Friday, July 3, 2009

Getting kids to sleep while on the road

With the summer season upon us, many families will be flocking to the highways to embark on amusement ride-filled vacations, to camp at majestic national parks or to drive across the country to visit grandma and grandpa on the opposite coast. But with all of the excitement and fun away from home come missed naps and overstimulated kids who don’t want to sleep at night. Many parents wonder if a summer trip is even worth it if it means dealing with cranky, tired kids for a week. Yes, according to Dr. Chris Drake, a bioscientific investigator at the Henry Ford Sleep Research Center in Detroit and resident sleep expert for AmericInn Hotels’ "Sleep Better America” program. "While parents and kids often come back from family vacations more exhausted than before they left, the bonding time between parent and child in a vacation setting is essential to healthy child development and growth,” says Drake. “Plus trips are a time for families to have fun and learn together. Experiences away from home are often educational for young minds and it’s good to expose children to new geographic areas, languages, cultures and foods.” Drake, a father himself, knows firsthand the benefits of connecting while on a family vacation, yet he also knows how lost hours of sleep can be unhealthy for kids and cause big headaches for parents. To ease parents’ minds, Drake offers the following tips to help children achieve the best sleep possible while traveling: Stick with your kids’ nap schedule -- Plan activities around your children’s nap schedules while on vacation. If naptime is regularly after lunch, make an effort to have this meal close to your hotel, campground or relative’s house. Even on long car trips, do your best to keep kids awake with energizing music, games and conversation at times they’re usually active. Long car rides make all of us a bit lethargic, so it may feel like a necessary respite to let your kids fall asleep for long intervals, but you’ll pay in the middle of the night. Consider light and sun exposure -- Research has shown that light exposure impacts everything from brain activity to seasonal depression to length and quality of sleep. Kids, like adults, need natural light exposure every day to stay alert. They also sleep better in dark, calming environments. When traveling, find quiet, dim spaces for naps and nighttime sleeping. Draw curtains whenever possible. Stick to healthy meals and regular mealtimes -- Eating while on vacation usually means higher calorie meals and more treats like ice cream and cookies. Allow your kids some treats to enjoy, but don’t overdo it and stick to your regular meal schedule. Don’t let your kids order french fries with every entrĂ©e. Choose a veggie option instead. Watching your kids’ sugar and salt intake while away from home and having them drink more water will be better for their digestive systems and quality of sleep. Try preventing unfamiliar noise interruptions -- In an unfamiliar setting, kids can get excited or scared by foreign noises. When scouting out the best sleep arrangement for the kids while traveling, consider hotels like the AmericInn brand, which is known for specially insulating its properties to offer guests a quieter stay. Or when camping, find a spot away from the road, train tracks or any sort of entertainment venue. When at grandma and grandpa’s house, if possible select a private space away from cousins and other family members. Start bedtime routines earlier on the road -- Since it most likely will take longer to get kids settled for bed while on a trip, unless they’re wiped out from the day’s activities, start your usual bedtime routines of putting on pajamas, brushing teeth and reading books one hour earlier. Turning out the lights well before bedtime is a good way to start the physiological and behavioral processes of sleep even before kids are in bed. TV is the most problematic, particularly in a hotel where the living room is often the bedroom as well, so avoid turning it on when trying to get your kids down for the night. Pack familiar and comforting items -- You may feel like you’ve packed too much, but don’t leave out your kids’ favorite PJs, blankets, pillows, stuffed animals or pacifiers because you’ll be glad to have them when your child throws a temper tantrum right before bed. Items that are comforting and familiar help calm children down despite being in a bed and room that isn’t as inviting as their kid-friendly rooms at home.

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