As soon as you become a parent, the definition of a holiday changes from relaxing to entertaining small people in a different country with nothing you need. It’s like extreme parenting. Like a parent boot camp – who can entertain a small child in the confines of a small space while trying not to annoy your fellow holiday-makers. Having said that family holidays are exciting; the sun is shining and it’s a break from home, new places, new experiences and new adventures. With these new adventures it is not uncommon to experience new sleep issues. When you are away from the comfort of your own home there are some babies that don’t bat a (closed) eyelid; they aren’t affected by a change of scenery, new faces and lots of excitement. Others struggle to sleep at home so chances are that any at home sleep problems will continue wherever you go.
So here is our survival guide for all parents embarking on a holiday and how to avoid sleepless nights:
- Your routine. The way in which parents approach any trip away from home can determine whether they are in for some sleepless nights. For some a trip means a holiday in every sense; a holiday from home and a break from the routine. While others are steadfast in their commitment to the routine and the sleep rules they have put in place to ensure everyone is well rested. Sometimes it is the parents that choose to abandon the rules and go with the flow for a few days. Sometimes it is the travel plans or activities that get in the way of feeds and naps. There are two ways to handle it; the first is go with it, accept a break from the routine may also be accompanied by a return to night waking but knowing that when you get home you can stop it. Or try where you can to stick to the same routine. Children do find a lot of comfort in the familiarity of their routine and can be the savior of sleep when away from home.
- Travelling. Sometimes you can control the times you travel other times you are at the mercy of the airlines. There will inevitably delays that are completely out of your control. You can’t do much about the traffic or delays but you can prepare for all eventualities so that your baby can sleep, eat and play and avoid any unwanted meltdowns. If you are able to, choose a time when the journey will be easier for you and your children. For younger children who need milk feeds and meals at certain times make sure you plan stops at their usual feed times. For car journeys; try to travel during their nap times which will help prevent them from having too much sleep on the way, causing them to be up awake all night. For air travel choose a daytime flight if you can, pack lots of food, snacks and extra milk feeds. Bring blankets and sleep aids so that they can nap on the plane.
- Adjusting to the time difference. On day of travel Remain on UK time for the day of travel, which will help you on the journey to your destination. Once you have arrived at your destination you can start to adapt your routine to the local time.
– If you are travelling more than 4+ hours out of time zone it is a good idea to move to the local time so that you can enjoy your holiday. If you are going west the trickiest part is keeping them asleep until 7am but on the plus side they are ready for bed by 7pm! If you are going east you are more likely to encounter issues at bedtime settling at first but sleeping until 7am won’t be a problem. Once you land in the new time zone adjust the routine accordingly. You may need to bring bedtime earlier or offer a late nap if going west or cut nap shorter or push bedtime an hour later if going east.
– If you are travelling within 3 hours of your home time zone then you have 2 options: 1. Stick to UK time, which will limit disruption to your routine on return and if going east will allow you to eat out together and get all-important late starts in the morning. (If you are 7-7 in the UK for example you would be 8-8 in France local time) or 2. Adapt to the local time. It will mean that you will have to put your baby to bed in the pram or eat earlier to ensure they go to bed on time. (If you were 7-7 in UK then you would follow 7-7 in France, which is 6-6 UK time for example)
Regardless of time zone stick to the timings of the routine. Whether you decide to switch to time zone or remain on UK time make sure that you are doing things at the usual times.
- Home away from home. If you’ve travelled with your children before, you know that they need a lot of stuff. I’m not really sure what ‘Gunnels’ are but we are always packed to them when we go anywhere! These items can be important for helping maintain a sense of familiarity for children; enabling you to create a little home away from home when you go away. Bring bedding so they have the smell of home, make sure you have your monitors and gadgets that you rely on to put your mind at rest. It helps if your bedtime routine and sleep environment are simple so you don’t have to rely on a mountain of gadgets and toys for your child to sleep well. If they’ve got a favourite toy to sleep with, pack that first, before you pack the child!
- Sharing a room. A stay in a hotel or away from home often results in room sharing with siblings or with parents. The ‘one up, all up’ rule will often apply when you have a family room so you do everything you can to shush, calm and avoid waking up the whole family even if that means co-sleeping, feeding back to sleep or running into the bathroom. If you do need to share a room with your children, make sure you establish the ‘rules’ with them first. For children old enough to understand, tell them to stay in their own bed until morning. For babies, who cannot understand, you can lead by example so don’t resort to habits that you wouldn’t do at home. Settle them in the cot in a separate part of the room, away from the door or bathroom so you won’t disturb them when you come to bed.
- Overstimulation. With new surroundings and the excitement of a holiday every baby and child will be stimulated to within an inch of their life! New faces, new spaces, stress, fun, long journeys can all lead to overstimulation which can lead to short naps, night waking and grumpy babies. Make sure that you give your children some quiet time before bedtime and nap times – take them to a quiet area to read a quiet story, lay quietly and get ready for sleep.
- Overtiredness. You are out and about, exploring, in and out of the pool, building sandcastles; it’s noisy and it’s all so exciting and you’d hate for your baby to miss out on it. So you keep them up a bit later, skip the nap or push it back a bit. What harm could it do? Well, a lot actually. You’ll have an overtired baby who then struggles to get to sleep when they do get a chance to nap and wakes frequently in the night. Where you can plan activities around milk and nap times so that your baby can join in when they are at their happiest! Bring their naptimes forward by 10 minutes to allow for overtiredness and don’t skip a nap; they can nap in the car seat or pram when you go out so they don’t have to miss out on naps or the outing.
- Illness. Murphy’s Law states that when you go away for the weekend or to a forgeign country your child will always get ill! It may be a simple cold or just the dreaded teething but either way it helps to have all of your usual ‘medications’ to hand in case you don’t have access to a pharmacy.
- Resorting to bad habits. You all need a rest and a break so the last thing you want is for any night waking to disturb other members of the family. As a result you go to your baby at the first sign of waking, you feed unnecessarily and pacify them by cuddling and co-sleeping. After a few nights your baby becomes used to these new nighttime interactions so when you get home, the night waking continues. It doesn’t take more than a few nights to make a habit but it takes a lot longer to break it.
- There’s no place like home. You’ll have some unpacking and certainly some washing but like you, your children will be crying out for some normality and a little bit of peace! Make sure you have a quiet day so everyone can get back to the normal routine. If you have experienced sleep issues then make sure that you start to address any night waking or habits as soon as you are back. If you need help setting things straight, you know where to find us!
We wish you a very happy holiday wherever you are going from Baby Tech Support zzz
Gemma at Baby Tech Support
29th July 2016