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Baby sleep and travel: how to adjust

For the past 6 months I have been travelling with my toddler Madi between Edmonton and Atlanta (We live in Atlanta for 4 weeks and then I work in Edmonton for 2 weeks at a time). What I learned is that travelling and time changes can affect your babies sleep. Even a 2 hour time difference (difference between Atlanta and Edmonton) can have a big impact on your toddlers nap times and night time sleep.  I also found it difficult as a new mom as there is not much information available about baby sleep and travel.

There is not a lot of medical literature out there surrounding changing your toddlers nap time when travelling, so I am sharing my personal experience as to what worked for me as a Mom.  If your also struggling with getting your toddler to have one nap per day, instead of two, check out my other article for some tips.

Adjust bedtimes gradually the week before to help with baby sleep and travel

Flying from Edmonton to Atlanta doesn’t cause much difficulty despite the 2 hour time difference because we allow Madi to go to sleep at her typical Edmonton bed time (8:30pm) which is 10:30pm Atlanta time.  Once we arrive in Atlanta, we gradually put her to bed earlier and earlier, over the course of 2 weeks.  This is so that she ends up going to sleep at 8:30pm Atlanta time (her normal bedtime). One personal trick that I have found is I try to do more physical activities like swimming, a prolonged bath time, or running around in the park to try to physically tire her out before bedtime.  This helps her fall asleep more easily.

Try to time your flights around sleep so your toddler naps on the plane

Flying from Atlanta to Edmonton is the challenging part. Unfortunately, the majority of flights from Atlanta to Edmonton arrive in the later evening – 8pm/9pm (10/11pm Atlanta time). If she falls asleep at her normal bedtime on the flight, I let her sleep as long as she can.  When she wakes up she is extremely grumpy (similar to how I am when I am awoken in the middle of the night). Once we arrive in Edmonton, I act like it is daytime and try to energize her by being silly and singing our favourite songs. By the time we get our luggage, go through customs and get to our house it typically takes 1.5 hours (~11pm Edmonton time, ~1am Atlanta time).

Do your bedtime routine when you arrive at your destination

Once we arrive at our house, I let her play for 30 minutes and then we do our normal bedtime routine (see link). The addition of the bedtime routine has made the biggest difference in Madi being able to have a reasonable sleep after arriving on a different time zone. I used to be so panicked when we arrived at our house that I would rush, and quickly put her to bed and found that she was so amped up from the airport commotion that she wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. 

adjust your toddlers nap times when you arrive at your destination

Once we arrive in Edmonton, the next morning, she typically wakes up at her normal Atlanta time 7am (5am Edmonton Time). Since I don’t want to be on Atlanta time while I’m working in Edmonton, I ask my nanny to gradually try to make her nap time at 11am Edmonton time while I am at work.  This is 1pm Atlanta time – which is 1 hour after her normal nap time in Atlanta. With this protocol, I found that within 2-3 days Madi is back on her normal sleep schedule. 

Learn more from Dr. Mom

What to know when travelling with a toddler

Going on vacation without your toddler? Worried about leaving your toddler for vacation? Learn more about the mother-baby bond and attachment and how vacation affects it.

Is sleep training safe?

How can I get a good nights rest? What is sleep hygiene?

How can I transition my toddler from 2 naps per day to one?

How much sleep does my baby need?

Going on vacation without your baby? what to know

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