How To Handle Time Zone Change On Vacation (Domestically)

You’re planning your family vacation, but you realize there will be a time zone change! YIKES! What do you do? Keep your child’s schedule the same? Jump into the new time? Does nap time change when ? Girl, I’ve gotcha covered!

When traveling domestically across the lower 48, we’re going to jump right into the new time zone you’re headed in!

But what about the travel day? It can be a tricky part of navigate! First, treat the travel day as a flop, and take whatever happens! Naps on the go...no naps, whatever happens...happens! Next, get to your destination and make their room as dark as possible!!!! Follow THIS foil tutorial we use every time we travel with the girls!

Bedtime On Travel Day

Baby under 6 months:

Under 6 months we use awake times to keep the proper windows between naps. On the travel day baby may have slept more than usual, or less than usual! But however it happens, we’ll simply push baby to their normal bedtime (at most 30 minutes early) based on awake times + new time zone.

EXAMPLE: 5 month baby who needs 2-2.5 hours awake time between naps and has bedtime around 7PM. You’ve arrived at your new destination 4PM PST from Eastern Time. Offer a cat nap between 4-4:30PM for 15-20mintues. Once awake, use the 2-2.5 hours awake window to gauge bedtime. Up from nap at 4:30PM, bedtime is between 6:30-7PM PST.

I don’t like to get baby to bed too early in the new time zone so we can avoid even earlier awake times!!

Baby 6-12 months:

You’re probably used to around 2 naps per day, in which we can use the travel day to gauge how the night will go.

Did baby nap several times a day? Does baby seem to be in good spirits when you arrive in your new destination?

Unless you arrive well past baby’s normal bedtime, I’m perfectly fine that you have playtime and get baby acclimated to the new environment! Go to the pool, explore the hotel, see family, whatever you’re up to! At this stage baby can be easily persuaded to stay awake a little longer than normal to get onto the new time.

EXAMPLE: 10 month old baby who takes 2 naps per day and can handle ~4 hours of awake time between Nap 2 and Bedtime. Bedtime is normal around 7PM. You arrive at 4PM PST from Eastern Time. Naps were almost non-existent today, so offer a cat-nap in the car or stroller for ~15-20 minutes. Baby fights the nap? Get to bed at 6PM PST. Baby takes the nap? See if you can push baby to 7PM bedtime!

Child 1 year +

Napping on the travel day may not happen! Hey! Roll with it! Don’t stress about the lack of sleep and instead- enjoy showing baby the new spaces. Depending on the time difference, we can make a projection for this night 1 of bedtime.

EXAMPLE: Left Eastern time, arrived at new destination 4PM PST when this is bedtime at home- 7PM EST. Get your child outside, play, explore the new space, and let’s get down for bed 30-60 minutes early- depending on how the travel day was! Are they handling the evening just fine? Jump into the new time and get them down at 7PM PST (yes, that’s 10PM home time!).

Once the next day arrives, let’s do our very best to jump into the new time zone!

Nap Times On Vacation

  • If your child is on a 2 nap schedule (6-7+ months) stick to that same schedule as best as possible, but in the new time zone!

  • Same goes for a child on a 1 nap schedule- keep it the same time! Generally this is easy as your toddler is going to be so excited to explore their new surroundings, and be ready to fall asleep come naptime!


Hours of Night Sleep

For children I work with (ages 0-5 yo) we are looking for anywhere between 10-12 hours of night time sleep. I can’t guarantee that your child will sleep until the new location’s 7AM...after all, even my own kids don’t do that so well when we travel! But starting the day within 1 hour earlier- I’m okay with that!

The last time we took our girls from Virginia to California, they fell asleep around 8-8:30PM and woke at 6AM. We let them hang out in their beds until 6:30AM, then got up, and started our day. Yes, it was less sleep for all while away...but I’ve got a plan to help you make up for it soon!

With any time difference it will take you and your kiddo about 1 week to adjust to the new time. Which is generally the day you leave to go BACK home! (Right?!)

Once you’re back home, get back in the new zone right away!

Adjusting Back Home

When you return home you may even find your child sleeps longer at night as they adjust- let them! While you were away having a few hours of less sleep each night, everyone built up sleep debt! Sleep that your child’s body (and yours!) needed, but missed out on.

If your baby who typically sleeps 11 hours at night is still snoozing into the 12th hour give them extra! Cap to 12.5 hours, that way naps can still be similar.

If your child who is on 1 nap or doesn’t nap anymore is still sleeping into the 12th hour, allow them up to 14 hours! Enjoy it for a few mornings, but pretty soon you’ll be back on the normal schedule.

Remember how I said our girls slept more like 10 hours while on vacation from East to West Coast? When we returned home to Virginia, we put them to bed at 6:30PM (30 minutes early, because moods were terrible!) and they slept two morning until 9AM, a third morning until 8AM, and then back to the 7PM-7AM schedule by the fourth day back home. It was amazing to see their bodies naturally adjust!

Where are you headed this summer? A simple road trip? Cross-country flights? I’d love to hear how your trip goes!!! Comment below and share your sleep wins!

>>Can’t imagine traveling with your baby because they’re up all night? If you have 2 weeks before your tip, grab your baby’s sleep course and get started on a plan for a full night of sleep before you head off!!

>>Sharing a room with your baby on vacation? Grab the SlumberPod (code LITTLEZSLEEP10 to save $10!)


Sweet Dreams,
Becca Campbell
Your Pediatric Sleep Consultant

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