It’s summer now, and this is a time when a lot of families are traveling – seeing relatives, going to weddings, lots of things which mean you’re sleeping in a different space. I asked a sleep coach what tips she had for families who are asking babies to sleep in a place that’s not their normal place – from grandma’s house to a wedding-block hotel room. Here’s what she advised:
“One of my favorites is bringing something to block out the windows – anything – if you don’t know that the room is going to be dark. The days stretch so long at this time of year, and particularly if you’re going between time zones, something might be different about how sunest normally is. I’m very big on a pitch black sleep environment, both home and away. But especially away.
My family traveled to the west coast to see family, for example, and the kids were ready for bed when the sun is still high in the sky! We’ve definitely gone to great lengths to cover up those windows. I mean, they’re not going to sleep all night with the lights on – looking around a room full of exciting things they’ve never seen before, even though they need to sleep and they’re exhausted. Having the lights on is the number one biological cue that tells the body not to sleep, whereas darkness is the strongest biological cue for that. So I would say, if you don’t know that the windows will be blacked out, you can bring along paper shades. In a pinch, I’ve used black garbage bags and painters tape! Figure out how to make it a sleep cocoon – that’s super comforting.
Also, when we arrive at our destination, I also like to introduce babies and toddlers to the sleeping space before they sleep in it. If you get there and it’s not bedtime, it can help to let them explore, sit in the port-a-crib or whatever it might be, look around the room, show them what’s the same, bringing familiar items, things like that. This can help make it secure. Being plunked down in a place you’ve never seen before can be a little intimidating. If you can take the time to set it up with your child, place some familiar items if baby is old enough to have items in their sleep space, make it look like home, and sticking to your bedtime routine can be really helpful. Sometimes I even drag out the bedtime routine a little bit to highlight how it’s the same as what we always do.
I always recommend starting formal sleep work when you have at least two weeks of absolute routine in front of you – travel can be very disruptive especially to newly established habits, so if you have plans to change something about your child’s sleep, I recommend waiting until you return from travel and can make sleep work your top priority until those new habits become ingrained.
Some babies do have a harder time away from home. Some kids do fine and it’s seamless and other kids really have a hard time hopping back into their routine. But there are things that are in your control: tailoring the sleep environment and darkness level, keeping your bedtime routine, and adding some familiar items if that is age appropriate.”