Many people enjoy traveling with their babies but wonder how to get a baby’s sleep back on track after traveling. Here we’ll answer many of the common questions parents and caretakers have about how to manage sleep while traveling, including “does travel cause sleep regressions in babies” and “how will travel affect my baby’s sleep?”
How Does Traveling Impact My Baby’s Sleep?
When you travel you are following the travel schedule vs your baby’s and while you can try your best to keep thigns on track for baby – by notion this shift is likely to lead to some slips in your baby’s schedule. In addition to the excitement of travel making it harder for them to sleep, they will not be in their usual sleep environment and it is likely their sleep times may have shifted because of your different activities or maybe you are sharing a sleep space and have had to revert to rocking or feeding to sleep.
Just like traveling across time zones impacts your sleep, it will also impact your baby’s sleep.
How to Reset a Baby’s Sleep Schedule After Traveling in the Same Zone
To get your baby’s sleep back on schedule, put them down to sleep at the time they went to bed while traveling. You can then move bedtime toward its normal time in 15-minute increments each successive night.
For example, if your baby typically goes to bed at 6:30pm but went to bed at 8:15pm while at a friend’s house for a few nights, you should put your baby to bed at 8:15pm when you get home.
The next night, make it 8:00pm, then 7:45, and so on. Also, try to wind your day down around your baby’s typical bedtime – turn down the lights, turn off screens, and help set a soothed mood to help get them in a sleepy mindset.
If you have already sleep trained your baby, it may be helpful to revisit your sleep training method the first night back. If you haven’t sleep trained your baby and would like to, download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ for step-by step guidance to get sleep back on track.
The best advice when staying in the same time zone is to try and stick to your baby’s usual schedule as much as possible.
How to Prepare a Baby for Traveling Across Time Zones
Traveling East to West:
If your trip is long enough to merit a schedule adjustment, prepare for your trip ahead of time by moving your baby’s bedtime up in 15-minute nightly intervals for each time zone you'll cross.
To use one scenario as an example: if you're traveling westward three time zones, move your baby's bedtime up 15 minutes three nights before you depart; the next night, bedtime is 30 minutes earlier; the final night home, it's 45 minutes earlier. While this won't perfectly align your baby's sleep schedule to their new time zone, it will help reduce disruptions once you arrive.
Returning After Traveling East to West
Readjusting your baby’s bedtime after traveling east to west is similar to the west to east practice: you put your baby down for bed at the time they went down while you were traveling.
And, as with the above example, you want to wake your baby at their normal wake time and expose them to sunlight to help reset their circadian rhythm.
The second night, you move 15-30 minutes closer to their typical bedtime. Again, revisiting your sleep coaching may make this transition easier.
Follow this process until your baby’s bedtime is realigned and they’re back to their sleep schedule.
Traveling West to East:
If you're traveling the opposite direction, East to West, reverse the process above: shift your baby's bedtime back in 15-minute increments based on the number of time zones you're crossing.
Returning After Traveling West to East
To adjust your baby’s bedtime after traveling from west to east, put your baby down at their travel bedtime. The next morning, wake them at their normal waketime and open the blinds or go outside – in short, expose them to sunlight.
This may lead to some fussiness, but that will pass as your baby readjusts to their home time zone.
The second night home, move their bedtime 15-30 minutes toward their normal bedtime.
It may be particularly helpful to revisit sleep training this night and for a few of the following nights when you’ll move your baby’s bedtime up again.
You continue this practice, including daylight exposure, until your baby’s bedtime is back to normal.
As an example: if you were in California and your baby went to bed at 7pm, but then you return to Virginia, where 7pm PST is 10pm EST, put your baby down at 10pm your first night home. The next night, bedtime is 9:30-9:45.
As with traveling in the same time zone, you should dim the lights and create a more soothing environment around your baby’s normal bedtime to recue their circadian rhythm.
Why You Should Expose Your Baby to Bright Light After Traveling
The morning after you arrive, take your baby out into the daylight for a walk. The daytime light will help adjust their circadian rhythm to the new timezone.
Tip: If possible, travel with blackout curtains to keep your baby’s travel sleep space as dark as possible when they sleep. Black garbage bags at the windows can provide a temporary fix when that isn’t possible.
How to Reset a Baby’s Sleep Schedule After Traveling Across Time Zones
If your trip is long enough to start shifting your baby’s bedtime back before departure, follow the same process you did when preparing your baby for their trip.
If your trip was shorter in duration, such as just one week, wait until you get home to adjust your baby’s bedtime – you deserve some relaxation! Or for some families, it makes sense not to time adjust at all for such a short trip.
Why Revisit Sleep Training After Travel?
We recommend revisiting your sleep coaching method after travel because sleep coaching is all about routines that cue behavior. Revisiting a sleep coaching method that worked in the past will recue your baby that it’s time to sleep, accelerating their readjustment.
If you haven’t sleep coached your baby, it’s never too late: simply download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™, enter some simple information about your baby, and this easy-to-use app will immediately start building an age-appropriate sleep schedule for your baby .
Sleep Crutches and Traveling: What to Avoid
Some of us revert back to sleep crutches while traveling with our babies. And we get it – in situations like traveling, sometimes it’s better to get your baby to sleep than to follow your sleep coaching method, so we cuddle, rock, or feed them to sleep.
We do urge you to resist this if possible.
If you must use a sleep crutch, you need to drop sleep crutches as soon as you get home.
Otherwise, the crutch could become more – well, more of a crutch. Remember, sleep coaching is all about teaching your baby how to fall asleep independently.
Does Travel Cause Sleep Regressions?
This is for threeprimary reasons:
- Traveling is stimulating: your baby’s world so far has been pretty small. Traveling opens their eyes and minds to new sights, smells, people, and experiences – all of which can be very exciting and make it harder for your baby to settle at night.
- Traveling is disruptive: Try as we might, sometimes maintaining a sleep schedule or routine simply isn’t possible while traveling – babies are stimulated, we need a break; it’s totally understandable. That said, getting off schedule for a number of days will skew your baby’s sleep.
- We aren’t in our usual sleep space: Just like you notice the difference between your own bed and home comforts, so does your baby and you most likely will find that a change in sleep environment and habits can cause your baby’s sleep to regress. Things like room sharing and lack of black out blinds are great examples.
Should I Bring a Travel Crib on Trips?
One of the biggest questions parents face is where their baby should sleep while traveling.
If you’re visiting family or friends with children, you may be able to use a spare crib. If you’re staying at a hotel, they may have a crib you can borrow.
Neither of those situations is guaranteed, though, so you may want to bring a travel crib with you. If you travel often this might be a good option as your baby will get used to this ‘other’ sleep space.
For more insights, guidance, and answers for how to sleep train your baby while traveling or in general, download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™.
“Developing circadian rhythmicity in infants,” Pediatrics.
“Disruption of Circadian Rhythms by Light During Day and Night,” Current Sleep Medicine Reports.
“The development of circadian rhythms in a human infant,” Sleep.
How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.