They might need more frequent breaks to rest and process everything they’re taking in.
Another important thing to remember is that it’s great to prepare your little one for the vacation and the change in environment, but you can never predict or control when your baby might start getting fussy on vacation—it could be in the security line at the airport, right you’re meeting grandma for the first time, when your food arrives at a fancy dinner, or when you want to take a break yourself.
So make sure that you adjust your own expectations, too!
Also, take heart—strangers might be more empathetic than you think! So don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it, whether it’s asking someone to hold the baby while you organize your belongings or asking someone if they would be willing to give up their seat for you. Many people will be happy to accommodate a tired parent.
Can melatonin help babies sleep better on vacation?
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by our body to regulate sleep-wake cycles.
However, the tiny bodies of babies are still learning to produce melatonin consistently, which can be disrupted further when you change time zones or introduce them to unfamiliar surroundings during a vacation.
Is melatonin safe for your baby? According to Dr. Vyas, “Melatonin is a great tool primarily for travel and resetting the sleep-wake cycle. For infants, limit it to 1mg per day.” Dr. Langdon suggests discussing this with your pediatrician. Consult your pediatrician before giving your baby melatonin. They can guide you on the appropriate timing, dosage, and safety based on your baby’s age and weight.
When we asked experts if babies under three should take melatonin, their advice was conflicting.
According to Dr. O’Shea, “Babies under three should avoid melatonin. Although we don’t have studies on babies this age to guide us, even if travel takes you to different time zones, adjusting your baby’s sleep naturally is the better way to go. While according to Dr. Vyas, “Melatonin is a great tool primarily for travel and resetting the sleep-wake cycle. For infants, limit it to 1mg per day.” Dr. Langdon suggests discussing this with your pediatrician.
For older children, Dr. O’Shea says, “For children 3 and older (maybe down to age 2 with your pediatrician’s blessing) melatonin may help especially if you are changing time zones. Small doses, 0.5-1 mg about an hour before sleep time is enough.” Supplementing with melatonin can help synchronize a baby’s sleep patterns, making it easier for them to doze off when needed, especially when dealing with jet lag.
Bear in mind that melatonin may not eliminate nighttime wakeups. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain that helps you fall asleep. It does not keep you asleep. The same goes for the supplement.”
So, melatonin should be a short-term solution for temporary sleep disturbances, such as during (or after!) a vacation. Avoid using it for an extended period without medical supervision.
How to accommodate my baby’s schedule on vacation
According to Dr. Vyas, a vacation can be an excellent time for families to reconnect, and good sleep will help for a better journey.
“Prioritize sleep over seeing sights,” she said, “If you know your child will miss a nap during travel, ensure an earlier bedtime; if bedtime is delayed, ensure a nap is part of the schedule.”
Here are some tips for creating a sleep-friendly environment for your baby in a new location:
1. Stick to familiar bedtime rituals
Whether it’s a gentle lullaby, a bedtime story, or a snuggle with their favorite stuffed animal—familiarity brings comfort, no matter where your baby is. Dr. Langdon suggests keeping their routine as close as possible to their home routine.
Check out Cradlewise’s sensitive sleeper track that you can play anywhere for your little one!
2. Bring comfort items from home
Remember to pack your baby’s must-have comfort items from home. That beloved blanket or that adorable little toy can work wonders in helping your baby feel secure in a new place (or even on the plane ride itself!).
3. If possible, plan smart travel times
We know that flight prices can vary dramatically depending on the day and time of the year. While sometimes it might not be possible to find a flight that coincides with your baby’s naptime, at other times, you might find the flight that does. A snoozing baby on a plane or in a car can make the journey much smoother for everyone involved.
4. Create a separate sleep environment, even if it’s a closet
Space might be limited, but a separate sleep environment can work wonders for your baby’s sleep. You can transform a cozy corner or even a closet into a sleep haven with creativity and love.
5. Stick to the usual bedtime
Try to maintain your baby’s usual bedtime in the new time zone, even if the day’s adventures have been exhilarating.
6. Darken the sleep environment
Traveling blackout shades or taped-up garbage bags (yes, really!) can turn any room into a restful sanctuary. Keep the light out during sleep time and let your baby’s internal sleep clock work its magic.
7. Ensure your baby’s sleep safety
For baby’s sleep safety during vacations, Dr. O’Shea suggests, “Remember that babies need to sleep on their own and put down on their backs on a firm surface no matter where you are. Be aware that the crib slat distance should be less than 2 3/8″ to minimize the risk of strangulation.”
“ And if you’re staying at a relative’s house, old cribs that relatives might have for you to use may not be up to code anymore. Check ahead and ship a new one to the place you’re headed to ensure your child’s safe and sound sleep.
Remember that vacations can be overwhelming for babies too. Be patient and flexible as you navigate any hiccups in your baby’s sleep routine.
With these tips in your parenting toolkit, you’ll be well-prepared to adjust your baby’s schedule on vacation and ensure they have sweet dreams wherever you go. Happy travels! ✈️🌴
Q: Will my baby’s sleep schedule change on vacation?
A: Yes, it is likely that your baby’s sleep schedule will change on vacation due to new surroundings and disruptions to their routine.
Q: Why do babies’ sleep schedules change on vacation?
A: Babies’ sleep schedules change on vacation due to disruptions in their circadian rhythms caused by changes in the environment, light exposure, and daily routines, leading to altered sleep patterns. Vacation and traveling also mean that the baby will be exposed to a lot of stimuli from different sounds, lights, and visuals among other things. Their brains take a lot of energy to process all this new information. This can also make them tired and impact their sleep cycle.
Q: Is melatonin safe for babies?
A:When we asked experts if babies under three should take melatonin, their advice was conflicting. According to Dr. O’Shea, “Babies under three should avoid melatonin. Although we don’t have studies on babies this age to guide us, even if travel takes you to different time zones, adjusting your baby’s sleep naturally is the better way to go.” While according to Dr. Vyas, “Melatonin is a great tool primarily for travel and resetting the sleep-wake cycle. For infants, limit it to 1mg per day.” Dr. Langdon suggests discussing this with your pediatrician.
Q: Is melatonin safe for toddlers?
A: Melatonin may be considered for toddlers under the guidance of a pediatrician, but it should not be used without medical advice. According to Dr. O’Shea, “For children 3 and older (maybe down to age 2 with your pediatrician’s blessing) melatonin may help especially if you are changing time zones. Small doses, 0.5 to 1mg about an hour before sleep time is enough.”
Q: How can I prevent jet lag in babies when on vacation?
A: Gradually adjust your baby’s sleep schedule before the trip, expose them to natural light, and maintain regular meal times during travel.
Q: How can I maintain baby’s sleep routine on vacation?
A: Try to recreate elements of your baby’s regular sleep environment, follow a consistent bedtime, and use familiar sleep cues.
Q: Are there any specific items or tools I should bring to help my baby sleep better during our trip?
A:Consider bringing familiar blankets, stuffed animals, or white noise machines to provide comfort and familiarity for your baby.
Q: Should I maintain the same bedtime and naptime rituals while on vacation, or can I be more flexible with the routine?
A: It’s best to maintain as much consistency as possible with bedtime and naptime rituals to help your baby adjust to the new surroundings.
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