Getting sleep back on track after travel

Travelling with baby on airplane.

Photo Credit: Kaspars Grinvalds

(Updated and revised from an earlier version.)

If you follow our blogs, then you probably know that we support the idea that you just do what works (as long as it’s safe) to help your baby sleep during travel. Although slipping into survival mode is usually ok when you are on vacation, deviating from your baby’s good sleep habits will often lead to new sleep associations.

The Science

There are two major issues that can lead to a sleep regression after travel 1) your child's circadian rhythm can shift due to jet lag or a lax schedule, 2) sleep associations can form.

When your child's schedule shifts due to jet lag or late nights up playing with cousins, your child's internal clock will become mismatched from the time on your clock at home. Circadian biology can be hard to understand, but here's a simple example: if you traveled from New York to California and put your child to bed at 7 pm while away, your child won't be ready to sleep until 10 pm when you get home (i.e., 7 pm California time!). You must account for schedule adjustments when helping your child get back on track after travel.

If you taught your baby or toddler how to fall asleep at one point and he or she was sleeping great, but then you traveled and ended up rocking/feeding/co-sleeping/using a stroller to sleep in order to avoid having him/her wake up others, then your baby may have re-developed a sleep association. As a reminder, a sleep association is simply the series of experiences or tools that your baby needs to fall asleep. A sleep association could be your baby’s crib, rocking, bouncing, feeding, going for a walk in a carrier or stroller, a pacifier or any combination of those or other things. You will need to teach your child to fall asleep independently in order to reduce frequent night waking when you return home.


Need More Help?

We offer several options for optimizing your child's sleep:

SLEEP TRAINING CLASS (for well babies 6-15 months)

PHONE CONSULTATIONS (with one of our sleep experts)

THE SECRET TO NAPS (downloadable e-book)


How do you adjust your child's schedule back to normal?

The best way to get back on track depends on how your child's sleep was before travel and also what factors changed during your trip. Each section below covers how to get back on track for different situations in detail, but here's a simple framework for getting back on track:

Step 1: Adjust your child's schedule for jet lag or bed/nap times that drifted later.

Step 2: Put your child down awake at bedtime and nap time using your preferred sleep training method (our class offers four different options).

Step 3: Rebalance your child's calorie intake if you ended up offering more night feedings while away.

For more detail on how to accomplish those changes, read the sections that apply to your situation below.

Step 1

Did your child's bedtime drift late during travel?

If so, then first you need to make sure your baby is ready for sleep when you are asking him or her to sleep. If you stayed in the same time zone but your child's bedtime drifted late, then begin bedtime at the time your little one has been falling asleep. For example, if fun times with older cousins meant bedtime was at 9 pm instead of 7 pm, then put your child down at 9 pm when you get home and move bedtime earlier by 15 minutes every day or every few days. In order to help adjust your child's circadian rhythm, earlier, bring the lights down starting at your target bedtime and wake your child progressively earlier each day. In the morning, expose your child to bright light by taking a morning walk or playing in a sun-filled room.

Did your travel involve jet lag?

If so, then the best way to help your child adjust depends on the direction and number of time zones that you traveled. Check out our jet-lag blogs to calculate your child's biological bedtime (short eastward,