A little while ago I started working with the St Albans and District branch of the NCT. I offered to write a series of articles for them for their magazine Seeds and Saplings as a certified Sleep Sense consultant. The following article is the end result which ended up in print and I thought you might like to have a read!
So as summer is supposedly here this feature will focus on what to do around sleep and holidays!
There are many issues that arise when it comes to going on holiday around sleep, can they go to bed a bit later, what should we do about jet lag and changes in time zones and generally how well can we expect them to react to a change in environment.
For the purpose of this I have to assume that you are happy with your current sleep situation, if you aren’t then it’s not wise to try and change anything when going on holiday but obviously there are many things you can do to try and improve your child’s sleep.
The first big test is getting there. In terms of travelling with kids my advice remains the same whether you are heading 30 mins down the road, an 8 hour car journey to Scotland or jumping on a plan to more guaranteed sunshine, just go with it! Letâ€™s be realistic it’s unlikely to be a peaceful trip where you can sit back and read your book, you are more likely to encounter some bumps such as hunger, sleep, nappies and toilet trips so I reckon if you accept that this will happen and prepare yourself for it you’ll have an easier time!
So arm yourself accordingly, in many ways you can throw the rules out of the window, especially for longer journeys. Think snacks every 30 mins, toys (even wrap up old toys in paper for more excitement), colouring, movies, ipads, books whatever it takes to keep them occupied.
Apply the same attitude when it comes to naps. In the car it should be fairly easy to get a child to sleep, but on a plane just do what you can to get them to nap. Do the plane giggle up the aisle, rocking in the galley, ssshing etc etc. The most important part is that they get their rest so that when you get to your destination they aren’t running a major sleep debt in comparison to their usual routine.
If you are lucky enough to be flying somewhere in a different timezone then don’t accommodate for it before hand, get on the plane do what you need on the flight (see above) and then when you land, hit the ground running! Once settled get yourself and your children out in the sunshine and the fresh air as this will help the body clock to understand it’s daytime so that when it gets dark the body will be more set for sleep. When night time gets closer my advice is to try and dim the brightness for about 2 hours before bedtime, this will help the melatonin levels in their body to rise which is a key factor in getting to sleep. So draw the curtains and try and resist any electronics! Fingers crossed It should take no more than two days to kick the jet lag.
Of course whilst you are away it’s all about having fun and doing exciting things which makes those times special, but one of the biggest downfalls on holiday is doing too much. Whilst you shouldn’t let your child completely dictate the day, consider how much sleep they need during the day and where possible get at least one of those naps to be a good solid sleep, ideally in their bed for the trip. If you go a couple of days without great sleep in the day it’s not going to ruin anything, but keep an eye out for a change in behaviour because if they get irritable it’s quite possible it’s down to a lack of sleep and they are likely to be overtired at bedtime.
So to bedtime. Don’t forget to bring that special teddy or blanket with you, anything that reminds them of home and where they are used to sleeping is great. Consider the environment that your child is sleeping in, I don’t travel anywhere now without a travel blackout blind and our gro clock as you never know the room setup and the thickness of the curtains until you get there!
Stick with your bedtime routine that you follow at home. If you can keep similar elements here your child will recognise those elements as the journey to bed and sleep. So try and recreate bedtime as similar as possible to your home situation.
Also if your child has a separate room at home then ideally they shouldn’t sleep with you on holiday! If you have a separate room great, if not can you use the bathroom maybe? The idea here is that if your little one wakes up in the night they are less likely to go back to sleep if they see mummy and daddy and can call our for playtime even if it is 2 in the morning!
If you are tempted to keep your child up a bit later than usual then have a think about how it might impact them. The most important thing is that they are able to get the right amount of sleep each day, so if they need 12 hours sleep and you can put them down at 9pm and they will wake up at 9am then great (and you are very lucky!), but if that isn’t the case you will probably find that they are irritable due to tiredness. I’ve also seen research which shows that later doesn’t necessarily mean longer sleep time and that if children are overtired when they go to sleep, they are much more likely to have restless and disturbed sleep.
Having said all that I have one final thought. Fundamentally a holiday is really for enjoying time away and having fun as a family. If you find yourself in a bit of a pickle and their sleep isnâ€™t great, then just deal with it, make the most of the time you have and resolve yourself to getting it all sorted the minute you get back!
So there you are, some little bits of advice for your holidays. I hope you found them useful, if you would like to chat further about any of this or any other children’s sleep issues whether infant, baby or toddler then please get in touch. Also I’m open to ideas for the next feature so if you would like to pose a question Iâ€™d be happy to answer it.
Most of all have a great and hopefully rested summer!