What to do about sleep when holidaying overseas with your baby. Sleep tips for parents to transition time zones.

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After a two year hiatus, family overseas holidays are back but what do you do about sleep when holidaying overseas with your baby or toddler? In this blog we share baby sleep consultant tips for parents transitioning to a different time zone.

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    With the world opening up, families are looking to head overseas again. Everyone wants to catch up with extended family and create new memories. But before you pack your bags, let’s look at some baby sleep consultant recommendations to encourage sleep whilst travelling overseas.

    Preparing: Before you leave home

    In parenting, preparation is often key so before you switch into holiday mode, consider the following:

    • How long are you going for?
    • Where are you heading?
    • What is the time difference?
    • Are the clocks going forward or back?

    The answers to these questions will help you recognise how significant the time change will be and if you’re staying less than 3-5 days it may even be best to stay on your regular time zone.

    For a getaway that’s more than 5 days you could meet half way with your normal routine or adjust to the new time zone on arrival. (Note: this will depend on your baby or toddlers age, general adaptability and the time difference).

    Expert Tip: Although tempting, resist the urge to “prepare” your baby by shifting their body clock prior to leaving for holidays. Leave this for arrival and see how they travel. There’s no point stressing before the holiday has begun, instead, look at the things you can do beforehand.

    Top two ways to help your baby sleep better when you get to your destination:

    1. Ensure a well-rested baby – An overtired baby will find it harder to adapt and adjust to new situations and the inevitable change in routine. Continue to focus on your baby receiving age appropriate awake times and the rest they need before you leave.
    1. Plan and prepare for accommodation – Consider whether your baby will have a room of their own or will you be room sharing? Will your baby have a port-a-cot? Are you staying with family? How will you navigate sleep arrangements that promote sleep for the whole family?

    Expert Tip: Having realistic expectations and mentally noting how sleep may be impacted whilst holidaying means we can arm ourselves with knowledge and tools to troubleshoot if the worst-case scenario occurs.

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    How to help your baby sleep on a plane

    Getting your baby to sleep whilst flying may seem like an impossible task but there are some simple tips to help create an environment they’re more likely to fall asleep in.

    • Book the longest transit stretch overnight – It’s not always possible to book an overnight flight but if you can, it will mean flying when the body has its natural and highest sleep pressure (AKA melatonin) at night.
    • Pre book a bassinet- Depending on your baby’s age and or weight, you may be able to pre-book a bassinet on the plane. These are limited in availability so ask your travel agent when you book the holiday.
    • Bring sleep associations from home – For familiarity and predictability, use your baby’s regular sleep associations to your advantage. Think PJ’s, sleeping bag, white noise machine (there are lots of small portable options) and don’t forget the dummy and/or comforter. Read more about sleep associations here.
    • Stick with your regular wind down/bedtime routine – This may need to be adjusted to suit the final awake window so modify as needed (no bath time option here!). But change your baby into their PJ’s, read 1-2 books, pop into a sleeping bag and use your regular sleep phrases to cue sleep.
    • Expect it to take your baby longer to fall asleep – FOMO may be strong with your baby wanting to stay up to people watch. Be patient and don’t try to “force” sleep. We can only provide the opportunity to sleep.

    Expert Tip: The plane ride over and back is all rules out the window. It’s where our 80/20 rule of consistency comes in. Just support your baby the best you can and accept any offers of help. We can be flexible and adaptable (it’s why we’re going on holidays after all). Your baby may wake more often, need an extra feed or hands on settling. This is all A-ok.

    Arrival – How to get your baby to sleep at your holiday destination

    Adjusting a baby’s sleep routine to a different time zone can be done. Use the following baby sleep consultant tips to reset on arrival at your destination.

    • Sunlight – Serotonin is the precursor to melatonin which is produced in the daylight hours. Expose yourself and your baby to morning sunlight to help reset the Circadian Rhythm. This can mean opening the blinds and spending time outside in the morning and then “turning down” (dim lights, draw blinds) at your accommodation as the day comes to an end.
    • Wake between 6:00 – 8:00am local time – This ties into the point above. Have a predictable time to start the day and continue regular awake windows as well as capping naps. You don’t have to follow a strict nap routine on holidays, but try to apply your baby’s regular age appropriate awake times and sleep structure.
    • Be sure not to exceed total day sleep – This is especially important when transitioning significant time zones. It’s likely your baby will have some wakeful periods overnight as they’re body clock adjusts to the new time zone and experiences the strong pull to wake up at 2:00am (they’re still on home time). With this in mind, look to cap a single nap at 2-2.5 hours. You can find out more about the nap routines I recommend with my comprehensive Nap Routine Guide offering 35 pages of sleep routines from 6 weeks to 4 years. Download Nap Routines.
    • Maintain bedtime routine – Just like on the plane, keep to your regular sequence of events to cue sleep time and try to replicate their sleep environment as best as possible. Expert Tip: Bring the sheet from their cot at home for a familiar smell.
    • Physical activity – Get outside and be active. Give your baby lots of physical active play time. Often if they’ve been strapped into the baby carrier, pram or car for long stretches of the day, they won’t have had the same opportunity for physical activity and this can lead to shorter naps or more nap resistance.

    Coming Home- How to get your baby back into their sleep routine after a holiday

    When you arrive home from your holiday, you’ll probably be eager to get your baby back into the swing of all things sleep.

    Here’s two important pieces of baby sleep consultant advice for returning home: 

    1. Jump straight back onto local time – Rip the band aid off straight away and get back onto local time. This may mean an earlier bedtime or an extra nap depending on the time of day you arrive home.

    Also be aware that coming home is always harder for the body to adjust to so don’t plan to get back to work or regular activities for at least 3 days.

    As your baby readjusts at home, you may experience some wakeful periods overnight so for the first night keep wake ups very low stimulation such as books and quiet play. Encourage returning to sleep within 1-2 hours and then continue to wake up at 6:00-800am in the morning. This should reduce the night time parties over a few nights and return your baby back to a normal time zone friendly sleep rhythm.

    1. Get back to basics- What happens on holidays stays on holidays so focus on sleep environment, age appropriate awake times, wind down cues, nutrition and then work on that exit strategy to reduce any extra hands on assistance that was being offered whilst away.

    In practical terms this might look like:

    • On holidays your baby was waking up before dawn – It’s now time to once again resettle, resettle, resettle!
    • Your baby grew accustomed to only napping in the baby carrier or pram? —Time to readjust to naps in the cot.
    • Your baby was feeding to sleep or being rocked at bedtime whilst away— Return to placing your baby in the cot and self-settling.

    Babies and toddlers are adaptable little creatures, but they won’t voluntarily give up that extra support – who doesn’t love a little extra night time cuddles. Be confident and consistent in your approach and know you haven’t lost your healthy sleep foundations.

    Happy holidaying and enjoy making all those new memories and reconnecting with the most important people in your world, your family.

    Need more tailored advice on how to navigate your travel plans or don’t have a strong sleep foundation prior to leaving? Booking in a 1-1 consultation to discuss our options for working 1-1 together.View Packages

    If you’re a camping family, I have a blog dedicated to all things camping (including a list of everything you must take to aid with baby and toddler sleep). Find the blog Top 10 sleep tips for camping with babies and children here


    Kelly Martin Sleep Consultant

    Helping babies get a good nights sleep

    Our mission is to empower parents with the knowledge and education about how they can help their little one develop and maintain healthy sleep habits. Are you ready to regain your sleep?

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