Nap Transitions, Sleep Training, Sleep Regressions and Travel: What to Do

Getting kids to sleep when traveling

Lucky us. We had a family reunion to attend and it just so happened to fall during a veritable storm of sleep disaster for Little Monster – she was working on dropping from two to one naps, she was in the middle of leap 8 (if you’re a follower of Wonder Weeks, this means something to you…I had stopped caring about leaps, but I began caring again at leap 8 because there was definitely something developmental going on), and I saw rumblings of a 12-month sleep regression in my mom group.

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I pondered lying and saying we were sick and staying home, but in the end, I decided we couldn’t back down from a challenge.

And, omg, it was a challenge. Little Monster pretty much didn’t sleep while we were gone. But I have now been baptized by the fire of not sleeping for a week and have come out on the other side with tips on how to survive a vacation if your baby is sleep training, dropping a nap, or heading into a sleep regression.

First of All

Always try to keep things as familiar as possible where you can. We brought along the white noise machine Little Monster uses at home and her sleep sack that she uses for naps and nights. I mean, it’s not like either of those things saved the day…or the nights…but I feel strongly that at least some familiar touches help her realize we’re not in some alien world.

Sleep Training

Honestly, if you’re in the middle of sleep training, just stay home. I mean, if you really can’t get out of a vacation or business trip or whatnot and baby has to go with you, then go, but consider putting off sleep training until you get home. If you’re a believer in sleep training, you know that the whole point is to get your baby to realize their surroundings are safe and comforting and that they can fall asleep on their own. That pretty much doesn’t apply if you’re traveling. Baby won’t know where they are and they have no idea if that hotel room or guest room or tent or wherever you’re sleeping is safe. You could try sticking to your guns and soldiering on with the sleep training, but sleep training at home in a familiar environment is tough enough.

Nap Transitions

Little Monster had been warming up to dropping her second nap for a few weeks. I knew it was coming. I was hoping it would hold off until we got home. But the way my daughter works with sleep is that her awake times take giant leaps in length and she’s just READY to bump that awake time out. And that happened a couple days before we were supposed to leave. At the same time, we planned to drive to Utah, meaning long, boring hours in a car where I was sure her naps would go haywire. But…they didn’t. Turns out my baby doesn’t sleep well in cars at all and barely napped on the days we drove.

So my advice on facing down a nap transition during a vacation is this – be prepared to suffer a little bit and don’t worry about it. If your baby reverts and sleeps more in the day during a car ride or a flight, keep her up a little longer to compensate. If she’s ready to drop a nap, she’s also ready for more awake time in the day and you can push her a little more. There’s really nothing you can do to fight the madness of a nap transition, though, and there’s even less you can do if you’re traveling. Roll with the days and try to make sure your baby gets quality night sleep.

Sleep Regressions

Yeah, if one of these hits while you’re traveling, then just try to survive. I’m pretty sure this is what happened to us during our family reunion trip because Little Monster would not sleep. We’re talking one half-hour nap in the day unless I held her the entire time and maybe 6-7 hours of night sleep. We were rocking and holding. We were cosleeping. We were having sharply whispered conversations in the middle of the night about what to do. We were pulling out all the stops, but baby had other ideas.

So try to get your baby to sleep – find the darkest, quietest place you can for their naps and nights (if you’re in a hotel, the bathroom works pretty great for a Pack N Play), rock and comfort if you need to, but if you’re dealing with an honest to goodness sleep regression AND your baby is in an unfamiliar environment…well…maybe just Google map all the caffeine sources near you and hope for the best. And know that you can survive a few tired days. Try to keep your focus on having as much fun as you can during your trip, but also give yourself some downtime and try to take a nap too, if you can.