Why Babies Don’t Sleep in Hotels — and How to Fix It
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You’ve decided to take the plunge and embark on a vacation with your little one in tow. You made it through the flight without issue and even survived dinner in a real restaurant with the tot. Then bedtime rolls around. Your once sound sleeper becomes an all-night crier wreaking havoc on what’s supposed to be a relaxing time away. That’s exactly what happened to me during a trip to Grand Cayman with my 6-month-old.
So, what gives?
Well, we tapped Lori Strong, certified child sleep consultant and owner of Strong Little Sleepers, to fill us in on why babies don’t always sleep well in hotels and what you can do to fix it.
What Causes Babies Not to Sleep in a Hotel
To understand what needs to change, you first need to know what’s causing your baby to stay up when in a hotel room.
It’s a Different Environment
Ever find that you actually have a hard time sleeping in a new space? Well, it’s even worse for babies and toddlers. “One of the biggest things that contribute to sleepless nights is the change in environment,” Strong said. “The air, the temperature, the light, etc. It’s all different. That little red light from the smoke detector in your room? Yes, that can even be considered a change in the environment that will keep your baby awake. Plus, with toddlers, there’s often that fear of a new space.”
Jet lag can hit you like a ton of bricks. And while you might be able to just power through and stay awake, a baby can’t. “Babies can’t tell time,” said Strong. “So, if they’re used to getting up at 6am at home, for example, they’re probably going to wake up at 3am if there’s a three-hour time difference. And kids can often have a harder time falling asleep when their body clocks are off, only adding to the sleep issue.”
There’s a big misconception that if you keep a baby up later, they’ll sleep better at night. This simply isn’t true, according to Strong. “Babies and toddlers tend to get overtired fairly quickly, and that can lead to more wake up,” she said. “If you get off schedule because you’re getting up early or land late, you might miss a nap or two. That can influence what happens at nighttime. The more tired they are, the more likely they are to wake up frequently.”
Too Close to Mom and Dad
Hotels are not always set up for families in the best way. They’re often really small, and babies are aware when their parent is nearby. “Babies can smell you,” said Strong. “So, when they think you’re nearby, they’re more inclined to cry out and see what happens. They’re hoping they might get an extra feeding or playtime with you.”
Even if you’re staying in the nicest hotel, it can be noisy from a baby’s perspective. “More doors are slamming in the hallway, a flushing toilet above, the shower is close by, you’re close by making noise in your sleep and the air turns on and off more frequently,” said Strong. “All of those different noises can wake a baby, and they happen frequently.”
How to Fix It
OK, so now you know the reason your baby has become a night terror. More importantly, you want to know how to fix it. Here’s what to do.
Play White Noise
To combat all those pesky noises, Strong recommends adding more noise. “Bringing a white noise machine can be really helpful, especially if you use one at home,” she said. “It can muffle a lot of the extraneous sounds.” Bring along a Sleep Sheep to attached to the crib, or do what my husband and I do sometimes: Play white noise from a cellphone plugged in by the crib. There are free white noise apps available. Just make sure to turn off notifications on your phone.
Focus On Sleep the Days Before
The key to having a child that’s more likely to sleep in a hotel is making sure you have a well-rested child going into the trip. “You have a better chance of the child adjusting faster if they get solid sleep in the days before you go away,” said Strong. “You don’t want them going into a trip with a sleep debt.” Stick to solid nap and bedtime routine before vacation, so your kid is in a happier, rested mindset before being thrown into a stressful situation.
Get Creative With Sleeping Locations
Having a dark, quiet, separate space for your baby is ideal. But, not everyone can afford a suite. So, you’ll need to get creative with where you can put your baby to bed. “Put the crib in a large closet, any other nook in the hotel room or even the bathroom,” said Strong. “In the bathroom, for example, it’s usually dark and has a fan creating a built-in sound machine. You have to be prepared not to use the bathroom once the baby goes down.”
Travel With Trash Bags
Light exposure can keep a baby up or wake them up early. That’s why Strong suggests traveling with trash bags and bag clips. “That little spec of light that comes through hotel curtains is enough to keep a kid up,” said strong. “I always bring black trash bags and painter’s tape to seal off where the light is creeping through. Or, use bag clips to pinch the curtains together where they don’t overlap. In a pinch, it really works.”
Provide Extra Soothing
Toddlers and babies that are in a new sleep environment might just need a little extra comfort, according to Strong. “It’s OK to give your child a little extra soothing the first night or so in a hotel,” she said. “It gives them reassurance that when they wake up, you’re there and not by themselves in some foreign place. A hotel is not the place to do any sort of sleep training.”
Replicate Bedtime Routine
Children thrive off routine. So, if you have a series of acts you go through before bedtime at home, try to replicate that as much as possible in the hotel. “Often you’re not going to spend an hour doing your bedtime routine,” said Strong. “But, you can do a bath, read a book from home, massage and bottle. Some version of the routine can help the environment feel more comfortable.”
Bring Items from Home
Along with replicating bedtime routine, it’s important to bring items from home to provide a sense of familiarity. “Bring the crib sheets that you’re using at home,” said Strong. “Don’t even wash them. Just take them off the crib because they smell similar. For older kids, bring their favorite lovey or favorite stuffed animal. Just bring things so that they feel comfortable in the new place.”
Ask for Particular Hotel Rooms or Book a Suite
Not all hotel rooms are created equally. “Ask for a corner room or larger room when you check in,” said Strong. “Anytime you can get more space is better.” Another option is to use your points to upgrade to a suite or purchase a connecting room. “We used our points when staying at a Sheraton to book two adjoining rooms and kept the door open,” added Strong. “We had two spaces without having to get a suite.”
Keep in mind that suites don’t have to mean expensive — some of the best hotel chains for families are all-suites properties that you can book with points.
Adjust to the New Time Zone Immediately
If you change time zones, try getting onto the new one as quickly as possible. How do you do that? “Just wake up and do bedtime on the new time zone times,” said Strong. “It might take a couple of days, but the baby will adjust.” Also, Strong suggested using light to your advantage. When you want your baby to be awake, take them outside in the sun or turn the lights on. When you want them to sleep make sure they’re in a dark place.
Have the First Nap in a Crib
You don’t want to be bound to the hotel room for the sake of getting a good night’s rest. But, vowing to keep the first nap of the day in the hotel room in the crib can help with nighttime sleep. “If you can have the first half of the day being in a stationary place, then you’re going to get the necessary deeper sleep in the morning,” said Strong. “That morning nap is usually easier for kids because it’s a continuation of night’s sleep. If you’re out and about and skipped the morning nap, the baby is more likely to be cranky in the afternoon and evening.”
Here are some potential issues to keep in mind with hotel cribs and some solid travel cribs to consider bringing along if necessary.
Set Realistic Expectations
My husband and I successfully got our 6-month-old sleeping through the night without a visit from one of us. But, when he started crying a lot in the hotel, I gave in and fed him not to upset the neighbors. I was convinced I ruined everything I worked so hard to build at home. But, Strong revealed it’s not the end of the world. “When you travel with kids, it’s really important to set realistic expectations,” she said. “Go in knowing your child might wake, he might need more soothing or an extra feed. A couple of days won’t create a bad habit. And if you’re gone longer, just get back on the regular schedule again, and they’ll adjust.”
Strong suggested following the 80/20 rule. If you stick to a good sleeping regimen 80% of the time, it’s OK to deviate 20%. “It’s not usually a big deal once you get back home, especially if you have a solid sleep foundation at home,” she said.
Have you found the secret to getting your baby to sleep in a hotel room? What worked for you? Let us know!
Featured image by Emma Kim / Getty Images
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