Pediatric Sleep Doctor Offers Vacation Bedtime Tips

Traveling with the family doesn't mean you have to sacrifice sleep and bedtime routines.

Dr. Canapari with a child patient.

Pediatric sleep doctor and father of two Craig Canapari, MD, pictured here with his son. 

Credit: Robert A. Lisak

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, vacations with young kids can be wonderful, but they are not restful. When you disrupt your normal routine, you start to appreciate the importance of structure to your child’s behavior. You may be staying with other families who have different schedules and rules around bedtime. You are likely sharing a room with your child. You may be eating different foods, and you and your child may have more face time than usual, which can result in frayed nerves. And I can guarantee that you will not be sleeping in unless your spouse or another family member whisks your children away at the crack of dawn. (My younger son is our lark, always up early in the morning. I remember going to Dis­ney World and taking him for a walk before dawn on several morn­ings so that my wife and older son could sleep in—until 6:30 a.m.).

Here is some information I’ve picked up in our adventures about maximizing sleep:

  • Respect the routine. When we go on vacation, we try really hard to maintain our kids’ sleep times. This was harder when they used to nap. Of course, we bend the rules for special occasions such as weddings, concerts, or movies. Also, some “sneaky sleep” may be unavoidable, as the kids will be pretty tuckered out.
  • Go to bed early. We were vacationing with cousins, and all the kids got up earlier than normal. If you want to catch up on your sleep, your best chance is to go to bed earlier than normal.
  • Make the room dark. Close the curtains if they are present. Don’t hesitate to hang towels over the windows if you need to; that can help your kids sleep a bit longer in the morning. You can drape a towel or blanket over a Pack ’n Play for kids older than a year, bring KidCo PeaPod travel beds for toddlers, or try a DreamTent (available at www.mydreamtents.com) for older kids.
    Content Photo

    Dr. Canapari with his new book It's Never Too Late to Sleep Train (Rodale).

    Credit: Robert A. Lisak


  • Masking sound is important. We usually bring our sound machines, but you can also run a fan or use an app on your phone for white noise or nature sounds (I use the Naturespace app). 
  • Jet lag can be tricky. You can prepare a bit by putting your kids to bed later for a few days before traveling west or getting them up a bit earlier before traveling east. The main consequence can be a really early bedtime and wake time when traveling west, or vice versa when traveling east. Children tend to adapt quickly if they have exposure to natural light. Avoid “sneaky sleep” if possible, and try to get to the “correct” (according to the clock) bedtime as soon as possible. For short trips, an alternative may be keeping your home time zone schedule.
  • Don’t forget the teddy bear. This one is pretty self-explanatory. Don’t forget it at home. Don’t forget it in the rental car, or the airport, or the diner. Trust me—I’ve been burned before.

Excerpted from IT'S NEVER TOO LATE TO SLEEP TRAIN Copyright © 2019 by Dr. Craig Canapari. Published by Rodale Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.