I used to travel a lot—I even lived abroad for two years. But then I had kids. After going through the struggle of sleep-training two little ones, I vowed that I wouldn’t disrupt their sleep schedule until they turned 18. The struggle was real.
13 hotel rooms that will blow your kids’ minds But around the time my daughters were four and seven, I started to get some serious FOMO (fear of missing out), so I booked a trip to Iceland. I studied jet lag like it was my job before I got on that plane. I grilled everyone I could think of who had travelled overseas with their kids to get to the bottom of how they did it. I also read all of the travel blogs—OK, maybe not all, but I read a lot of them. Miracle of all miracles, it worked. My kids slept. And they adjusted. So, you should really go to Iceland. Travel the world! But read these tips first.
1. Go toward the light
The light and sunshine in your new destination will naturally reset your internal clock to your new time zone, says Linda Szmulewitz, mom of two and Chicago-based owner of Sleep Tight Consultants. That means if it’s daytime in London, go outside, even if it might be the middle of the night back home.
2. Don’t eat steak for breakfast
It might be dinnertime in Florida, but it’s time for breakfast in Tokyo. That means, you’re having breakfast, not dinner. “It’s important to eat at the right times for wherever you are, and not to keep telling yourself, ‘Well, at home, we would be doing this,’ or ‘When we were on our trip, we would be doing this,’” Szmulewitz says. Your phone should immediately change the time when you arrive, so stop recalculating the time in your head.
3. Keep your eye on the clock
Forget nap schedules and get yourself outside between 2 and 3 p.m. if you’ve travelled west. According to a study published in the Journal of Biological Rhythms, getting out in the sun during those hours is essential, because you’re telling your brain that it’s daytime rather than nighttime (your brain may be confused because it’s probably evening back at home). While the study looked at adults, Helen Burgess, director at the Center for Clinical Chronobiology at the Rush University Medical Centre and author of the study says the results are just as applicable to children. This one was hard for me, but it works. If you’ve traveled in the opposite direction (from west to east), the study suggests making sure you’re outside between 6 and 8 a.m. Editor’s tip: Stick to travelling west!
4. Set the alarm
Your body may be confused, so if you or your kids lie down for a quick nap, it could easily turn into an eight-hour siesta. They may feel rested, but they’ll miss out on all the daytime activities and won’t be any closer to adjusting to the new time. If you’re going to nap, set the alarm, and limit daytime sleep to a maximum of two hours, says Nicole Johnson, mom to two and president and owner of The Baby Sleep Site. Then take them outside, no matter how groggy they are.
5. BYO Everything
It’s hard trying to fall asleep in an unfamiliar location at a weird time. Make it a little easier on the little ones by bringing the comforts of home to make the bed or crib more familiar, Johnson says. Bring your own crib sheets, a security object or a favourite toy from home. “Be sure to take this in your carry-on so that you don’t risk having it lost in your luggage,” she adds.
6. Turn off the lights
The first night or two, your kiddo may wake up in the middle of the night starving. That’s probably because it’s lunch or dinnertime back home and it’s totally normal, Szmulewitz says. “This is fine for the first two nights, but make sure to treat this as if it’s the middle of the night. Don’t get up, turn on the lights and sit down to a meal,” she says. Give your child a quick snack, and encourage them to go back to sleep.
If they’re having a hard time sleeping, they can stay up and play for a little, but keep the lights dim, as turning the lights on will tell their body that it’s time to get up. As soon as possible, encourage them to go back to sleep. By night three, any night-waking should be treated as it would be at home, with the aim to have them back in bed and asleep as soon as possible, Szmulewitz advises.
Now, if I could get them to stay in bed all night at home, that would be a true miracle!