Andrea Grace's five golden rules to help babies and small children get the sleep they need whilst away from home and will help you deserving parents to also get a break.
Plan your journey. Babies’ sleep can be disrupted by travelling – especially long distances. So if possible, you should travel during the night. If you need to travel during the day, try to set off early in the morning. And if your little one has slept a lot on the way; put them to bed much later than usual, and only then, when they are showing signs of tiredness. They are far less likely to struggle to settle if you do this, and you will avoid all the negative sleep associations and habits which can occasionally develop in relation to a holiday cot.
Relax. It doesn’t matter if your child goes to bed a bit later/earlier than usual and doesn’t nap at exactly the same times. So long as they are given the opportunity to sleep and somewhere safe and comfortable to lay down their head – even if they’re on the go, they will get what they need and they will come to no harm. On holiday things will be different from your usual home routine and this is not necessarily a bad thing - so try not to panic and feel out of control. You can return to normal once the holiday is over and in the familiar home environment, you’ll be surprised to find that your baby’s sense of place will tell them that it’s back to the old system. For some babies who have been previously poor sleepers, a holiday, with its change of bedtime associations can very often actually improve their sleep.
Help your child to feel safe in their holiday bed or cot. It might not be possible to bath them every night, but you can still use your usual bedtime “script, such as the same song and phrases as you get them ready for bed, and the same bedtime book. You can be flexible with timings; it is the sequence of the routine that is more important than the time at which it is done. The fact that you may be in a different place, different bed, different time etc is not a big deal. They will feel safe and sleepy so long as you are confident and the routine is familiar to them.
Help them to understand the difference between night and day. Being out in the open air for most of the day will regulate the body’s internal clock and help your child to sleep well at night. Despite this, some babies and children find it hard to fall asleep on holiday, especially if the room is not dark enough. Many babies will be used to having a black-out blind at home and therefore, being asked to settle to sleep in a room which is still light, can be very difficult for them. Increased light levels in the morning may lead to early waking too. It is well worth considering investing in a portable black-out blind.
Reluctance to fall asleep and/or early morning waking on holiday can sometimes be a problem for older children too. This is due to a combination of excitement and an unfamiliar environment. A sleep training clock is a really useful tool for helping children to recognise when it’s time to wake and when it’s time to sleep.
Keep them cool, safe and comfortable. In the middle of summer or in a hot country, it can be difficult to keep your child cool, even at night. We know that the ideal room temperature for a baby to sleep in is around 18 degrees centigrade. In order to achieve this you should keep the curtains closed during the day to prevent sunlight coming into your child’ s room and overheating it. Make sure that the cot is NEVER placed in direct sunlight. Keep a window open both during the day and also at night if it is possible and safe to do so.
Before your baby’s bedtime, offer a warm [not hot] bath or if this is not possible; a sponge wash – top to toe. Then a drink and then put into the cot in just a vest and a light covering or low tog sleep bag.
It is very important to keep children out of the sun and to protect their skin with clothing and high protection sun creams. On the other hand; it is lovely for them to enjoy being in the fresh air and sunlight. Exposure to daylight promotes good night-time sleep and also helps their bodies to create vitamin D [essential for strong teeth, bones and muscles.] If you suspect that your child has been exposed to a little too much sun, you will need to keep an eye on them during the night and make sure that they have plenty to drink. If they are very hot and seem at all unwell, you should seek medical advice.
Holidays when your children are young are hard work, and they are so precious. When they are tucked up in travel cots/holiday beds/camping mats after a day well spent together, you should allow yourself a moment of pride, for the great job you’re doing.
Andrea Grace is one of the UK's leading child sleep experts and author of Andrea Grace's Gentle Sleep Solutions. She will be speaking on the Live Stage at The Baby Show Olympia.