Time Zone Travel Tips for Managing Sleep on Vacation


If you live in Atlantic Canada, chances are you have family that lives 1 to 3 time zones west of here.  Recently, I received a question on my Sunday Night Sleep Q&A about dealing with the effects of jet lag and how to prepare for it.  I try not to reinvent the wheel when I can help it, but there was no good quick and easy reference for this concerned parent.  So here is some information about managing travel between time zones. My first word of advice, no matter which direction you are travelling, is to allow for flexibility on your travel day.  Don’t expect your child to sleep at exactly the times he/she normally would, and don’t get anxious about your child not being in bed by EXACTLY 6:30 PM! Most of these tips can also be applied to daylight savings time too.

Travelling West

  • Try to keep your child awake until his/her normal bedtime.  Obviously, this won’t happen right away if you are crossing 3 time zones, so it will have to happen gradually over 2-3 nights and may take an additional night or two for your child to adjust.
  • Expect your child to wake up earlier than usual the first couple days as he/she is adjusting.  You will likely wake up earlier too.  Allow for some flexibility there. Attend to your child, because you know if you traveled 3 time zones, it isn’t realistic to ignore him/her for 3 hrs.
  • Try to stick with your child’s nap schedule as much as possible.  Your child is likely going to show sleepy signs “earlier” than usual.  Try and hold him/her off until the clock in your new time zone matches the time that your child would normally nap.  If it’s a 3 hour difference, you may only be able to hold your child off for a maximum of 30 minutes a day and it may take a few days to adjust.
  • You can help your child adjust to the time zone that you’re in by exposing him/her to natural light during the times that he/she is supposed to be awake.
  • To make the transition easier, you might want to try moving your child’s  nap and bedtimes a little later than usual a few days before you travel (15-30 min increments is usually helpful).  This can help your child adapt sooner to the new time zone once you arrive.
  • If you have a short trip (a few days), you may just choose to let your child continue to do what they normally do in their “natural” time zone.  Keep in mind once you get home, your child should adjust to his/her normal routine within a few days of consistency.

Traveling East

  • Traveling east normally seems a little easier on people. You may find that your child isn’t ready to sleep until a little later for the first few days, so be flexible with that.  That being said, having a strong routine may help you move bedtime up in 15-30 min increments to get your child back on track.  Strong bedtime routines trigger the body to get sleepy too if they’re close enough to bedtime.
  • Wake your child up at the time that you normally would in the morning to get their body adjusted to the time that they should be awake, and avoid letting them sleep in if you can.  Again, exposure to sunlight, will help shift your child’s biological clock and circadian rhythms to match the time zone that you’re in.
  • If your child wakes up later than normal, it’s foreseeable that your child may also want to nap later too.  If you wake them up at the time that they normally would, then keeping the naps at the time they should be happening on the clock will be easier too.  Try and keep them as close as possible to their “normal” time.  If you are traveling over more than one time zone, you may need to shift the nap times in 15-30 minute increments to help your child adjust.
  • If you are traveling over more than one time zone and it will be for more than a few days, you may want to help prepare your child for the adjustment by making bedtime earlier a few days before your travel.
  • As stated earlier, if your trip is only a few days, you really don’t need to do very much.  Consistency of your regular routines will keep your child on track.

Crossing Oceans

  • Travel of this kind is generally more than a 4 hour time difference.  As mentioned above, if you travel west, your child will be waking up and going to sleep earlier than usual, and if you are traveling east, your child will be waking up and going to sleep later than usual.
  • You can’t force your child to sleep when his/her body isn’t ready for it.  However, you can stretch your child’s wakeful periods.  Yes, you will risk him/her becoming overtired, but natural sunlight exposure will help shift your child’s circadian rhythms to that of the new time zone.
  • To further help shift the body’s circadian rhythm, you should wake up your child at the time that they should be awake in the new time zone.  Discouraging him/her to sleep according to the old time zone will encourage sleep during appropriate times in the new time zone.
  • Don’t be surprised or discouraged if your child wants to sleep most of the first day of your arrival and be up all night. It will likely take a few days, but eventually your child will adapt.  Just go with it! If you all need a nap, then take one! Remember, you’re on vacation, so make the best of your time!  Have fun and relax!

Long Car Rides – Are we there, yet?

  • Long car rides can be a nightmare for all members of the family.  If you have little ones, take a break every 2-3 hrs during the day to allow for diaper changes, washroom breaks, snacks, and some stretching/physical activity.
  • The old tricks and techniques our parents used to pass time still work – singing songs, 20 questions, I spy, reading and/or colouring books, magnetic board games, counting the number of different license plates, and talking about all the fun and exciting things you’ll do when you arrive at your destination.
  • Technology also helps keep kids in the back from bothering one another and making you really consider turning around and going home!  Portable video players and games for older kids will keep them occupied when the driver really needs silence to concentrate on the road. When traveling at night, avoid TV as the light from the screen will interfere with melatonin production (http://www.lrc.rpi.edu/resources/newsroom/pr_story.asp?id=235) when you want your kids to be sleeping.

Where ever you are going and whatever you are doing, know that your child will adapt to the new time zone.  Try and stick with your routine as much as possible, and be flexible when necessary. Know that your child will also adapt when you return home.  Happy travels!

What are some of your favorite ways to pass time during the long car drives?



More information can be read from the following “Sleep Bibles:”

Ferber, R. (1985) Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. New York, NY: Fireside.

Sears, W. et al. (2005) The Baby Sleep Book. New York, NY: Little, Brown & Company.

Weissbluth, M. (1987) Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

Weissbluth, M. (2003) Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. 3rd Edition. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

West, K. & Kenen, J. (2010) The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight: Gentle Proven Solutions to Help Your Child Sleep Well and Wake Up Happy. Philadelphia, PA: Vanguard Press.




Summertime Sleep Tips


With summer just around the corner, there are now a few more factors that can make getting restful sleep for your child more challenging.  Here are some tips to beat the summer heat and get a restful night’s sleep!

BLOCK OUT THE LIGHT – Probably one of the biggest challenges with the summer weather is the longer days.  We have light earlier in the morning and later in the day, which may seem to encourage your early riser or bedtime battler.  Sunlight is a key factor regulating our sleep cycles.  Longer exposure will interfere with melatonin production, which would normally have an effect to make you feel drowsy.

  • Keep your child’s room as dark as possible.
  • Use black out shades – or if that’s not in the budget, use dark coloured bed sheets thrown over your curtain rod or even garbage bags taped to the window.
  • If you’re traveling, bring the garbage bags and some tape with you to ensure you can keep your motel room as dark as possible if black out shades aren’t available in your room.
  • If your child sleeps with the door open, but you know that light from another room in the hallway may be bright enough to disturb the darkness of your child’s room, close the other room’s door and/or ensure the windows in that room are also covered.

KEEP COOL – just like when your child has a fever, when the temperature of the room is too hot they’ll be uncomfortable enough to wake up.  Excessive heat and humidity can disrupt sleep.  Health Canada recommends room temperature to be between 18-22 C (64-72F).   Unless you have air conditioning, this temperature may not be possible to achieve in some areas.

  • If you have air conditioning – set your temperature to be between 18-22 C or 64-72F with a humidity of about 50-65%.
  • If you don’t have air conditioning, use a fan to keep the air moving and create convection heat loss.
  • Dress appropriately & limit bedding – heat is lost through the head, hands and feet, so keep them uncovered. You may decide to skip the pajamas and let your child sleep in a T-shirt and diaper if it is an especially hot night.
  • Don’t worry about drying your child’s hair before going to bed – as the water from your child’s hair evaporates it will create a cooling effect.
  • During the day, prevent your rooms from overheating by keeping the blinds shut.

STAY HYDRATED – With all the extra heat and excitement, your child is likely to be more active during the day and may sweat more than usual.

WHITE NOISE – Personally I’m a fan of singing birds in the summer, but I’ve chatted with many parents who curse the birds chirping away at that first sign of light, or other noises at different times of the day that make it hard to convince their little one to go or stay asleep.

  • Use a specially designed white noise machine, air purifier, or fan to drown out irregular background noise.  Keep it on all night, and you may want to use it during nap time too!
  • With the summer weather on its way, neighbours will want to take advantage of their patios and decks and may be out later than usual, perhaps even talking louder than usual depending on their beverage of choice.
  • Early birds (the literal ones and the neighbours who like to mow their lawns at the crack of dawn) are going to cause new and out of the ordinary sounds in the morning – be ready to block that too.

ALLERGY MANAGEMENT – With the nice weather, allergies tend to follow.  Like spring, the biggest summer allergens are pollen.  The most common summer pollen allergies are caused by grasses and weeds.  However, dust mites also peak in the summer months.

  • Allergies can cause itchy, watery eyes and stuffy noses making it hard to breath.  If you’re the parent of a child with atopic dermatitis, more common referred to as eczema, allergies can make the itching worse.  Itching leads to scratching which may introduce infection.  ALWAYS talk with your doctor and/or pharmacist about using any over the counter or prescription drugs, including oral antihistamines to reduce allergy symptoms and topical creams/ointments to manage eczema/atopic dermatitis.
  • Bathe more frequently – washing will remove pollens from your child’s hair and skin that he/she may have come in contact with during the day.
  • Use an air purifier to prevent allergens from re-circulating in your child’s room.
  • Keep the windows closed – this will prevent pollens from entering your home.
  • Vacuum and change your child’s sheets at least once a week to reduce dust mites.
  • Nasal irrigation – if your child tolerates it, you can remove pollens and allergens trapped in the nose that may be causing irritation.

KEEP TO YOUR SCHEDULE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE – Sure it’s beautiful and you all want to enjoy each others company as much as possible with the nice weather.  This may also risk your child not getting the amount of sleep they need and create a sleep debt.  An overtired child is more likely to wake up at night and wake up earlier.  So keep to your schedule as much as possible and honor the amount of sleep that your child needs to have.  Keep in mind that your child’s bedtime may get a little bit later and it’s ok to have flexibility on this.  But don’t be afraid to offer your child an earlier bedtime, when you feel that your child isn’t dealing well with the reduction in sleep hours. Here’s a link to the average amount of recommended sleep hours based on age.

Finally, take advantage of as much outdoor activity as possible!  Fresh air and physical activity scheduled earlier during the day will help your child sleep better and won’t interfere with your child’s sleep schedule.  Exposure to sunlight will also help prime the body for melatonin production once you bring your child into a darker environment.  While it’s great to get out in the sun, keep in mind that you also want to stay well hydrated during the day and avoid sun burn.

What do you think is the biggest challenge in getting your kids adequate sleep in the summer months?