Toddler Time Travellers…. and Sleep!

Ann Caird, postnatal Doula and infant sleep consultant

Ann Caird, postnatal Doula and infant sleep consultant

Holidays and travel can disturb young children’s sleep routines, and travelling across time zones will probably disrupt sleep. If you are travelling over the summer you can get sleep back on track within a day or two by maximising those all important social and environmental cues that regulate our sleep/wake cycle.
If you are going on a short trip over just one or two time zones then consider keeping your child’s current sleep times, just adjust them by 1 to 2 hours earlier or later according to your destinations local time.
For longer and more distant trips maximise the potential of both social and environmental cues to help your child adjust to the new time zone:
• On the day of travel, use naps flexibly to work towards your child’s usual bedtime in the new time zone.
• Lower the lighting about 1 hour before bedtime to get the melatonin flowing and prepare her body for sleep;
• Morning daylight! Expose her to natural daylight first thing in the morning and as much as you can throughout the morning for the first few days;
• During the adjustment phase keep her daily routine as normal as possible in the new time zone – bedtime, nap timings and meal times are particularly influential to setting the biological clock.
• Ensure plenty of opportunities for outdoor exercise to help prepare your child’s body for sleep; exercise and fresh air promote sleep for all ages!
• Keep your bedtime and nap routines as stable as possible; they provide the specific and consistent social/environmental cues you have established that ‘cue’ sleep time.
• Night waking: she may well wake during the night at first or two – treat the wakes as you would at home, keep lights low and stimulation low and if necessary include an extra nap to get her back on track the next day.
To promote sleep while on holiday, use the familiar and predictable sleep cues within your bedtime routine to help your child wind-down and prepare for sleep. Also consider using white noise to mask unfamiliar external sounds which may disturb your child sleep. Phase it in two weeks before you travel and use it to provide a consistent and reassuring backdrop of sound throughout sleep times while you are away. And of course, don’t forget your child’s comforter or special sleep toy!

Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to inform and not for medical diagnoses or treatment. Please contact a health care professional if you have concerns about your child’s health.

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