Traveling with toddlers can be a lot of fun, but it often comes with the challenge of preserving their sleep routines. Toddlers thrive on consistency and a stable sleep schedule, and disruptions can lead to major sleep regressions, bedtime battles, and extreme overtiredness making your trip less enjoyable. In this article, we will explore practical tips and strategies to ensure your toddler gets the sleep they need while traveling.

The Importance of Sleep Routines for ToddlersPortland Children's Museum

Predictable sleep routines are crucial for toddlers whether at home or away on holidays. Toddlers like to feel in control and are at ease when they know exactly what is happening next. Consistent bedtime routines provide a sense of security, which helps toddlers feel safe and content, allowing them to fall asleep easily. So keeping some sense of predictability is crucial when you’re away from home to help toddlers feel comfortable and ensure they can still sleep well.

1. Planning Ahead: Choosing Toddler-Friendly Accommodations

Booking family accommodations is a great first step in ensuring a successful trip with your toddler. Look for options that cater to your child’s sleep needs. A holiday is not the time to make the transition to a ‘big bed’ so make sure to request a crib or pack ‘n play if your child is used to sleeping in a crib at home, or bring a travel crib with you. If they do sleep in a toddler bed at home, make sure the bed they’ll be sleeping in is safe and low to the ground, or bring some travel safety rails. 

Opt for suite-style rooms with a separate sleeping area to allow your toddler to nap and sleep undisturbed ensuring you don’t have to head to bed at the same time. Make sure to research your accommodation’s noise levels and request a quiet room away from potential disturbances.

2. Pack the Essentials: Creating a Travel Sleep Kit

Travel with toddlers

To make your toddler feel at home in an unfamiliar environment, create a travel sleep kit. Include familiar items such as their favorite soft toy or baby lovey, blanket, or pillow, which can provide extra comfort and familiarity. Bring their comfy pajamas and anything that is a crucial part of their usual sleep rituals – i.e. some bedtime books. A portable nightlight if they have one at home, while a white noise machine can help drown out unfamiliar sounds, creating a peaceful sleep environment in noisier places. Here are the 6 Best Noise Machines for Sleep.

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3. Preparing them for what’s expectedPortland Children's Museum

Before the trip talk to your toddler about where they’ll be sleeping and describe the place so they can feel ready and excited. It’s also a good idea to walk them through the travel plans, like when you’ll leave home, what happens at the airport, the plane ride, and what sleeping on the go will be like. Toddlers love being in the know, so giving them the scoop can make them feel a lot calmer on travel days. Make sure to keep it exciting but not overwhelming by sharing just the right amount of information they need to feel prepared.

4. Sticking to a Familiar Bedtime Routine11 Tips to Maintain Sleep Routines While Traveling with Toddlers

Maintaining your toddler’s bedtime routine is essential, even while traveling. Consistency is key, so replicate the familiar rituals like a bath/shower, reading a bedtime story, brushing teeth, and singing lullabies. Even if it’s been a busy day it’s better to send them to bed a little later than usual and ensure they don’t feel too rushed at bedtime.

It’s much better to ease them into sleep than try and rush them off to bed, which could make them feel anxious and potentially lead to tantrums and just further delay bedtime. 

5. Keeping the Sleep Environment Consistent

Creating a sleep environment that closely resembles home can significantly benefit your toddler’s sleep quality while traveling. If possible, bring your toddler’s own sheets or bedding to create a sense of familiarity. Ensure the room is sufficiently dark for sleep by choosing accommodation with blackout curtains or pack travel window blackouts.

If you’re room sharing (and don’t usually at home) try to arrange the room so there’s some kind of visual barrier between your toddler’s sleep space and your bed, otherwise be prepared for early morning wakes when they excitedly pop up realizing you’re right there. 

6. Adjusting to Time Zone Changes

Traveling across time zones can be a major sleep disruptor for toddlers. To minimize the impact of jet lag, ensure plenty of rest days before your trip. Once at your destination, switch to the new time zone immediately on arrival. Encourage exposure to natural light during the day to help reset their internal clock.

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Try to encourage plenty of food during the day, but don’t be alarmed if their appetite is low at first. And keep your days busy and socially interactive. You’ll be teaching their body clock the difference between night and day again, and this can take a couple of days for all to adjust. This approach can ease the transition and reduce the chances of severe jet lag disrupting your toddler’s sleep.

7. Napping on the Go: Dos and Don’ts

Managing daytime napping is crucial to avoid interfering with nighttime sleep. Stick to your toddler’s usual nap schedule as closely as possible to ensure they get the rest they need while being mindful not to let daytime naps become too long, as this can disrupt nighttime sleep. When on the move, utilize stroller naps to allow your toddler to recharge without straying too far from their regular schedule.

8. Maintaining Healthy Eating and Sleep Habits

Diet and nutrition play a significant role in your toddler’s sleep quality while traveling. To ensure your child’s sleep isn’t disrupted due to dietary changes, plan your meals and snacks thoughtfully. Stick to a balanced diet and try to maintain regular meal times as closely as possible.

When on holidays it can be hard to maintain a healthy balance of foods, and when eating out the kid’s meal options are usually the low-nutrition, high-processed type so try to plan ahead and focus on lots of healthy snacks in between meals.

Be mindful of sugar intake, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime, as these can interfere with your toddler’s ability to fall asleep. Mood and sleep quality are greatly impacted by what we eat!

9. Engaging in Active Daytime PlayEcola State Park

Physical activity is a key factor in helping toddlers sleep well while traveling. Encourage active play during the day to help your child expend their energy. Whether it’s exploring a new park, going for a nature walk, or even just playing at a playground, engaging in physical activities can help your toddler sleep more soundly at night. If they’ve been cooped up in a car all day make sure you plan some physical play stops so they’re still going to be tired enough at bedtime. 

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10. Managing Sleep Disruptions: Handling Night Wakings

If your toddler wakes up in the middle of the night during travel, it’s essential to stay calm and reassure them that they are safe. Avoid stimulating activities and keep the environment quiet and dimly lit. Consistency is key, so use the same comforting methods you employ at home to help your child fall back asleep and try not to introduce new sleep habits that you don’t want to keep. By maintaining a familiar routine, you can minimize confusion and help your toddler get back to sleep more easily.

11. Post-Travel Adjustment: Getting Back to NormalTips to Maintain Sleep Routines While Traveling with Toddlers

After your journey, it’s time to help your toddler readjust to their regular sleep routine at home. If you started any new sleep habits while away try to get back to your usual rituals as soon as you’re home. Reintroduce familiar sleep cues and rituals to signal that it’s time for sleep. If you’ve traveled across time zones you might want to take a couple of days to a week before you want to tackle any new sleep habits to ensure they’re feeling primed for sleep again. Be patient as your child acclimates to being home again, and soon, they’ll be back to their regular sleep patterns.

By following these tips and strategies, you can help your toddler maintain healthy sleep habits while traveling and ensure that both you and your child enjoy a restful and memorable trip. Safe and happy travels!

Guest Author Bio: Written by Melissa, an internationally certified baby & toddler sleep consultant and founder of Baby Sleep Code. Baby Sleep Code offers online one-on-one sleep consulting packages and takes a holistic approach to sleep. Providing recommendations on everything that can impact infant sleep, from feeding, nutrition, nap timings, sleep cues, environment, temperament, settling, and more. 

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