“Mummy! Morning! Up now!” my toddler demanded, as I sleepily looked at the time on my phone. 12.00. Seriously! I had only just got my 5 year old to fall asleep a mere hour and a half ago. “This summer vacation is going to be a complete nightmare if I can’t get my toddler to sleep better”, I thought.
“No, no, It’s the middle of the night darling. Go back to sleep” I soothed.
Unfortunately, she was having none of it! I ended up taking her outside, both of us in our pyjamas, past the security lights that had been shining through our window, to show her the night sky. Thank goodness it was actually dark for a few hours in the middle of the night! She finally conceded and went back to sleep.
That’s when I knew we needed a plan.
We were not going to have a fun summer vacation, if our toddler wasn’t able to sleep properly.
One night was passable, but any more than that and we were all going to suffer.
We needed a plan. We needed strategies. And so, I started looking into the best ways to help your toddler sleep and tried them out.
There are different kinds of sleep problems our kids can have on a summer holiday. Some kids, like my son, struggle with falling asleep at night. Others, like my daughter, struggle with waking in the night-time or waking up very early. I have included a mixture of strategies that should help with all three of these and help your family have a happier and more restful family vacation.
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1. Block out the Light to help your Toddler Sleep Better this Summer Vacation
‘Wake up Mummy! No sleep, morning time!’ were not the words I hoped to hear from my toddler at 5am on our summer vacation. As I gazed bleary-eyed at her, I could see she was wide awake and getting any more sleep was going to be near impossible.
Since we were all sharing a family room, it was one up, all up. A grumpy day followed for us all. As much as I felt annoyed at her for waking us, I also had to concede that it was incredibly light in our room by 5am.
She is used to blackout blinds and usually sleeps through until 6am. Not a great vacation wake-up time, but infinitely preferable to 5am!
For the rest of our vacation we tried all we could to block out that light, we tried hanging blankets over the window, but they kept slipping half off in the night. We tried moving her travel cot as far away from the window as possible. It was a bit of trial and error, but we found some sleep by blocking some of the light out.
The next vacation we went on, we were prepared. We had packed a travel blackout blind.
The Best Summer Vacation Black Out Blind for Toddlers
This Tommee Tippee Travel Blackout Blind, from Amazon, has been a life-saver for our family on summer vacations.
It’s super light, folds up really small and comes in a small bag, making it easy to grab, or for your little one to help carry.
It fits easily to different window sizes, sticking to the window with suction cups, so there are no marks left behind when you leave. It can be quickly put up and taken down in a matter of minutes.
I was so excited the first year I took ours on vacation with us. It worked so great the first place we stayed. However, the second place we slept, we got to the room to discover there were two windows in it! The disappointment was real.
So if you’re heading somewhere, it’s worth checking the number of windows in your bedroom. Or, do as I did and buy a second one!
Thankfully they are not expensive and, in my opinion, worth every penny to avoid my toddler waking multiple times in the night throughout our vacation!
Having the room dark, like they are used to at home, helps my little ones settle so much better as it’s familiar.
2. Follow a Familiar Routine
One of the main struggles my kids have with sleep on holiday is that it’s all so different from home.
They really like their familiar routines. Most kids do, especially at bedtime.
I mean, just think how many adults always sleep on the same side of the bed when on vacation. There’s something very comforting about familiarity.
As much as possible, when we are on our summer vacation, we try to stick to some familiar routines, both during the day and at bedtime. It is especially important at bedtime though. Keeping familiar sleep routines for our toddler really helped her to fall asleep easier.
There are, of course, parts of the routine that you cannot replicate on vacation. It’s supposed to be different and exciting. However, even just keeping a few small routines similar will help.
I always sung a special toothbrushing song to my kids while they were brushing their teeth, and so I made sure I did this on family vacation too. They always have two bedtime stories, bedtime prayers, bedtime water and a bedtime song before settling to sleep. These are all things that are easy enough to replicate to maintain a sense of normalcy and security for them at bedtime.
It really helped my kids settle to sleep better whilst on their summer holidays, both as toddlers and now at 5 and 7 years.
3. Use Familiar Bedtime Prompts
We all use little prompts throughout the day that signal to our brains what is happening.
If we see the table being set, then we know that it is nearly time for a meal, for example. Bedtime is no different.
Think about what prompts you use at home to signal bedtime is coming. You might not even be aware that they are prompting your toddler into readiness for sleep.
For our family, we set out the kids pyjamas in the bathroom and get their toothbrushes and toothpaste out ready. We pull back their bed covers and tuck in their favourite teddy, and then we get them to choose their favourite bedtime books to put on the bed.
We use low lighting and do calming bedtime activities before hand. Things like drawing, colouring, puzzles, and extra stories help their brains to slow down ready for bed. It sets the scene.
Part of the bedtime routine for my daughter is setting up her bedtime clock.
The Best Bedtime Clock for Toddlers
This Tommee Tippee GroClock, from Amazon, is brilliant for bedtimes.
My daughter absolutely loves it and we always take it away on vacation with us to help her settle in an unfamiliar place. It helps keep her bedtime routine familiar.
You can set ‘night-time’ to be whatever time it is in your home.
An owl sits in the clock with his eyes closed on a calming blue background when it’s night-time. There are stars and hearts around the edge of him, which gradually disappear bit by bit until it’s morning.
When it’s morning (again you can set what time ‘morning’ is), the clock face changes from blue to yellow and a sunshine comes out on the clock.
This is great as there’s no noise so if your little one is having a lie in, then it doesn’t wake them up and they simply wake to find that it’s already morning! My daughter was so delighted and proud of herself the one time this happened to her!
The rest of the time, she knows to try to go back to sleep if she wakes and it’s still night-time.
4. Comfort Items (and back-ups)
There is nothing worse than being in a strange situation and not having an item of comfort to hand.
For many of us adults these days, that comfort item is a phone that connects us to friends and family. We feel a little lost without it. Our kids are just the same.
Prioritising packing those few comfort items they are used to is so important for helping them to settle.
Carry important comfort items in hand luggage just in-case your luggage goes missing. This also means they are close to you all the time for when they are needed.
It’s also a good idea to take along replacements or back-ups just in-case something special gets lost. Yes, the back-up teddy may not feel or smell exactly the same, but it is often better than nothing in these instances.
5. Prepare your Toddler for Summer Vacation ahead of time to aid Sleep
Make sure your toddler knows the plans for your vacation.
If possible, look at pictures together and discuss sleeping arrangements. It helps for them to know where they will sleep, if alone or sharing a room, where you’ll be, and what comfort item they will have with them.
Be prepared to do this a number of times before the trip, or on the journey, to make sure they know what to expect. This helps ease anxieties.
Once you arrive, if there is time before bed, do a walk through of the bedtime routine. You can show your toddler where they will brush their teeth, go to the toilet, eat meals and sleep.
6. Limit Sugar before Bedtime
We have found that even when we are at home, if our kids eat sugary treats at dinner time then it makes it much harder to settle them for bed that night.
On summer vacation, our kids are even more excitable, so I have found that sugar has an even worse effect on them when trying to get them to sleep.
This might not affect your toddler, or it might just be that you avoid sugar right before bedtime. However, it is something to bare in mind if they are particularly excitable at bedtime.
There’s no reason for them to miss out on holiday sweets, just move them to a little earlier in the day if you find it hinders bedtime.
7. Lots of Reassurance
Toddler’s are still so young and even if this isn’t their first vacation, chances are they can’t actually remember the last vacation well.
Their routine has changed, they are staying somewhere different, sleeping somewhere different, going to different places in new methods of transport to do new activities. They may be spending time with new or unfamiliar people. It’s a lot for anyone.
Just having you there with them will help, but lots of extra reassurance and cuddles will go a long way in helping them relax.
And a relaxed, happy toddler sleeps far better than an anxious toddler.
8. Lower Excitement Levels before bedtime
There are so many exciting things going on on a vacation and it’s likely you’ll have lots more planned for the next day. It can be so hard to sleep when your brain is thinking ahead to the next days fun, especially when you’re little.
I have found that avoiding discussing the next days plans too close to bedtime really helped my kids as toddlers and now as bigger kids. We tell our kids the plans at breakfast each day as a general rule.
In that hour, or half an hour if you’re pressed for time, before bed aim to do calming activities together.
We try to use low-lighting during this time too. This signals to their brains that it’s nearing bedtime.
Our favourite toddler calming down activities include: reading, drawing, colouring, doing jigsaw puzzles, and playing quietly with toys. Doing these activities with you, their parent, gives them some much-needed connection before bedtime which helps them sleep too.
9. Avoid Screens before Bed
This is the general expert sleep advice for kids and adults alike.
An hour of screen-free time before bed seems to help everyone sleep better, and we find that on vacation it it even more important to help us wind down.
If you’re interested in hearing more about how screens effect sleep, then check out my paragraph on the effect of screens in, How to Help your Kid Sleep Better in 10 steps.
10. Manage the Heat to help your Toddler Sleep Better on Summer Vacation
Being too hot is a tricky thing to handle as an adult and it makes sleeping so much harder.
How much harder must this be for a toddler. Making sure their room is a comfortable sleeping temperature, similar to what they are used to at home is so important.
Whilst fans can be quite noisy at bedtime, putting them on for a bit before bed to cool down the room can help, as can a cool bath before bedtime if they’re feeling hot after a busy day. Lighter pyjamas and bedding are also a good option.
11. Check your own expectations
I think this is one of the most important things to remember. It certainly helped me a lot.
Your kid might sleep just fine. And if so, that’s great! I’ll try not to be too jealous of you!
However, most kids are a bit unsettled sleeping somewhere new, at least for the first night. Bearing this in mind helps me to respond to the numerous bedtime delaying tactics, and requests for more water or an extra story, with more patience and compassion. They are not trying to annoy me. They are simply excited and a little bit nervous to be somewhere new.
I find it helps if I am expecting that, and prepared that I may need to read a few more bedtime stories, sit with them until they fall asleep, or keep putting them back to bed a number of times.
Mentally, I find it helps to prepare for the worst and hope for the best!
Tips for Helping Your Toddler Sleep this Summer Vacation
A family vacation is a time for family bonding, and making fun memories. It’s so much harder to achieve this if we are all sleep-deprived due to a toddler’s struggle with sleep. I hope these simple tips and ideas will help your toddler sleep better on your summer vacation this year, and I hope you have a great holiday together!