Every parent knows that children’s sleep habits are ever changing and evolving. Getting kids into a great sleep routine can be a major challenge in the comfort of your own home. It can be a straight-up nightmare when your entire family is packed into one hotel room while traveling.
We’ve been very blessed with three decent sleepers. Of course there have been tough phases, but for the most part they all sleep very well at home. When we spend the night in a hotel room, we’ve gone through lots of trial and error to try and replicate the routine we have at home.
After staying in multiple hotel rooms with our three kids ages 1, 3, and 5 this year, we’ve got some great strategies that have worked for getting our kids to sleep away from home. Maybe they’ll help you out, too!
HOW TO GET KIDS TO SLEEP IN A HOTEL ROOM
BOOK A SUITE
I understand that this is not always possible, but if you haven’t booked yet and suites are within your price range, I would say go for it! The very best hotel sleep we’ve gotten happens when we are able to put our kids to bed in one room where we can close the door.
Related: Hilton St. Petersburg Hotel Review
This feels especially necessary if you have a baby or toddler who has a much earlier bedtime than the rest of the family. It makes it so much easier to put the baby down like you normally would at home. In a pinch we have actually used large walk-in closets or bathrooms for the crib or pack & play.
Just double check before you book the suite that it actually has a separate bedroom. Sometimes hotel rooms with extra living room space or a kitchenette are called suites, but there’s no bedroom actually separated by a door. Call our do your research online to make sure you know what you’re booking!
Some hotels offer rooms with small alcoves containing bunk beds, like the Family Suite at Hotel Milo in Santa Barbara, which would be incredibly useful if you have lots of kids.
WHITE NOISE MACHINE
We travel everywhere with our white noise machines. Even when I’m trying to pack as light as possible, the white noise machine has earned a spot in my bag. The one we travel with is pretty flat and compact, and very lightweight. The ROI is huge.
Every single one of our kids has slept with white noise since the day we brought them home from the hospital, and I believe contributes to them sleeping through the night. I don’t see any reason to change that when we’re traveling!
Hotels can be noisy. Loud people in the hallway, doors slamming, noise coming from the outside pool, and other people in the hotel room can all be distractions. We usually put the white noise machine closest to the youngest to help block out the din from his brother and sister.
In a pinch I have used an app on my phone, but that kind of feels like a pain if I want to use my phone after the kids go to bed (which I usually do as a travel writer and blogger). You can always download the app to a tablet you’re not using if you’d rather not bring a white noise machine.
BRING A TOUCH OF HOME
Our kids are allowed to bring a stuffed animal and a small blanket with them when we travel. If we’re road tripping, they’re also allowed to bring their pillow pets. Yes, this is very risky if you’re bringing the favorite stuffed animals. We left Curious George in Cocoa Beach and Moosey the Moose in Santa Barbara. Tough stuff.
The payoff if great, though, when bedtime rolls around and the kids can literally cling to something familiar.
Now that I’m thinking about it, this is a technique we’ve used quite often over the past few months to get the 1-year-old to sleep before the 3- and 5-year-old. One of the parents will stay behind and put the baby to bed while the other parents takes the older two to the pool or to walk around the hotel for awhile.
If we don’t do this, the toddler thinks it’s a fun game that there are so many people to talk to instead of going to sleep. It’s actually quite funny to watch him try to get in on the action, chatting and laughing, from his crib, but it does mean he’s staying up far past his bedtime, throwing off the next day of adventure.
Alternately, maybe you have a baby or toddler who needs to be rocked to sleep or fed in a quiet room, and you want to eliminate distractions. Get those big kids out of there!
While at Disney we took turns taking the younger boys back to the hotel room while the other parent stayed out with the oldest until the fireworks. At the Hilton in St. Petersburg Carillon Park we took the big kids swimming while the toddler went to bed. There are so many creative ways to do this - just make it seem like a special adventure for the older kids!
SPLIT UP THE OLDER KIDS
Of course, a baby or toddler will sleep in the pack & play or crib provided by the hotel, but what are the sleeping arrangements for kids from ages 2-5? We’ve found it works best to split up and co-sleep with them if there are 2 queen or double beds. If we put the 3- and 5-year-old in the same bed we’ve had fighting, goofing off, and battles over space. I think this works for us because at home, our 5-year-old girl has her own room, and the 3- and 1-year-old boys share a room.
However, maybe your older kids are used to sharing a room or even a bed and would feel more comfortable sharing a bed. If that’s the case, do what works for you!
Now usually this means making the room as dark and quiet as possible (besides the white noise machines) so that the kids are bored and have nothing better to do than fall asleep. While I’m laying there waiting for that to happen, I’ll watch a show on my phone using my bluetooth headphones or read a book on my Kindle. Once they’re asleep I’ll usually take out my laptop and try to get some work done.
TIRE THEM OUT
One thing that usually works to get everyone to sleep quickly in a hotel room is to keep them out way past their bedtime. By the time we get back to the hotel room it’s usually all they can do to get their jammies on and brush their teeth before collapsing into bed.
The only risk here is that if your kids are like mine and wake up by 7 no matter how late they stayed up, you might be dealing with some crabby kids the next day. Sometimes it’s a risk I’m willing to take, but it all depends on what we have planned for the next day.
HAVE AFTERNOON NAP/QUIET TIME
This may seem like it contradicts my previous point of tiring them out, but we all know that overtired kids are a recipe for sleep disaster. Even when we’re exploring a new city or doing Disney, we try our best to come back to the hotel room for an afternoon nap for the toddler while the older two get quiet time.
When you’re traveling you kind of can’t escape one another, so instituting quiet time in a hotel room lets everyone rest and recharge however they need to. We put the baby down for a nap, then once he’s sleeping we let the other two into the room. They are then allowed to watch a show on the Kindles with their headphones, read, color, or take a nap (usually they pick the first option).
They toddler is used to 2 naps a day at home, and refuses to sleep in the stroller, so we’ve decided for now that our travel game plan is to come back for afternoon naps, then stay out a little later to experience the city as much as possible and run our some energy before bed.
STICK WITH YOUR ROUTINE
If you do baths every night before bed at home, do the same thing in your hotel room. If your kids get 2 stories after brushing their teeth, do the same thing in your hotel room. The point is, if you’ve already established a bedtime routine, now is not the time to deviate. They are already in unfamiliar surroundings and excited about vacation. It’s important to give them some sense of normalcy and familiarity.
GO WITH THE FLOW
Sometimes you can do everything within your power to facilitate great sleep in a hotel room for your kids, and they still don’t sleep well. Maybe they can’t fall asleep, maybe they wake up 5 times in the middle of the night, maybe they want to co-sleep when they don’t normally, or maybe they’re up at the crack of dawn.
At the end of the day, I’m all about doing whatever you need to do to get the most sleep you can on vacation. Don’t feel like you MUST abide by certain sleep rule or you’ll be ruining your child’s sleep forever.
Sometimes we let the kids have ice cream for dinner on vacation, but that doesn’t mean they’re asking for it at home. Same thing with sleep. Just because you let them sleep with you or watch an extra show to fall asleep, doesn’t mean you’re creating a sleep crutch for life. Just make sure you get back into your routine once back home.
These tips have worked well for our family, but your family might be different! Travel is all about trial and error. You need to experiment a bit to figure out what works best for your family. Remember, the more you do it, the easier it gets!
What are your best tips for great hotel sleep with little kids?