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Winks: Making Sure They Get Enough Sleep While Traveling

Sleep solutions for restless kids and modern families

Published on: June 29, 2018

Sleeping child

Editor Note:

In her recurring column, author and sleep research guru Malia Jacobson answers reader questions about that most important of parenting tools: a good night's sleep. In this edition, sleeping while traveling and eating before bedtime.

This summer, we’re planning a big cross-country vacation with our children, ages 6, 4 and 1. How can we keep everyone sleeping well on the trip?

Even the most highly anticipated vacation won’t be much fun if no one sleeps.

Luckily, you can start planning for better nights on your trip before you depart. First, make a packing list of sleep essentials for the kids. You’ll want to bring things that help create a restful, home-like atmosphere at your destination, like a white noise machine, special stuffed animals and blankets, a baby monitor and a temporary black-out curtain (a flat black sheet works great).

Next, decide whether to adjust kids’ schedules to a new time zone for the trip. For short trips, it’s easiest to keep kids on their home schedule for naptimes and bedtime. But if you’ll be gone for a week or longer, it’s a good idea to adjust to the new time zone.

Do this by nudging your child’s circadian rhythm in the right direction with small routine tweaks, starting a few days before departure. If your travels will take you east to an earlier time zone, begin waking your child 30 to 45 minutes earlier each morning to prepare for earlier mornings on the trip (be sure to move bedtime earlier, too). If you’re westward bound, keep kids awake for 30 to 45 minutes later each night, and encourage them to sleep in.

En route to your destination, try to keep your child on his regular nap schedule. Unless you’re traveling at night, don’t encourage him to sleep for the entire trip (unless you’d like him to be awake all night!). Even with advance prep, expect a couple of tired days while everyone adjusts — but with these tactics, you’ll stay one step ahead of vacation sleep saboteurs. Bon voyage!

My 3-year-old is ravenous in the middle of the night, and begs for dinner foods like chicken and pasta at 2 a.m. I complied a few times, thinking it was a brief phase, but now it’s an every-night request. How can we end this habit?

If you’re tired of playing midnight chef, you’ll have to change the way you’re responding to her requests. But first, examine her daytime routine for clues as to why she’s starving after dark.

Is she too busy or distracted to eat enough at mealtimes?

Is she filling up on liquids like juice or water, or munching low-calorie snacks like popcorn all day long?

It’s time to bulk up her daytime nosh with nutrient-dense, high-satiety foods — think oatmeal, nut butters, cheeses, brown rice, fiber-rich pastas and potatoes.

Next, explain that the kitchen closes after dinner, and you’re not going to cook mealtime foods after lights-out.

If she seems truly hungry at bedtime, offer simple snacks to keep her blood sugar stable all night long, like a banana and whole-grain crackers. After her teeth are brushed for the night, she’ll have to wait until morning to eat. Allowing her to choose her own bedtime snacks, and telling her the new rules ahead of time, will increase the chance that she’ll go along.

If she does wake hungry, be firm but friendly as you remind her that the kitchen is closed. Soon, her requests will fade away — and with luck, her need to snack at night will soon be a thing of the past too.

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