Sleep guru and author of Save Our Sleep Tizzie Hall tells suitcases&strollers her secrets for getting young children and babies to sleep in foreign environments and how going on holidays can actually help make your bubba a better sleeper. 

Is it important to set up sleep routines for babies and young children when you travel, or should you just forget about it until you get back home again?

It is very important to have a baby on a routine before you travel. It will make things much easier on the whole family.

My baby is a poor sleeper. Is it wise to travel and cross time zones?

When clients contact me with concerns about travelling with a poor sleeper, the first thing I always tell them is that they will need to get their baby settled into a good routine a few weeks before the trip. I have clearly observed over years of sleep consulting that children in a routine adapt faster and more easily to any new environment. This applies equally to children that are travelling across time zones or within their usual time zone.

With a poor sleeper I would not hold off on going on holiday. I would suggest putting your baby on one of my routines at least a week or two before you go away instead. This will help your baby feel safe and secure and make it easier for you to travel across time zones with your baby. A baby on a routine will adjust to time zones more easily because you adjust to follow the local time when you arrive and this means your baby finds it easy to settle.

It is also important that your baby feels safe and secure wherever you ask him to sleep, so I recommend you always bring your own portable travel cot. If you don’t have one then try to borrow or rent one a week before you go so you can test it. Believe me, it is well worth it. The last thing you need is to find the hotel has run out of cots or they only have unsafe ones. Or your toddler can climb out of the one that is supplied. I advise that you put your baby into the travel cot two nights before your trip so he can get used to it. This will lessen the impact of the new environment.

Most clients are pleasantly surprised when they put their poor sleeper on a routine before they travel because often just putting them on the routine changes them for a poor to a good sleeper.

We have very strict routines. How will I continue to implement these routines in a new time zone and environment?

Travelling with a baby on a routine is easier than travelling with a baby without a routine. When you get to your final destination you may have to keep your baby awake for a little bit longer on the first night if he slept well during the journey. It is very important that you follow your normal routine at bedtime so your baby recognises all the sleep cues. If you are staying with friends or relatives, ask them to make themselves scarce on the first couple of nights so your baby doesn’t get over-stimulated. On the first morning, put your baby straight back onto his normal routine at local time, regardless of how often or how early he woke the previous night or that morning.

If you find your baby is waking a lot more at night, try to settle him with some water and a cuddle. But if (after a couple of nights) this is starting to look habitual, try leaving your baby for ten minutes before you go to him.

Once all is settled and your baby is happily into his routine again, you can adjust the routine to help you enjoy your holiday more. The key to altering routines is to try to avoid doing so two days in a row so your baby doesn’t become overtired. If you find you have adjusted things without causing a problem, try it for two days in a row. If you find your baby is taking short naps rather than full sleeps while on holidays, don’t worry; try putting him to bed at night a little bit earlier.

And remember that your baby doesn’t have to be in his cot at sleep times, just in a comfortable sleeping place. But do try to give him a comforter (a cuddle blankie with a head or a cotton or bamboo 30 cm square piece of fabric) at all sleep times.

Quite often parents find that their baby sleeps much better away from home if they are in a warmer climate as the additional heat tends to assist them to sleep. If you plan to take your baby out at night so you can enjoy a meal, try to encourage an extra nap in the late afternoon as this will make him happier while you are trying to eat.

Finally, don’t worry too much if your baby gets totally off his routine. It will only take a couple of uninterrupted days when you get home to sort things out.

We have worked hard to get our child to be a good sleeper but he needs his sleep aids – his specific bed, music, familiar environment. How can we take him on holidays elsewhere without these?

If your child has sleep aids that you can not bring on holiday with you (for example he plays with the cot bars going to sleep or he watches a mobile that would be impossible to take away), I would suggest teaching him to sleep without these aids before you travel.

To do this you would introduce a comforter and have your child on one of my routines to make sure he feels safe and secure. On day 7 of following the routine and using the new comforter I would remove the sleep aids you cannot travel with. It is important to teach your child to sleep at home without these sleep aids before you travel to a new environment. This will make everyone’s holiday more enjoyable.

We are planning to go on a holiday with another family and all the kids are supposed to share a room. I'm worried the other children might wake my child. What should I do?

Most children that are good sleepers will continue to sleep well regardless of their environment. If you are worried it is best to have a plan for how you will address the problems if they arise. I would talk to your child and explain to him what you expect and what will happen if they do not do what you ask them. But remember you have to give them a little bit of extra time to settle to sleep because they might be excited to share a room. I would set a goal that is realistic that you know they can achieve.

I would suggest putting them to bed 20 minutes earlier than normal. Explain to them you know they are excited to share a room with their cousins or friends so they can chat and play for 20 minutes. Explain to them in 20 minutes you will be coming in and turning the lights out and if you have to come back in again you will be taking them to your room.

Be careful to only give one chance and to only threaten them with something you can follow through with. (So make sure the mattresses of their beds will fit in your room.) After a night or two of good holiday fun and sticking to this bedtime routine you will most likely find your child is settling to sleep easily with the other children in the room.

What about getting to my destination? How do I keep my child on schedule on the plane?

I generally recommend giving your baby a milk feed two hours before the plane is due to take-off or land so that he will be hungry enough to take the breast or bottle on the plane (a sucking baby’s ears will be more comfortable during take-offs and landings). For example, if you are booked on a 4pm flight, feed your baby at 2pm rather than the usual 3pm feed so when you offer your baby milk after take-off at 4pm he will take it.

With a younger baby, try to check your pram in with your luggage as having your baby in a sling or backpack frees up your hands to get organised when boarding and trying to put cabin baggage away. But when travelling with a toddler you will probably need a stroller to avoid him running all over the airport or to have a nap in if there are any delays.

If your baby is on formula, it is a good idea to bring the water and powder separately as it is not always possible to keep prepared milk at a cool enough temperature on a plane. (Even if you give it to cabin crew to keep in the fridge, I have seen it left out for long periods while they are serving food.) You should also bring extra formula or food in case of delays or in case your baby wastes more than usual if he is feeling a bit funny on the flight. If you are breastfeeding then bring some extra food for yourself and bottles of water.

As far as routines for toddlers go, if you are travelling on a short flight of under three hours it is a good idea to plan the flight for your little one’s sleep time. If you are travelling for twelve hours, an overnight flight works better. If you are going on a long flight of 24 hours or more it is best to try to travel the first leg of the flight at night. Sticking to your normal routine for a long haul flight is often impossible but try not to worry about the routine too much while you are on the flight – it is better to adjust it at the other end.

[For more travel tips on flying with toddlers, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]

Food can play a great part in entertaining a toddler on a flight so do not worry about sticking to mealtimes, just feed your toddler as often as you need to keep him happy. Yes, this totally contradicts my usual advice, but it will help you keep your sanity while travelling. Giving your toddler something to eat or suck on while the plane is landing or taking off is a good idea to help his ears adjust to the change in cabin pressure. If your toddler is still having milk first thing in the morning or last thing at night, again, try a bottle or breastfeed on take-off and landing.

Always remember to keep your child very warm during the flight as this will help him to sleep in the air-conditioned air.

Planes are such busy places. How do I ensure my toddler actually goes to sleep on the plane?

At your toddler’s sleep time on the flight you will need to have his usual sleep cues such as his safe sleeping bag, his comforter and his bedding, which you will need to adjust depending on the temperature of the cabin. If he cries and protests at sleep time, try holding him close and bouncing him on your lap while singing to him to encourage him to sleep. The worst thing to do is to try to stop the crying by offering toys and talking to him. Each time you make eye contact the yelling will get worse. Try to be calm and keep patting or bouncing him and he will fall asleep.

If he is really upset and you are worried about the other passengers, walk to the back of the plane and stand at the exit with him in your arms facing away from you and bounce or rock him until he is asleep. Do not make eye contact with anyone who approaches you to discourage them from talking to you and making your toddler more alert. You might have to stand and bounce or rock your toddler for 20 minutes or longer, but he will fall asleep if you are calm and consistent.

What about long car journeys – how can I maintain our routine on those?

If you are going to travel a long distance by car, it is often easier to begin the journey at your baby’s sleep time. Set off at 6.30pm, just after your baby’s last feed for the night. Your baby should happily sleep for most of the journey. (The driver should try to get a nap in before leaving.)

Longer journeys should be broken up with a stop at a motel for the night. If your baby has become familiar with the portable cot, this will not be a problem.

Another good option for younger babies is to get underway first thing in the morning and drive through the morning and midday sleeps, stopping for baby’s feeds and your lunch to break up the journey. If your baby is still having a dreamfeed, don’t worry about stopping for it right on the scheduled time – you just need to do it within the hour it is due. It is much more important to find a safe place to stop rather than watching the clock.

When travelling by car, always pack a small bag that is easy to get to rather than having to stop and go looking in the boot for something. Remember, some babies can get sick on long journeys so be prepared. Travelling by car is generally easier than planes, trains or buses because you can bring a lot more of the accessories you need to keep baby happy.

What are your top sleep aids for parents travelling with babies and young kids?

Babies and toddlers [respond to] the smell and feel of their close environment.I would suggest bringing your child’s own comforter, portacot, your sleeping bag and bedding. Where possible, I also advise that you take your child’s own bedding which he has used for a few nights before you leave so there is a familiar smell and feel rather than use freshly washed bedding. Taking these few little home comforts can make the difference between a happy contented sleeper and an unsettled baby that is up all night. 

For more tips on How To Cope With Jet Lag read the suitcases&strollers story here