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Traveling Between Time Zones with a Baby

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Cara Dumaplin

RN, BSN, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

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baby traveling through time zones

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Traveling between time zones with a baby is tough! Many parents worry about how to adjust their baby’s sleep to a new time zone when traveling

Here are some things to consider: 

How long are you going to be away?anchor

If you are traveling for only a few days, I would encourage you to stay on your home time, if possible. 

Which direction are you traveling? anchor

Traveling east to west:

Maybe it’s 7:00 pm at home, but only 4:00 pm in the new time zone. What do you do? One option is to add in an extra cat nap to make it to a normal bedtime in the new time zone. If that isn’t possible, try to shift bedtime later by keeping your baby awake a little longer (think 10-30 minutes.). Watch your baby and do what you can without pushing him to be completely overtired. 

Traveling west to east:

When it’s 7:00 pm at home, it might be 10:00 pm in the new time zone. Perfect! Maybe your baby goes to bed and sleeps in a little later on vacation. This can often work well when traveling because you can have late dinners and not worry about rushing back for bedtime. 

But Cara, what if the adjustment is tricky! What do we do? anchor

I know time changes can feel daunting, especially big time changes when you travel from one side of the country to the other or even internationally. Let’s talk about my favorite tips to make this easier on everyone, no matter the time difference. 

Get out in the sunlight.anchor

Spend time in the sunlight whenever possible. Sunlight helps regulate melatonin (the natural sleepy hormone) and adjust circadian rhythm. This helps all of your bodies adapt to local time. 

Make time for physical activity.anchor

Encourage lots of physical activity while awake. It can be tempting when you travel to strap your baby into the stroller or carrier for all of your exploration. But it’s important to let that little body move! Enjoy some tummy time on a blanket at a nearby park or allow your little one to toddle around the hotel suite so that your baby can get that important physical activity.

Try to start your day between 6:00 and 8:00 am local time.anchor

One of the best ways to help your baby adjust to a new time zone is to start your day at a normal time. This will help you maximize sunlight, provide time to use up that physical energy, and set your baby’s internal clock. If your baby wakes up before 6:00 am, try to keep lights low and activity calm. If your baby is still asleep at 8:00 am, go ahead and wake him up. 

Watch those wake windows.anchor

Try to push wake windows just a bit. We don’t want to push your baby to the point of exhaustion or being overtired, but adding just a few minutes to each wake window can help with the adjustment. 

Cap naps at 2 hours. anchor

If your baby is on more than one nap, we’re going to cap each individual nap at 2 hours. This will help save that long sleep for bedtime. Longer naps will only delay the adjustment.

Be sure to end your baby’s last nap of the day with enough time for a full wake window before a 7:00-8:00 pm bedtime in the new time zone.

wake windows before bedtime

Maintain a bedtime routine.anchor

The bedtime routine helps cue your baby’s brain. Even in an unfamiliar environment, those bedtime routine activities will help your baby’s body prepare for sleep. Be sure to dim the lights and turn off any screens for 15 to 30 minutes before bedtime.

Expect awake time in the night.anchor

With any big time change, your baby may wake at night. You may wake as well. It’s normal. Don't worry, this doesn’t mean that you’ve lost your good sleeper. During the night, keep light to a minimum. Use quiet play and help her get back to sleep as soon as she seems ready. 

Let go of perfection. anchor

Have fun and give everyone some grace! The trip will be so worth any sleep disruptions. Try not to let it worry you. Go and make memories!

When you get home, expect that your baby may be off for several days. You probably will be too. It’s okay. Know that if sleep is a mess, you don’t have to struggle alone. I have classes that can help. If you already own a Taking Cara Babies class, jump right back in. Know you can always book a phone consult if you need more support. 

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