Helping Children to Sleep While on Vacation

children sleep vacation

You are looking forward to an upcoming vacation with great anticipation. You are hoping to finally get a little caught up on your sleep. And then it happens: your toddler is standing by your bed at 4 a.m., awake and ready for the day to start.

When sleep disruptions occur, they can create anxiety for tired parents and cause interruptions in a family’s daily routine. Typically these disruptions are a normal part of a child’s development and most will adjust over time. When you are on a getaway vacation, however, sudden sleep issues for children are likely related to the excitement of the trip, the change in routine, being in an unfamiliar environment, or even jet lag.

Dr. Craig Canapari, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, specializes in the care of children with breathing and sleep problems. He offers these tips for helping children to sleep while on vacation.

  • Respect the routine. While on vacation try to maintain your children’s regular bed and nap times when possible. It may mean missing out on some sightseeing or having an early dinner to avoid long wait times. But it will pay off the next day when the family is well rested.
  • Go to bed early. Vacations can be more exhausting than your typical routine. Your best chance to catch up on sleep is to turn in early. This is especially true while vacationing with other families who also have young children.
  • Make the room dark. Our body’s natural tendency is to wake when it’s light and sleep when it’s dark. Closing curtains or hanging towels over the window can make a huge difference in when your child wakes up.
  • Get creative with the sleeping arrangements. Try to create sleeping arrangements that are most conducive to sleeping even if a little outside the norm. For instance, place a “pack and play” or portable crib in a quiet nook away from windows or pair up older children in rooms so as not to be disturbed by early risers. While vacationing with other families, older children should be instructed to let others sleep if they wake early.
  • Jet lag can be tricky. Jet lag occurs when traveling across time zones east or west. You can prepare by putting your children to bed later for a few days before traveling west or getting them up a bit earlier prior to traveling east. Once at your destination, it is best to get your child’s routine aligned with local time. If they stay up late on the first night, try to wake them as close to their usual time as possible and avoid allowing children to take longer than usual naps during the first day or two. Children tend to adapt quickly if they have natural light exposure so plenty of sunlight can help.
  • Be realistic and have fun. Although vacation with little ones may not exactly be restful, the key to enjoying your family getaway is to keep expectations realistic and have fun. You may not get to as many activities, visit as many tourist destinations, or take long naps on a beach, but it can be just as fun digging holes in the sand, looking at snails, riding bikes, and enjoying family meals.

Dr. Craig Canapari and Bright Horizons present this webinar, Good Nights, Great Days: How to Help the Whole Family Get Some Sleep, for parents to find out how to get your children to sleep and stay asleep. Dr. Canapari answers your questions on every day sleep issues and provide tips and strategies for the whole family.

More on Sleep

Written by: Bright Horizons Education Team

About The Bright Horizons Parenting Newsletter

Teacher reading to a toddler boy and girl

Whether you’re looking for parenting advice, or trying to figure out how to bring learning from the classroom to the family room, let Bright Horizons early education experts be your trusted, knowledgeable resource. Get our weekly newsletter for all things early child development—from the benefits of pretend play to at-home STEM activities, and teaching kindness—along with encouragement for every stage of your parenting journey.