Balancing travel, flexibility and children’s sleep
Family holidays and family travel can affect when children sleep and how much sleep they get.
It’s great to be flexible with your usual routines while you’re travelling or on holidays. But your child still needs to get enough sleep. When your child is well rested, they’ll be better able to handle time away from home. They’ll also be ready to enjoy family activities.
There are a few things you can do to balance travel and flexibility with your child’s sleep needs.
Sleeping on car, bus, train and plane trips
It can help to plan car, bus, train or plane trips around your child’s sleep or rest time. This way, your child can sleep, and the trip might be easier for you too.
For babies and toddlers, starting a trip at nap time can work well. You can increase the chances of your child going to sleep and staying asleep by making sure they have a clean nappy and have recently had a feed.
For active preschoolers and school-age children, starting a trip after your child has had some time to play outside can help your child settle down when you begin the trip. It’s a good idea for your child to go to the toilet before you set off. And you might like to give your child a snack before you leave.
If you’ve been travelling all day, some physical activity can help your child feel ready for sleep later. Even babies will probably like to lie on a blanket to stretch and kick. It’s best if your child can finish their activity an hour or so before bedtime. Being active too close to bedtime can make it harder for your child to settle.
Sleeping in unfamiliar places
It’s natural for children to feel unsettled when they’re sleeping in unfamiliar places.
Here are a few tips that can help for babies:
- Make sure your baby sleeps in a separate, safe environment like at home.
- Follow your usual bedtime routines – for example, breastfeed, read a story, have a cuddle and say good night.
- Use your baby’s familiar sleeping bag or suit, if they have one.
- Keep a low light on if your baby is used to this.
- Give extra comfort and reassurance if your baby needs it – for example, you could try a responsive settling method.
And here are a few tips that can help for children:
- Avoid giving your child a heavy meal just before bedtime.
- Make sure your child knows that you’re nearby. Show them where you’re sleeping before they go to bed.
- Follow your usual bedtime routines – for example, brush teeth, read a story, have a cuddle and say good night.
- Give your child their favourite toy or blanket.
- Dress your child in pyjamas that they’re used to. Older children might like dressing in new ‘holiday pyjamas’.
- Keep a low light on so that your child can work out where they are if they wake in the night.
- If your child calls out in the night, give them extra cuddles or reassurance if they need it.
Safe sleeping is essential, whether you’re at home or away. If you’re using a hired or portable cot, make sure it’s safe and in good condition, assembled correctly and meets the Australian/New Zealand Standard. Get information about Standards in our article on safe baby furniture.
Sleeping in different time zones
If you’re travelling with children in the same time zone, you can help your child get the sleep they need by trying to stick to their usual sleep routine.
But if you’re travelling in different time zones, you and your child might be affected by jet lag. This is when your internal body clock for sleeping, eating and waking doesn’t match night and day in the time zone you’ve travelled to. Babies and young children usually aren’t as affected by jet lag as adults, but they might be tired and grumpy and not want to sleep at their usual nap times or bedtime.
A good tip is to plan for different time zones. Before you go, try changing mealtimes, bedtimes and wake times towards new time zones. This will help you and your child adjust more quickly when you get there. Once you’ve arrived, it can help to get outside in daylight and take short daytime naps when you or your child feels sleepy.
You shouldn’t give your child sleep medicine unless your doctor advises it and is supervising your child’s treatment. These medicines can have side effects, and some aren’t recommended for young children.