Summer is finally here and the anticipation of getting away for your family vacation is high. When vacationing, happy children equal happy parents so keep reading for some summer travel sleep tips to help you realize those dreamy summer holiday days.  It is always much better if everyone is well rested enough to enjoy them!

Keeping Your Family Well Rested On Summer Vacation

Respect the Rhythm

When traveling in different time zones, plan ahead. Adjust sleep times over the course of a few days by 15 minutes for younger children and 30 minutes for older children. Remember, you need to adjust other rhythm cues as well like meals and social time. If you don’t have the option to make the adjustments because of daycare, then you can decide when you arrive at your destination whether to stay on your home schedule or adjust to your new destination’s rhythms.

You might want to do things differently, depending on whether you travel east or west from home, and the number of time zones. It takes about one day to shift our biological clock one-time zone. You can do it faster by regulating things like light exposure, meals and playtime. If you are only travelling for a short time or only changing to one or two time zones, it may be easier to simply remain on home time.

Tips When Traveling East – travelling East is harder on sleep because when it’s bedtime (local time), your child may not yet be tired. If your trip is only for a few days you might want to keep on your home schedule. It means that they will be up later with you in the evenings, but if you’re visiting family, that might not be such a bad thing. If you are gone for longer than a week, begin transition to the new time zone right away. Meals are now eaten at the same time as the locals (and playtime and visiting too). This means you will be waking earlier than your body is used to initially and eating your meals earlier –  this will advance your biological clock. To help this “advance” along, get early morning light and avoid evening light so melatonin production begins to kick in earlier and adjusts you faster.

Tips When Traveling West – travelling West is easier on sleep because when it’s bedtime (local time), your child will be tired and should fall asleep easily. The resulting problem, however, is early waking the next morning – at least by local time standards! Try to time your arrival at your new destination so that you get there in the early evening, when there is still some natural light. Stay outside a little longer to keep your child awake before bedtime routine begins. Avoid early morning light and catch late afternoon, early evening light and incorporate physical activity too.

Bedtime Basics

Maintain a consistent bedtime so your child gets enough sleep to enjoy the next day of your holiday. If bedtime shifts earlier or later depending on your new location, keep it the same. Your child’s internal clock controls hormones that affect hunger, mood, health and thinking, and it works best with consistency. When bedtime shifts too much, your child is more likely to have behavioural outbursts and mood issues – it’s like daily jet lag. Even on holidays, your preschooler still needs 11 to 13 hours of sleep and your school age child needs 10.5 to 12 hours according to the new paediatric guidelines released by the American Association of Sleep Medicine.

Napping Notes

Let’s face it, while on holiday, naps may be a bit tougher to manage in the same place every day. Plan your day to account for when your child needs to nap. Bring along a stroller that reclines, so you can walk and your child can nap comfortably and safely. You get your exercise and your little one gets his or her rest. Bring sunglasses for both you and your child to provide shade from daylight when napping. You can also use a light cover or canopy for shade. Plan your travel time between destinations or points of interest at nap time so your child can nap in the car seat. Consider booking a room closer to the pool or beach so coming back to the room is quick and easy with tired little ones.

Familiar Cues

There is comfort in familiar routines, familiar smells and in familiar things. Whatever your bedtime routine is at home, keep it the same on holidays. If you use a white noise machine at home, use the same thing while on holiday. Bring along travel blinds (they are inexpensive) or black garbage bags to put up in the room to keep it dark. Smell is a powerful psychological cue, so take along your child’s sheets – unwashed! – and use them on the bed. Older children love to have their own pillows (and blankets too) if you have room. Bring the toddler clock and adjust it to the new social wake time and bedtime if you are adjusting those. Better for the clock to say “it’s not time to get up” than mom or dad!

Manage Expectations

It is guaranteed that at some point on some holiday with your children, you will have a few sleepless nights and a couple of harried family dining experiences. If you know that is a possibility and decide ahead of time that you will make the best of it, your holiday experience will remain positive. Lower your expectations a notch and you won’t be as disappointed in the moment and will go on to have wonderful vacation days.

Summer Travel Sleep Tips For Adults

Rest up before driving or flying. Sleep deprivation (even over the course of one night) has been shown to have these negative effects:

  • poor judgement
  • slower reaction times
  • increased moodiness

It is most likely that before holidays, you are working extra hard to get things finished up so you feel good about leaving for vacation. As a result, you are getting even less sleep just prior to leaving. Try to schedule one day at home before you travel so you can have a pre-travel rest day and good night’s sleep.

If you are driving, be aware of fatigue and if you see signs of sleepiness pull over and take a break or even a short nap to refresh yourself. It is best if the driver has a passenger that they can talk with and who is also paying attention to the road. If you begin to yawn, if your sight blurs, if you don’t remember the last couple of kilometres of highway, or if you catch your head bobbing: STOP!


Written by Good Night Sleep Site Consultant.

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