Category Archives: Travel

Keeping sleep on track with grandparent visitors

Sleeping baby in grand mothers arms

Just when you thought you had all of your child’s sleep challenges worked out, here come the grandparents for a visit. While grandparents mean well and are absolutely fulfilling their grandparently duty by spoiling their grandchildren, I believe it was Dr. Marc Weissbluth who called grandparents the “enemy of sleep.” Make no mistake, they, of course, do the things they do out of love, but they often don’t adhere to the same limits that we work so hard to establish for our children. Here are some tips to help everyone get through these visits with minimal disruption.  Although we will mostly be talking about grandparents here, these tips and guidelines can apply to any visitor who disrupts your children’s daily routines.

For the sake of clarity, we will discuss the challenges that grandparents present as two separate categories: those related to grandparents who come in town to visit for brief periods of time and those who live locally and may take on more ongoing caregiving responsibilities. Visiting relatives tend to cause short term (although still stressful) disruptions where as if you have a relative caring for your child on a regular basis, this can have many more long-term consequences for your child’s sleep.

So why do we run into trouble with our children’s sleep when grandparents visit? There are a variety of reasons and ways that they may present challenges. Most commonly, I hear from parents that their children becoming more overtired when grandparents are around. Remember, your parents haven’t had a small child to care for in probably 30 years (give or take a few years). It is highly unlikely that they remember what the actual, day to day, experience of having a small child is really like. We repress those early memories very quickly so that we might someday decide to have another child and therefore the human race can continue. If parents forget the experience of having a small child after just a few months, imagine what 30 years must be like? Just try asking a friend of an 8 year old if they remember what it was like to get their child to sleep when he was a baby, and it is likely that she already doesn’t really remember how that actual experience felt. Although grandparents love their grandchildren, if they visit sporadically, they don’t know how to read your child’s tired signs like you do. While you may read your child’s glassy eyes and louder then usual vocalizations as signs that your baby is ready for a nap, grandparents often read that as boredom and a call for increased activity/stimulation (which you know is exactly the opposite of what your baby needs). You probably have heard a grandparent or two utter the words, “he doesn’t look tired to me.”

Another challenge is that children often become over-stimulated or excited when a new person shows up. Whether this causes a problem for your child is largely based on his or her temperament. Some children adjust fine to having new faces around whereas others have a harder time winding down when there are visitors in the house. For children who are very sensitive to disruptions in their routines, new and unusual family outings related to the visitors may also contribute to some sleep setbacks.

Lastly, it is unlikely that your visiting relatives have had as much recent practice at skills like “door closing, ninja-style,” “silent dishwasher emptying,” and generally not clomping around. They also don’t think about when the optimal time (meaning NOT naptime) might be to do a noisy activity such as taking out the garbage or calling the airlines on speaker phone.

Here are some tips for handling stressful grandparent visits:

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Ideally before the visitors come to town so you aren’t discussing these issues in an already escalated circumstance. If there are things that have frustrated you on previous visits, make a point to discuss it prior to the upcoming visit so you don’t have a repeat problem.
  • Point out things that you do that are important. Most often, I hear from families that I have worked with that things were going great with their child’s sleep and then grandma came to visit. Because grandma loves to hold her grandson, she rocked him to sleep for all naps and bedtime. Now, a baby who was going down for all sleeps awake will be again used to rocking and when you go back to your routines, expect protest. Let’s give grandma the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she didn’t know how hard you worked to help your child learn independent sleep skills. Talking about how you have helped your child to fall asleep without rocking can, not only help to clear the air, but also prevent future regressions after visits in the years to come. If your relatives are watching your child and will be putting him/her to bed, have them watch you do it (if possible) before they are responsible.  Tell them what you do if your child protests going down. Help them have the tools to respond to they don’t feel like they have to resort to using a sleep crutch, which will be a quick fix but could cause more long-term troubles.
  • If your baby or toddler becomes over-stimulated before bedtime due to visitors, spend some extra time before bedtime winding down (without the visitors). You can do all your good night kisses with your visitors before going into your routine but then give your child some extra quite time in their less stimulating room. Maybe you read an extra book that night, do a quick puzzle or sing a few songs.

What if the grandparents live locally and either care for your child while you work or you make frequent trips to their home where sleep may be required? This may necessitate a firmer set of limits.

  • As with grandparent visitors, communication is key. Regardless of who cares for your child when you are away, there is always a degree of control that we have to give up when someone else is caring for our children. No one is going to do things exactly the same way you do. If your parents or in laws are responsible for caring for your child, try to prioritize what is important about how they care for your child and handle sleep. This may mean that you have to pick your battles. Maybe it is most important to you that they adhere to your rules about your baby going down awake but getting them to wind down early for bedtime may be asking too much. If your parents watch your child frequently, they may learn the hard way what happens when your baby becomes overtired and then have more incentive to adhere to your limits.
  • If they can stick to your same routines, more or less, this can be helpful with creating consistency. Try to create as much of the same environment for sleep as possible. This is true if you spend every weekend in the suburbs or if your child goes to grandma’s house every day while you are at work. Here is where having a bedtime/naptime routine and a security object can be particularly helpful. If your child understands the association between the routine, having his blankie and going to sleep, it can make that experience much easier, no matter where he is.
  • If you want your baby to be able to sleep at grandma’s house on the weekends (especially without you), practice. The more you are able to make the experience of sleeping someplace different, a familiar experience, the easier it will be.

In our world where families often live far apart, grandparent visits are a reality for many families.  When they relationships are good and the communication is open, growing up knowing and having a relationship with one’s grandparents is a gift to your child.  Working together with your family to help your child sleep will lead to a much more relaxed visit and enjoyable time for everyone!


Sleep tips for summertime travel

summertime sleep tipsSummer is finally here and you are probably looking forward to spending time outside, going for stroller walks, exploring the parks, going to the beach and taking a vacation.  But if this is your first summer as a parent, vacation takes on a vastly different meaning then it once did pre-parenthood.  Gone are the days of relaxing on the beach with your trashy novel or endlessly exploring a new city without any real plan.  Like most things that were once simple before you had a baby, travel too has become more complicated.  If you have finally figured out how to get your baby sleeping well, taking a trip can be a daunting prospect.  In fact, travel is one of the top five sleep stealers followed closely by illness, developmental milestones, teething, inconsistency.  Inevitably, travel will cause some sleep disruptions for your child.  There is really no way around this.  You can, however, with a little planning, do your best to minimize the challenges and get her back on track as quickly as possible when you get home.  Here are some tips to help everyone have as restful vacation as possible.

  • Before heading out on the road, make sure you already have established a consistent and predictable pre-sleep routine for both bedtime and naps.  This way, when you are traveling, you can replicate that routine and your child will find comfort in the familiarity of what happens before sleep.  In general, the better your child sleeps at home, the better chance you have that she will sleep well while traveling.
  • Try to recreate your child’s sleep environment when you are away from home.  For some children, this may mean bringing with their crib sheet, a pillow, a favorite book and a nightlight.  Don’t forget your white noise machine and most importantly, your child’s lovey (which should go in your carry on in case your luggage is lost).
  • If at all possible, try having your child sleep in the same place for the whole trip.  This means if your parents and your in laws live in the same city, try picking a “home base” for sleeping.  You can switch and go to the other side of the family for the next trip.  Switching sleeping locations frequently can disrupt sleep for even the most easy going sleeper.
  • If you are staying at a hotel, be sure to contact them ahead of time to find out what they provide for your child to sleep in.  Some have Pack n Plays, others feeble excuses for cribs with wheels that tend to roll away with your child in them.  If you are not happy with the sleeping accommodations your hotel offers or you are staying with family who don’t have children, and therefore all the accoutrements that go with them, you can rent all sorts of baby/child related supplies (even toys!) from companies like Babies Away.
  • Respect your child’s need for sleep.  While traveling, it is understandable that many naps are going to be in the car or stroller, make sure that you are somehow helping your child get the day sleep he/she needs (if your child still naps).  Bedtime may be late some nights but overall, aim for approximately the same bedtime as at home.  This will help your whole family have a more enjoyable vacation since your child won’t be having meltdowns due to overtiredness.
  • If you are traveling through time zones, wake your child at the usual wake up time both once you get to your destination and when you return home.

Once you get home, spend a couple of days working on getting back to your usual routine and returning to your normal schedule.  No matter where you are going or what the trip turns out like, just remember, it gets easier and someday, you will be able to go on an actual vacation again that doesn’t require time to recover afterwards.

Sleep tips for holiday travel

holiday travelHolidays and holiday travel often throw our children for a loop both in terms of their behavior and their sleep.  Some children are rather adaptable and cope well with changes and disruptions while others have a harder time with it.  For many children, the holidays mean that schedules are disrupted or there are environmental circumstances are beyond parents’ control.  Here are some tips to help with holiday travel sleep disruptions.  Keep in mind, if your child sleeps well at home, it is likely that he will sleep well while traveling but some children really struggle with sleep away from home:

  • Try to stick to your same nap and bedtime routine that you have at home while you are away.  This will help our child know what to expect and when to expect it.
  • Try to replicate your child’s sleep environment from home as much as possible.  Be sure to bring along your child’s security object, bedtime stories, and night light.  For babies, if he will be sleeping in a crib while traveling, bring along the crib sheets from home.  Children are very sensitive to smell often find comfort in their familiar smelling bedding.
  • Don’t forget to bring along the white noise—especially if you use it at home.  If you don’t have room, there are many white noise apps available.  Even if you don’t use white noise at home, it can be a good idea for travel where you may have less control over the environmental noises both in a hotel and while staying with relatives.
  • Black out the windows where your child will be sleeping.  Hotels typically have great black out curtains.  If you will be in a home, you can use dark colored disposable table cloths or even garbage bags behind curtains or shades to make rooms darker.
  • Make sure you have a good place for your child to sleep.  Check with your hotel to find out if they have pack n plays or portable cribs.  Hotel portable cribs are often metal and not very sturdy.  If you have an older child, sometimes a pack n play is a better option.   Since holidays are busy times for hotels, make sure to reserve the pack n play ahead of time.
  • If your child is still napping and especially if he is under 3 years old, try to return to where he is sleeping at night for naps as well.  This may not be convenient and if it isn’t possible, a nap in a stroller or the car is better then no nap at all.
  • If it is possible for your children to sleep in a separate room from you, this usually makes things easier.  If it isn’t possible, try putting up a visual barrier by hanging a bed sheet so they can’t see you.
  • Avoid overly exciting activities right before bed.   As a general rule, avoiding television or other screens an hour or two before bedtime is advised as it can interfere with melatonin production.
  • If you are traveling across time zones and you are only going to be gone a few days, you can consider keeping your child’s schedule on your home time zone.   Be sure to keep meal times appropriate for your home time zone as well.  If you are going to be gone for longer or the time change is too great, check out this article for helping your child adjust to time zone changes.
  • Try to stick to your child’s schedule as much as you can while still having fun on your trip.  Parents are often of one of two schools of thought:  we are going to throw caution to the wind with the schedule and deal with the consequences later or we are going to stick to the schedule even though it may mean sacrificing some vacation fun.  Which ever you choose, there will be a few days needed for adjustment when you return home.  Help your child get back on track by quickly returning to your normal, consistent and predictable routine when you are home again.


Sleep tips for changing time zones with kids

airplaneTraveling across time zones can be a daunting prospect for even the most seasoned travelers. As adults, we know that adjusting to a different time zone or recovering from jet lag can lead to headaches, stomach uneasiness and grumpiness. Our children experience the same side effects only they often have limited ability to express how they are feeling or what they need in order to feel better.In general, children often recover from jet lag quicker than adults but being up with a wide-awake, small child in the middle of the night when you are trying to recover as well is no picnic. Here are some tips to help your children adjust to travel through time zones. Please keep in mind that sleep experts say that it takes adults one day for every hour of time change to adjust your body’s internal clock. Some say that children have an easier time than adults.
General information about jet lag:
• Jet lag can be worse when traveling east than west.
• Jet lag is more than just being tired at the wrong time, it is also about your body sending messages about eating and needing to use the bathroom at the wrong time as well.Tips for helping adjust to travel to different time zones: 
1. For adults and children, one thing that most helps adjust to new time zones is sunlight. Be sure to get your children out in the sun and fresh air in the daylight. At night, make sure it is as dark as possible. This will help your body adjust its circadian rhythms so that you are waking and sleeping during the right time for your time zone.2. For travel 3 or less time zones and for short periods of time, try keeping your child on your home time zone. Blackout curtains are essential for making this work. Also be sure to feed your child at the right time for your home time zone.

3. Encourage lots of physical activity during waking hours.

4. Expect that your child will wake during the night for the first few days of travel. This most often happens around meal times that you would be eating if you were at home. Try to feed him right before he goes to sleep to help avoid this. For the first couple of nights of travel, it may be very difficult to get your child to go back to sleep after waking in the middle of the night. Do the best you can, you can offer a small snack or milk but after two days, encourage your child to go back to sleep if he continues to wake in the middle of the night. During the first few days, if your child is up in the middle of the night and does not go back to sleep, he will most likely want to take a marathon nap the next day. Try not to let the nap extend much beyond his normal length of nap time so that his body can begin to adjust to the new time zone by going to bed at his normal bedtime in the time zone you are in now.

5. Breastfed babies may take a few more days to adjust because their mother’s milk supply has to adjust for the time zone as well.

6. If it is possible to do, without inducing too much overtiredness, try to stay awake until a normal bedtime. Remember, if your child naps at home, he will need a nap while you are traveling so that he isn’t too overtired at bedtime which will lead to even more night wakings. Sticking to a similar routine as you have at home will help make these adjustments easier.