This is one of the biggest questions I get from parents around the holidays: How do we change time zones on vacation and get our children to sleep? The answer truly depends on how long you are traveling for and where you are going to, but here are some ways you can ease into long-distance travel.
Especially when you are flying a long distance, you may want to pick a time that will line up with a nap or if you are really brave, overnight sleep. This way you’ll get a break from entertaining at least for a period during the travel and when you arrive at your destination, your child may be able to tolerate the time change a little better. I like to book early flights so that I wake my kids earlier than normal, they are sleepy by the time we get on a plane, and I can count on them to sleep for a few hours during the flights. When my children were babies, I lined up flights that took off around their nap times. Usually we’d get into the air and they’d be asleep within the hour. Not all children sleep well on planes so if you child doesn’t, obviously try and find a flight that works around their sleep periods.
The best way to work around this is to consider how long you are in your destination. Recently we traveled to California and we were only there for 4 days. I decided I would not change my children to the West Coast time and instead they stayed relatively close to their home schedule each day. If we were staying over a week, I would’ve worked on stretching nap and bedtime later by about an hour every single day. Younger babies may have trouble pushing that hour boundary, and in that case you may only be able to push 15-30 minutes each day you are there. However, be sure that all meals, and naps get pushed by the same length of time and not just bedtime.
This means that even if you child was up until 10pm the night before (because that felt like say 7pm at home), wake them at 7am the next day. Only let your child sleep in if you would like their bedtime to be later than it is at home (this is particularly helpful in places like Europe where dinner is much later).
For me this is temporary blackout shades or contractor trash bags, white noise, and our normal lovies and sleep sacks. If I’m expecting my children to sleep well in a new environment, especially where their circadian rhythm is out of whack, I want them to be comfortable and for it to be as dark as possible in the early morning hours. If you are trying to rouse your child in those early hours like when you are traveling East, then ditch the blackout shades and instead open those curtains bright and early!
Remember, traveling across time zones is pretty hard on young children, so try not to expect too much! Give them time to adjust to their new time zones (usually a day for each hour change in your time zone), and if it’s a short trip, you may just want to opt out and keep them on their home timing. Safe travels!