If you are the parent of a strong independent sleeper, then it’s very unlikely that they will get much shut eye in the car. I’m sorry - it’s one of the very few downsides of having a good sleeper. It does make sense though. Once they are familiar with the deep, blissful, and restorative sleep that can only happen in a safe and perfectly conducive sleep environment - the car seat is not going to cut it. Consider how much harder it is for most adults to fall asleep comfortably when strapped in and unable to re-position.
Luckily, those mostly strong sleepers also tend to be generally well rested. This means that one or several days of poor naps don’t have to be a big deal. Yes they may be a little "extra" - as we all are when missing sleep, but road trips offer new and exciting experiences that can distract from otherwise expected emotional roller coasters.
Your strong sleeper should be just fine leaning into sleep whenever you get where you’re going - as long as a conducive and safe sleep environment is available, and ideally bedtime is extra early to allow their brains to catch up from missed day sleep.
It does help to time driving around sleep when possible to allow for the most important sleep to be happening in a conducive sleep environment. Since night sleep offers the most restorative value, aim to allow your baby to sleep through to their usual morning time and/or make it to your destination in time for an early evening bedtime. Depending on the distance you’re covering in the car, you might also choose to leave after the morning nap to ensure a well rested baby for most of your drive.
To improve your chances of your baby leaning into car seat sleep during their regularly scheduled sleep periods, there are a few things you can do. Consider the environment and make appropriate adaptations.
Darken the backseat by covering windows with towels, blankets, or proper blackout material
Use a portable white noise machine
Bring familiar sleep items such as a pacifier for a younger baby and a lovey for an older baby or toddler
Modifying the sleep environment in the car may be very helpful for some babies and not too impactful for others. It’s absolutely worth the effort, but important to recognize that if sleep is less than ideal, it’s OK.
Having realistic expectations will hopefully allow you to relax and maybe even enjoy your long ride in the car. Your baby’s sleep is likely to be off, and that’s normal and expected. Relax your expectations and recognize that you may simply need to firm up on sleep when your vacation or road trip is over as your baby may have some catching up to do.
If your sweet little baby does not have strong independent sleep skills or typically sleep through the night, read more about my top 5 healthy sleep tips for babies, toddles, and preschoolers.
If you're interested in improving your little one's sleep using a comprehensive, personalized, and evidence based sleep plan along with daily support along the way, schedule a 15 minute discovery call to learn more about working one on one with me today.
Happy driving :)