Start your summer holiday off right by getting plenty of sleep the night before your trip. This helps you to deal with travel anxiety and any mishaps that occur while getting to your destination. Encourage your children to go to sleep at a decent hour, even during the summer. If children stay up late at night, and shift their biological clock, it will be more difficult for them to awaken the next day. This is particularly challenging on you, at the beginning of your vacation plans, if your children are tired and cranky. Stress is always harder to deal with when someone is tired. Traveling often challenges us, particularly with delays regardless of whether we are traveling by airplane, train, or automobile. When we are not sleeping in our own beds at home, we often sleep a little restless, and the body needs to adjust to the new surroundings.
Since children try to explore their environment, especially unfamiliar surroundings, it will be harder for them to nap during traveling. Whenever possible, plan your travel around your children’s nap times. Try to avoid overnight flights with children, as it will disrupt their sleep schedule and likely make them crankier. Encourage your family to go to sleep earlier the night you arrive at your destination, to re-energize after traveling. Even if you do not feel like the travel was tiring, your body will feel it the following day. The American Sleep Association has also reported the first nap of the day is the most important for your child’s health. Thus, if you can plan your travel after your child’s first nap of the day, with your destination arrival before your child’s bedtime, this is the most ideal. Try to stick to your family’s daily routine as much as possible during your holiday – time to arise, naptime, and bedtime. Your child will be adjusting to the new environment, people, and living spaces, so avoiding a total meltdown at bedtime (from exhaustion) is important! Thus, keep your child’s bedtime routine, even while traveling, bath, a story, maybe some warm milk to drink before bed.
If traveling across time zones, consider shifting your family’s schedule a few days prior and shift back gradually upon returning home. It is much easier for children to adapt to a 15-30 minute-shift per day over 5-10 days, as opposed to shifting 6-8 hours over 1-2 nights. If your trip is shorter than 5 days and you are crossing multiple time zones, then consider sticking to your ‘home’ time zone and not disrupting your children’s patterns to match the holiday time zone; there will still be plenty of hours in the day to enjoy your vacation destination.
Plan ahead, by making a ‘to pack list’, for each member of your family. This not only helps remind you of important things to bring it also helps you to pack essential items, instead of everything in the closet. Think about sleeping accessories that might make your trip smoother, which can include: eye masks for adults, portable cribs or inflatable beds for your children, your child’s favorite stuffed animal to sleep with and favorite blankie. Consider reserving a suite or house for rent when traveling, in order to have a little more distance between sleeping family members, for better sleep for everyone. In exchange for the larger space, you can eat a few less meals out and utilize the kitchen/kitchenette.
Allowing children to stay up late for a few nights during a family vacation is not the end of the world. However, it might make traveling more tiring on you, as your child may not tolerate the strenuous travel as well when tired as compared to being rested. More important, is to ensure your child/children get back to normal sleep patterns upon arriving home from a vacation. It is also important to realize that a slightly later bedtime and later morning time to arise is okay for summer, but maintaining enough hours of sleep is crucial. One medical research study, conducted by Dr. Blake Jones (Purdue University) reported that “the top predictor of childhood obesity for these young children [preschool] was insufficient sleep (less than 10 hours per night)” (cited by Erika Janes, Parents Perspective, link below). It is also difficult for children to shift their day/night schedule back to a school schedule in the fall, if they have had 2-3 months of a very late night and late morning schedule. Thus, shifting their schedule beyond an hour or two at night and in the mornings will make the start of the school year even more difficult for your children. Considering that children are usually more physically active during the summer than the school year, they require more energy because they are burning more calories, and their bodies need more rejuvenation at night. Thus, the children should be sleeping at least as many hours per night as during the school year (8-10 hours). For more detailed information about recommended number of hours of sleep per night for age ranges from newborn to 18 years of age, please see the link below (from the Parents Perspective magazine), with information from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Try to always keep in mind that the number of hours you and your children/family sleep each day is more important than what time of day you sleep. Keeping a routine schedule helps children thrive, but sleeping enough hours each night is actually more important for health. So, if your child has a late night periodically, it is fine, but try to encourage them to still get an adequate number of hours of sleep, even on those occasions, and try to get them back to a routine schedule as soon as possible. Try not to allow your children to shift their day/night schedule by more than 1-2 hours during the summer and during vacations.