Admittedly, it’s been several years since I’ve helped my little ones sleep on a plane. I confess that it gave me such anxiety that I avoided it as much as possible. However, I flew back and forth frequently with my first child because while I lived in Manhattan, our extended family lived on the west coast. I spent many red eyes and early mornings flying from JFK to LAX. Through those years I learned these tips and tricks for how to help baby sleep on a plane.

how to help baby sleep on a plane

Photo credit: Pixabay

Sleeping on Planes

When we talk about flying and kids, we’re really talking about two different subjects. First, the actual flying part, and second, the fact that travel disrupts children’s schedules.

The truth is, sleeping on planes is a lot harder on some children than others. Your child’s temperament (and age) will influence how hard or easy of a time they have falling asleep on a plane. The more sensitive or strong willed the child, the harder time they may have sleeping on a plane with all of its sounds and distractions. If your child is very easy going, they’ll either sleep easily on a plane, or at least tolerate the lack of sleep much better than other kids.

How to Pick Your Flight

My advice is to pick a flight that is the most convenient for your schedule, and best for your budget. Then, plan on your child remaining awake the entire flight. Think of how you’d entertain your baby or toddler for the length of your flight and prepare accordingly. If you’re on a red eye flight, hopefully your baby or toddler will sleep, but they also may not. If they’re going to be awake all night, how will you manage? Discuss this with your spouse or partner if they’re traveling with you.

Regarding whether red eyes or daytime flights are best – the reviews are mixed. For me personally, I am already unable to sleep on planes regardless of their duration or time. A literal nightmare of mine is to be trapped on a plane all night long with a screaming child. Regardless, if your child appears to want to sleep on the plane, do everything you can to encourage them to do so. For families who have sleep trained, this means going back to helping baby to sleep by bouncing, rocking, pacifiers, etc. Whatever they need, do it!

Is it Possible to Keep Baby’s Schedule During Travel?

No, it’s not. That’s the first thing I’d like to get out of the way.

Many type-A mothers, like myself, will rack their brains trying to figure out which flight will be the least disruptive to their child’s schedule. Your child may be on 3 naps, or 2, or 1, and you may be flying to Japan from LA, or from Dallas to Miami. There are nearly endless combinations of trip circumstances to figure out. Add to that the real possibility something out of your control will happen. Like your flight being delayed, or your bags not arriving in a timely matter, or you can’t locate where to pick up your Lyft. There will be delays.

It frustrates some parents to no end that, try as they might, they simply cannot control all of the circumstances when traveling by plane. I tell every client that asks me how to keep their baby on a schedule during travel the following…

My Best Piece of Advice

From the moment you leave your front door until the moment you arrive at your destination – there are no rules – only survival. Allow/encourage your child to sleep however and whenever they can. Work on truly just letting go. This article is actually a lot less about how to get your baby to sleep on the plane (Pinterest and Google have plenty of resources for you to peruse on that subject), and more about how to make the flight less stressful for parents.

So what if your child is awake from 12 am local time until 4:30 am local time? Or if they are falling asleep in your arms 30 minutes before landing? What happens if they nap hours earlier than you planned in the Lyft, only to miss their second scheduled nap?

Do not think of your child as a vase: their sleep can not be irreparably damaged due to travel. However off they get on their schedule, you can always recover. I would advise that you plan on trying to focus on getting your child back on track as soon as you arrive at your destination. Do not worry so much about the flight itself.

Getting Back on Track

Plan to have an appropriate sleep environment at your destination, complete with white noise and darkness. If your child is already sleep trained (meaning they do not rely on any sleep props to fall asleep, and can go from being awake to asleep 100% alone), then plan on having them fall asleep unassisted on the first night of your trip. Even if they protest, avoid assisting them to sleep at bedtime and throughout the first night.

The following day, if at all possible, allow them to fall asleep at your destination for as many naps as possible. If you can hyper focus on allowing them to fall asleep on their own for naps and bedtime in the first 24 hours of your trip, they’re likely to do much better with sleep for the remainder of your travels.

When traveling by plane remember:

  1. You can try to avoid flying as much as possible, but eventually you will need to fly!
  2. Give yourself over to the process, and shift your focus away from how to get your child to sleep soundly on a plane.
  3. Instead, prepare for them to remain awake for the whole flight, and focus on how to keep them happy and entertained.
  4. Finally, be ready to get them back on track at your destination by providing them an appropriate sleep environment, and being prepared to allow them to fall asleep on their own, even if they protest.

However unpleasant plane travel with children can be, always keep in mind that it’s easy to recover as long as you plan ahead of time to give a bit of focus to your child’s sleep once you arrive at your destination.

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