If your holiday plans are taking you over the river and through the woods—or clear across the country—you may be thinking your baby’s sleep schedule (and your sanity) are just going to be part of the scenery. But take heart and grab your suitcase: You can hit the road or take to the air without losing (too much) sleep. Here’s how:
Traveling by Car
Got a road trip ahead? If you’re lucky, your baby may spend the majority of your trip sacked out in her car seat. If you have a baby who reliably conks out the minute you put the key in the ignition, plug your destination address into the GPS and go.
However, if your baby only sleeps in the car when it’s night or naptime, take that timing into consideration and perhaps set off after her regular sleepy-time routine. If your trip is shorter, or can be broken into segments, schedule your departure(s) for naptime. Just bear in mind that if she gets a good amount of sleep while you’re driving through the night, you’ll end up with a wakeful baby and some tired adults when you arrive!
Other road trip tips:
- Be careful of your baby’s positioning in her car seat and check her often if she’s sleeping. Though it’s extremely rare, sleeping in a semi-upright position can cause positional asphyxiation, which is when a slumped-forward head restricts a baby’s breathing. A 2015 retrospective study of 47 infant deaths found that 31 of them occurred in car seats.
- If you can, share the driving between two adults, and don’t press on past the point where either of you is too sleepy to continue, even if you think you could. (That’s what motels are for.)
- Monitor traffic reports and consider changing your departure day. In many cases, hitting the road the day of the holiday (rather than a day or two before) may reward you with emptier roads.
Taking to the Air
As with any mode of transportation, timing of air travel can be your best friend—or your worst enemy. Try as best you can to schedule your flights around your baby’s sleep times or—if you know from instinct or experience that he’s likely to skip sleep while in transit—during his most reliable awake and alert time.
Given the haphazard, often weather-dependent nature of most domestic air travel, it can be tough to rely on scheduled departure times. You can cut down on sleep-disruptive delays and cancellations by booking nonstop flights when feasible. Remember that if you’re jumping ahead or behind a time zone or two, give yourself a few days before you leave to shift nap and bedtimes 10 minutes or so in the new zone’s direction each day.
Other air travel tips:
- If you aren’t buying your baby a seat on the plane (which you don’t have to do if he’s under age 2), do yourself a favor and bring a front carrier or a sling to give your arms a break. If you do have a seat for your baby or toddler, make sure the car seat is properly installed. Some parents prefer bulkhead seats for the extra room, which is particularly helpful with toddlers.
- If you have a mobile baby or an active toddler, consider not taking advantage of the pre-boarding often offered to families traveling with youngsters. Why? You may be trapped in your seats for longer. It’s potentially smarter (depending on your tolerance and your child’s personality) to let your little one toddle or crawl around the boarding area until your row or section is called.
- Chaos is inevitable around the holidays, but you can avoid some of it by traveling early in most cases. The statistics website FiveThirtyEight.com reported that early-morning flights tend to be the closest to on-time. Before you book, plug your route into the calculator at FlyOnTime, a site that uses data from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, and other sources to give real-time info on the best routes for on-time performance.
Once you’ve arrived at your holiday destination, there are a few tried-and-true rules to follow that will help your baby stick to her at-home sleep routine. Making any accommodations to a new time zone, try to keep nap and bedtimes the same as those at home. Bring with you a few sleep-associated toys, books, and comfort objects. Include plenty of daytime activity so that you have a better shot at decent nighttime slumber.
Then do it all again for the trip home! Wherever you roam this holiday season, we wish you all a good night!