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Travel, Time Changes and Sleep Schedules

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Going Places > Travel, Time Changes and Sleep Schedules


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2-year-old's sleep problems when traveling

March 2009

We have a 22 month old who has blessed us with her wonderful sleeping habits, except when we are traveling. Almost every time we travel she has great difficulty not only going to sleep, but staying asleep. We have tried every type of bed arrangement (i.e. pack n'play, crib in our room, crib in another room, even sleeping in our bed), leaving a light on, nothing seems to work. We have also tried letting her cry it out, versus going in every 10 minutes, etc. We do not keep her up later than usual, and we stick to the same routines that we have at home. When we finally go to bed, she is then crying in her sleep on and off for most of the night. However, she usually has no problem napping on vacation. It ususally takes a few days to a week while we are on vacation for her to get back to her good sleep habits. We are usually sitting at dinner just listening to her scream, and are exhausted and frustrated for the first week of our vacation. She has none of these problems at home. Any advice? KM


Here are just two ideas you could try, if you haven't already.

(1) Try to get your child attached to a special doll or blanket for sleeping. Make this object part of the bed routine and a familiar bedmate, i.e., tuck your child in each night with a special teddy just for sleeping. If you can get sleep associated with a special object, then you can bring it along when you travel to make the child's bed seem more like home and hopefully trigger ease and sleep that way.

(2) Maybe smell is a factor? Can you bring bedding from their own bed (unwashed and smelling like home/self)? Maybe that will provide comfort in a strange environment. Chelsea


Going to East Coast - effects on sleep schedule?

March 2007

I'm planning a trip to the East Coast to visit family in late May. My son will be 7- months-old then and will (hopefully) have a fairly regular sleep schedule at that point in time. He's pretty regular as it is now. I'd like some advice on how the time difference could possibly affect his schedule. Should I try to keep him on his West Coast schedule, or adjust him to the time there? Is staying only a short time (4 - 5 days) better or worse, or does it not make a difference? I'll probably stay longer if folks think that it doesn't matter how long the trip is. I'd love to hear about other's experiences with cross-country travel and sleeping. Katie


When we take our daughters to the east coast during the summer (they are now 1 and 3) we just keep them on the west coast schedule. This works out well because they can stay up late with the family and while it's still light outside, and they sleep in in the morning. I would especially recommend doing this for such a short trip. Good luck! Mommy of two little ones
When going east for a week or less, I try to keep the kids on our west coast schedule. It works well for us because we have a really early schedule (both to sleep and wake), and it's nice to have a more ''grown up'' schedule when visiting back east - especially in NYC where people tend to be eating supper, not going to bed, by 8pm! More than a week... I find it's hard to keep it up and we fall into the east coast schedule, gradually. anon
Visit your family for as long as you want. I've been going to the East Coast with my now 4YO since she was an infant and she's always adjusted to the new time in less than a day. I've thought about trying to keep her on west coast time but what I've found is that it's not something I can control--she naturally adjusts to east coast time, probably because of daylight, mealtimes, etc. Then when we come back here, she adjusts within a day as well. In fact, she's a lot more resilient than my husband and me. Even if your child takes longer though, it's not worth cutting your trip short to avoid messing up the sleeping schedule in my opinion. Even if it gets disrupted for a few days, it will return to normal if you maintain consistency. east coast traveler
We went to DC(for 4 days) and Caribbean (for 6 days) with our infant son, at 4 mos and 5 mos, respectively, and he kept his west coast sleep schedule. This was great for us because he goes to bed for the night at around 7pm and wakes up at 6am. When we were in DC and Caribbean, this translated to him sleeping at 10 pm (est) - which is when we would go to bed, and him waking up at 9am - a more reasonable time for us! My advice to you is to try to make him nap on the plane and keep him on west coast schedule. - -
We travelled with our son to the East Coast many times while he has a baby. I was very anxious about his schedule, but it worked out great to stay on West Coast time as much as possible. We woke late, ate a leisurely breakfast, did a few things, ate lunch at 3 (missed lunchtime crowds) and then could have dinner at a civilized hour. It is so cool to take your baby or toddler to dinner at 8 or 9 pm and have him happy and content! I would say he usually got an hour or two less sleep than usual, because he would go to bed on his West Coast schedule but not sleep quite as late, but he seemed fine. I think he did well, even when he got less sleep than usual, because he loved being with us around the clock and everything was new and interesting. And on the way home he almost always slept about 4 hours on the plane which was fabulous. Fran
- I went back East with my daughter twice 2 summers ago when she was 6 months and 8 months. I found she adjusted pretty easily, although she woke up a bit earlier than I would have liked when we first arrived. Traveling is tiring, so she usually slept well the first night there and the first night back, which helped adjust her to the new time zone. I found and have heard from others that it is really hard to keep kids on California time. I don't think staying longer or shorter makes much difference in terms of sleep, though it is easier for overall adjustment to stay longer. Have fun! Miranda
We have traveled a lot to places in the eastern and central time zones and we have always tried to keep our kids on a west coast schedule. It worked better with our older kid, who slept in just fine, but not as well with the younger one, who tends to wake up with sun (or earlier), regardless of the time zone. Michael

Trip to Hawaii: time change and sleep schedule

Feb 2007

We are going to Hawaii for a week with our 14 month old. I am trying to figure out how to deal with the time change, which is 3 hours earlier, and his sleep. With his current schedule he would be ready for bed at 4PM and wake up at 3AM! What tips do people have for this issue? Thanks Sara


The time difference is only 2 hours (until March 11). In Oahu, the sun is rising at about 6:50 and it gets dark by 6:30 or so. So if you come before March 11, and if your child is up at 5am you can make it to the beach to watch the sunrise! ;-) anon
Oct 2003

I did read the other posts but they were mostly about travel to Europe. We are headed to Hawaii in a few weeks with our 1 year old son. How have others handled the 3 hour time change with their little ones? He typically goes to bed around 7-7:30 which would be 4:30 Hawaiian time. I think it will be difficult to try to accomodate his schedule - we're going to be with lots of family etc. Should we try to adjust his naps and bedtime or is it just not worth it? Any ideas to help with the time change would be greatly appreciated. Thanks! Stephanie


We went to Hawaii last year when my son was 15 months. What worked for me was to adjust him to Hawaii time as soon as I could, and it only took a day. I did it with meals. We left in the morning and I delayed breakfast by an hour, ate lunch on the plane which was another hour later, delayed nap (never a problem for him to delay a nap, plus all the excitement of travel kept him up anyway) and ate dinner at dinner time (6:00 Hawaii time) when we got to Hawaii. Bath and bedtime were only slightly earlier that first night. Provided snacks in between meals to keep him from being grumpy, but everything else worked fine. Laura
Don't worry about the time change going to Hawaii! (Coming home is much harder). It is usually very easy to get a child to stay up a an hour or more past bedtime. This is what we do: if we arrive in the afternoon we check in and go to the beach. The exposure to afternoon sunlight helps to adjust the biological clock. He'll wake up early, but that's ok, you'll want to be out and about when it is light. We didn't try to accomodate naps unless a child had gotten super cranky. We just let them nap in the car on the way to beaches/sights or on the beach under a pop-up cabana or umbrella. Have a great time! susan
I've never traveled to a different time zone with my son but I have talked to friends that say it does have some effect, depending on the direction, time difference, and temperment of your child. I have noticed that when we are somewhere new and exciting my son often is his awake, playful self until much later. I'm assuming that you will be out exploring and that it will be light outside at 4:30 and I would think your little one will adjust somewhat easily in that direction. It's the other direction that I would think will take a bit of work, when he doesn't think it's bedtime until 10:30. S.W.
We observed our daughter's sleep signs and Hawaii time. So she went to sleep a bit earlier there than here, but we did not keep her to CA time. The light in Hawaii is quite helpful with this as it's darker earlier. but our daughter did awaken earleir there. The good thing is all the pbs shows start earlier there so she was entertained while we snoozed. naps we tried to follow her schedule rather than keep her to one. anon
We took our daughter to Hawaii when she was 11.5 months old and the time change wasn't a big deal like I thought it would be. One thing that really helped us was thinking ''Hawaii local time'' as soon as we boarded the plane -- no more, ''well it's 1:00 at home, so it should be nap time.'' The first day, we went with the flow and let her eat and sleep when she wanted to, regardless of the time. She was excited about being on the airplane so her nap was short. When we landed, she fell asleep again in our rental car on our way to the hotel. That pulled her through until 8:00, which was her normal bedtime at home and she was all set!

I've never done it but perhaps you might want to consider moving his bedtime here progressively later so that by the time you leave, he won't be going to bed at 4:30 in the afternoon in Hawaii. Good luck!! Linda


We just got back from 9 days in Hawaii. My one-year-old usually goes to bed at 8:30 (5:30 there). The first night we kept him up til about 6:30, then from there on out we put him down around 7. That seemed to work fine. I was concerned about him adjusting back, but the night we returned, due to flight times, he had to stay up til after 10, then the second night he went down about 9, then he was back on schedule. It was actually really easy. Your babe goes down earlier here, which is super early there, so I don't know if this will work for you. Good luck and have a great trip! Jodi

Keeping 6-mo old on sleep schedule when traveling

June 2005

We are getting ready to travel to St. Louis for 4 days and I'm wondering if it makes sense to try to keep our 6-month-old on his current sleep schedule (by California time) while we're there - particularly since it's a fairly short trip and only 2 hrs. time difference - or if it would be better to shift to the time zone we'll be in. His schedule (thanks to Dr. Weissbluth) is relativley new so I'm worried about messing it up too much, but I also don't want to waste a lot of energy trying to force something to happen that will just cause more frustration. Does anyone have experience with this sort of thing? What did you do to make sure your baby still got the amount of sleep (s) he needed? Thanks for your help! Nancy


When we travel, I try to let go of the sleep schedule a bit, while still getting my son his naps. So, instead of watching the clock so much, I watch for when he's tired. When we're travelling, it's not just the time zone that messes up the sleep schedule, it's being in a new place and sometimes having mommy and daddy sleeping in the same room, etc. So I try to just go with the flow, even though at home we keep to a pretty regular schedule of naps. Just try to make sure your son gets a morning nap at some point, an afternooon nap (or two if he takes two), and goes to bed when he's tired. I wouldn't worry about the times until you get back home. Kim
I don't know much about Dr. Weissbluth's technique, but a 4-day trip seems like a very short amount of time to try to change any schedule. Then, of course, you'd have to change again when you got back. If you can, sleep when you all are tired, wake when you all are ready. That's what we generally try to do when we travel back east. Carolyn
It's been my experience to be sort of relaxed and fluid about nap/sleep schedules while away from home. When you can get your baby down, go for it. Try not to pay attention to clocks at all - California time or otherwise. Trips are times for exceptions of all sorts - and you'll be way less stressed if you can just go with the flow and let baby sleep when he/she needs to. (I'm just back from a trip on Central Time with a 5 mo old and four year old and everyone got the best sleep they could for the week we were gone and are already back on track here.) -Usually love the schedule. Drop it when away.
Hi - from my experience, I think it's a great idea to keep your 6-mo old son on his west coast sleep schedule. Traveling east is actually pretty easy, as it allows you to sleep in a bit! We traveled to NYC with our 6 mo old for 4 days, and we were able to do it the whole time - thus not having to deal with jet lag. It worked great! anon
We just travelled to the East Coast with our nine-month-old and also use Weissbluth's sleep plan. I definitely recommend keeping your son on Pacific time! We got in pretty late but didn't worry about our son going to bed at ''10'' because it was 7 PST. We all got to sleep in a bit, which helped with coordinating our schedules with everyone we were visiting, and when we went out (we were there for a wedding) we could take our son and enjoy being with him AND get him to bed at more or less his normal bedtime.

We were away for three four days and our son did start to adjust a little--be flexible in exactly when he gets to bed and be prepared for a weird nap schedule--but we had no difficulties with his scheduling once we were back in California. Enjoy your trip! PST family


I loved Dr. Weissbluth's book. When I took my son back East as an infant, I pretty much kept him on California time. It was great to be able to go out to dinner in NYC at 9 p.m.! I found, however, that he would wake up closer and closer to East Coast time (i.e. earlier and earlier) as the trip wore on. He was always very cheerful and happy, though, because he loved being in new surroundings. And then he took a HUGE nap on the flight back, which was fabulous. Have fun! Fran
We've done a lot of traveling with both our kids and I know that our kids have usually adjusted to the new time zone more quickly than we have because they are more influenced by the activity level of others (particularly any other kids to play with) and by the darkness or sunlight (while we grown-ups get hung up on what the clock says, or what time we ''know'' it is back home.) He'll probably adjust to the new time slowly, maybe even going to bed on CA time and waking up on Central time. Probably by the 4th day he will be fully on Central time, just in time for you to come home! I wouldn't try to ''engineer'' his sleep at all, just let him do it when he is tired. Have a good trip! --too familiar with traveling mama

9-hour trip to Europe

March 1998

Hi, We're taking our 2-year-old to Germany at the end of April. I've never taken him on a plane flight this long or dealt with a 9-hour time change for him before. We leave SF at about 5 pm and arrive in Germany about 6pm the next day. Has anyone done this? How do you adjust your kid's nap/nighttime sleep to get him or her to do the time change? I'm trying to figure out whether to try to keep him up during the plane flight so that he will sleep when we get there. Of course entertaining him for 11 hours on a plane flight doesn't sound much more fun than being up all night with him the night we get there. Any ideas? Carol


I don't have advice on the sleep. She's never adjusted her clock on any trips (3 to 4 hour time differences). Initially we tried but it was too frustrating trying to get her to sleep when it didn't seem natural for her to. We just carried on with what we wanted to do and if she fell asleep in the rental car or at the dinner table we just let it happen. Kathy
We took our daughter to Europe when she was two and a half, and left on a flight at about the same time as your 5 p.m. departure. DO NOT keep your child up all night in hope that it will somehow help him reset his clock! At some point he will be exhausted and shrieking and the entire plane will be glaring at you. Not worth it.

Try to get a seat on the right hand side of the plane. Why? We were on the left, and found that we were flying into the eternal day...it never really got dark, and just after our tired and wired little girl finally fell asleep (during the movie, as I recall), the passengers ahead of us opened their shades and let light come streaming in, wakening our daughter and precipitating her exhausted shrieks "I want my bed, I want to go home!" Awful, awful. Let him sleep through as much of the flight as you can.

We found that our daughter's clock reset itself quicker than ours did! She slept every time we got on a plane, train, or vaporetto (Venice) and was happy to wake up in new places. Maybe we were lucky. Part of the key is to eat lightly, but regularly, drink lots of fluids, get some exercise and spend as much time as possible outside so that the system can reset itself. Good luck!

P.S. It now comes back to me that our first few nights were weird. Julia fell asleep pretty well but would suddenly sit up around 2 a.m. and shout something like "cottage cheese!" and then go back to sleep. Natasha


We have made several trips to see family in Europe with our sons who are now 1.5 and 4.5. We all try to get a good sleep the night before we leave (we usually have an early flight which can make this hard) and then let the kids sleep whenever they want on the planes. I think being as rested as possible is more important than worrying about the time change while still traveling. Once in Spain, we let the kids take a nap, but do wake them up several hours before what we hope will be bed time. I don't know what you'll find in Germany, but our routine in Spain is so different and everything happens several hours later than here, so we don't actually have to get used to a 9 hour change. For example, our kids go to bed at about 8:30 here, but not until about 11 there. That makes it a little easier. We've found that the kids are so tired that we've never had to deal with being up all night. One of them might wake up at about 3:00 and stay up for several hours, but we try hard to keep them in bed, stay with them for a while without playing, and keep saying that it's still night time. If the sun's up, we get up. We try to be very flexible during the first few days and have found that all of us start to sleep well soon. Enjoy your trip! Robin
I've been known to give my daughter children's dramamine or benedryl to help her sleep on the plane. I take these too so if we're lucky we get to sleep through most of the flight. Good luck! Debbie
In response to the travel to Germany. We have traveled twice to France with our son -once at 3 months once at 15 months. We encouraged him to sleep as much as he could on the flight - going it is pretty natural given the evening departure from here. The hardest part of the trip was recovery from jet lag. It took our son (at the older age) several days (basically a week) to recover. He woke up at night crying and had a rough time for awhile. I would say plan on a 3-4 transition days after you arrive. We went on two to three week trip. The second and third weeks were definitely easier than the first! Fargeix
Re keeping your 2-year-old up on the flight to adjust his schedule: Are you nuts? If he's sleeping, let him lie and thank your lucky stars. I have flown often between the US and Asia with infants and preschoolers and it's never easy, but the flight itself is always much harder than the time adjustment. Kids often adjust easier than their parents to a new time zone, I find. Susan
Oct 2001

We are going to Europe next month with our 4 month old. Any advice on time changes and sleep? Thanks, Sally


When my son was four months old, I traveled to five cities over three weeks on a business trip for my work. He adjusted to the time change quickly because I did these things:
- I would not let him nap for longer than two hours during the day (even on the day we arrived and we were so exhausted. We put him in the stroller and walked around Barcelona for hours and hours until it was 7 p.m. and we all went to bed.)
- at night, I put him to bed when we went to bed, and roused him when we woke up in the morning. (Baths and massages help make him sleepy even when he didn't feel like going to sleep.)
- when he woke in the middle of the night (because his internal clock said it was daytime), I nursed him silently in the dark, then put him back down in his porta crib.
- I brought with me from home the pillowcase I had been using the past two weeks and laid that under his head in his crib, and brought his regular blanket from home. (I still do this when I travel with him. He's 11 months old and has been on 26 airplanes rides.)

warning: When we returned from Europe, our time adjustment was brutal because I was so exhausted from the travel (and working and pumping milk and schlepping.)

Advice for return: Stick to the same rules as above: get your child back into the local time zone and routine as soon as possible by not letting him/her nap very long during day, and putting him/her to bed at actual local bedtime.

Good luck. Danielle


I traveled to Europe (alone) with 2 kids this summer (2 year old and 4 month old) and here what I've found: it was more difficult for the younger one to get over jet laeg and it took 3 nights of crying and 2 more nights of just waking up and then going right back to sleep ... so it was not "too bad". I didn't switch on the light during the night, I just rocked her back to sleep and gave her some milk to drink, and that was from 1-2am to 5am. In the morning I would wake her up at 9am and stick to the normal routine for nap and meal schedule. For the way back I got (in France) some sleep medecine (prescription) . It's called Nopron, it's pretty strong but I used it only once on the first night and she slept 11h like an angel and didn't suffer any jet lag ... unlike me ! Good luck ! valerie
We have been to London twice when our son was 6 months and 18 months old. Be prepared to have a very tiring vacation...you and your husband could be up at night and sightseeing during the day. Our child was very curious about where we stayed(my Grandfather's house) and didn't feel comfortable in his new surroundings. My husband and I traded off with our child in 2-3 hour shifts at night. Then we lowered our expectations about what time we could leave the house, and of what we could see and do in a day. It also helps to be very organized. Make plans and prepare baby things the night before so you can get on your way more quickly.

We were also lucky in that our child took all his naps in his Maclaren stroller - so we could go anywhere(restaurants, museums, monuments etc.) and he would sleep for hours. It would be a real drag if you had to go back to a hotel or flat for your child's nap everyday. For a city like London, a stroller is ideal. After hours in the baby bjorn our backs hurt like crazy. Maya


14-hour trip to Australia

Jan 2001

We will be taking our 6-month old to Australia. The flight leaves at 11:30pm and arrives at 9:00am with time change (14 hour fllight though). Her bedtime is usually 8:30pm. Should we try to keep her up until the flight leaves (because of ear pressure and want her to sleep most on the plane) with a catnap in the car? How do we deal with the time change when we arrive - try to get her as quickly back to her nap schedule as possible? I particularly don't want any day-night confusion if possible. I would appreciate any advice! Sharon


We travelled to Australia with our 10 month old twins and it went fine. I would recommend the following. First and foremost, reserve the bulkhead seat with the bassinet. I took a sulu/sarong with clothes pins to drap over it to make it dark. Our departure was a little different because I had temporary brain loss and booked us through Los Angeles. But I would recommend letting her sleep before departure as much as you can. The airport was so interesting to our 10 month olds that they wouldn't sleep there. Nurse/bottle feed during takeoff for the ear pressure (we've never had a problem and have flown quite a bit). Our girls slept for a few hours then were up for an hour or so then slept for a few hours the whole trip. Arrival is in the morning so we went into day mode. They had their usual 2 naps during the day in a not very dark room. We tried to keep them up to a semi reasonable time (bedtime is 7-7:30 usually). Then did the usual bedtime routine and I went to bed myself. They woke up at 3ish, I nursed them and they weren't sleepy at all so we played quiet games in a low light room for an hour or so and then I nursed and put them back in bed. After that it was a gradual lessening of the mid night wake and play until about 3-4 days and they were completely adjusted to the new time. Travel and sleeping in a new place always disrupts their sleeping so an extra waking/feeding is the norm for us. Have fun. You can email me if you have more questions. Karen
I would recommend trying if possible to keep the baby up late if possible on the way to the airport, and usually the airport seems to provide the stimulation to keep a child awake. The reason I say this is that if you (children and parents) can manage to get on the plane completely exhausted and sleep on the plane to Australia AS LONG AS POSSIBLE the transition going there is relatively painless. (This is my ideal for trips to Australia and have managed to accomplish it about every time I've gone by staying up late the day before and getting up early the day of. The last time I went, with my daughter, we both got up early the day we left, got on the plane exhausted, were asleep before take off and slept for 12 hours straight.) The planes leave SFO at night, you sleep for a really long night, then get to Australia and it's morning. You usually find yourself going to bed early and waking up early (once there), but this can work out well, especially with children. My memories of going to visit Australia as a child include an awful lot of falling asleep in a bed with lots of coats at my parents friends' houses at 6 in the evening. I was flexible about reinstigating a rigid nap policy with my child when there because the change its easy to forget about but extremely important to babies and small children is the change in meal pattern. I felt it was really important to feed my child when she was hungry, and she mostly just napped when we were driving or riding. On the way back though its usually the opposite (i.e. very long day) and a much more difficult plane flight. Having a jet lagged baby is no fun, but probably unavoidable, but the return trip is going to be harder for jet lag. Personally I've been on planes, well, a reasonable amount with my daughter and she has never seemed particularly uncomfortable about her ears and she is pretty sensitive all around. I wouldn't assume that take off and landing will make a baby cry...necessarily.

When we came back from Australia, I thought it would be important to give my daughter a few days off pre-school to let her adjust (which I did), but the structure of nap and meal times at school actually seemed to help her adjust faster than I did to being back, even though I was working. So once you get back, try to just be persistant with the previous meal and nap time cues without trying to force issues. It's funny how children are both more and less flexible than adults. Have fun... Elizabeth


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