Getting Kids to Sleep during Plane Trip

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Getting a toddler to sleep on the plane

August 2004

We are flying back East with my 18 month old at the beginning of August on a non-stop flight. When we took this same flight in May, my then-15 month old, who always sleeps on the plane, and who usually takes a 3 hour nap, slept all of 20 minutes. And the flight was during her usual nap time! Needless to say, she was overtired and wired by the end of the flight (and I was exhausted). The return flight, I managed to get her to sleep for an hour by holding her while she slept.

My daughter is extremely active so being couped up for 6 hours is challenging as it is. We've tried Benadryl and that just hypes her up. Does anyone have any suggestions as to how I can get her to sleep on the plane? We have a seat for her but are not taking her car seat since she won't sit in it anyway. We're going to go the DVD route but I still want her to sleep so she isn't so crazed by the end of the flight. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated. We leave Aug. 2. shari

Try passionflower, either in tincture or, if you can get them, fresh flowers (and your little one would get to eat the flowers...not more than 2, spaced out through the flight, should bring on a delightful drowsiness...the flowers are sweet tasting). Anon

I've beem reading all of the posts about how to deal with children on ariplane trips I can't help but wonder if anyone is struck, as I am, by the fact that what we are talking about, and what people are recommending is drugging a normal, healthy child so they will behave in a way that is not normal, for convenience. I have travelled with my kids from 2 months old to 14 both on airplanes and by car and I can tell you that I would rather drive 5 hours to LA with them than fly for one hour. Flying ! is with small children is stressful. For me the most stressful part was that I was sitting only inches away from complete strangers, knowing that if my child screeched, or moved too much it would certainly disturb them. Sure, I want to sit back and chill, read, sleep just like anyone else, but I know going in to the trip that I can't. I would not drug my child in order to enjoy my flight. I can see being tempted to avoid the stress of being in close quarters with annoyed strangers. But, given the choice, I think I'd rather be around annoyed strangers than drug my child for them. Even if it is a one time, or rare occasion. Fortunately this was not even suggested when my kids were little. I've never recommendations to drug children (with drugs not intended for that use by the way) on long car trips, or lengthy dinners with guests, or to eat out at a fancy restaurant or getting them to sleep all night. Is that next? And then what? Just say no.

Ensuring 18-mo-old twins sleep on the plane

June 2004

We have 18 mo twin boys. We have tried both Benadryl and Dimetap to help them sleep on long plane rides. Benadryl had the opposite effect -- they were wired the entire trip, until about 2 am. Dimetap didn't appear to have any effect at all. We will be traveling abroad in August and are in dire need of a way to ensure their sleep during the trip. Thanks.

Whenever I give my daughter Motrin (although I give it for pain or teething) it puts her right to sleep. Other friends agree with me. Maybe its worth a shot? anon

East Coast trips - fly during the day or overnight?

Jan 2003

Hi, I checked the archives but didn't see advice about when to schedule flights to/from NYC (or East Coast in general). We have an active 18-mo-old who regularly naps solidly in the afternoon, sleeps well through the night and is generally pretty adaptable to changes in nap/bedtimes. Part of me wants to take a redeye to minimize ''awake time'' on the plane, but that means arriving in NYC at 6:00 am EST, which is 3:00 am PST, and I expect he would wake up through the arrival and rental car check- in. If we flew at 8:30 am, we'll arrive at 5:30 pm EST and I'm not sure he'll nap on the plane, though we'll have to wake him up two hours earlier than normal to catch the flight -- so maybe he will nap enroute. Does anyone have strong opinions about flying during the day outbound and returning at night inbound, or vice-versa? Also, we're in NYC for four days -- adapt to the time change or not? Many thanks. Noreen

We fly east every summer. We tried the redeye. It was awful. No one slept, and the day we hoped to save was spent in tears and crankiness. But maybe that's just us -- Chris

We were in a similar position regarding flying east and back with our active 20 month old. We opted for flying on the red eye to the east and taking a 5:30 pm flight on the way back. We did this at Christmas (a two week trip) and in October (a five day jaunt) when he was about 18 months. In both cases, it worked great.

The flight out was hardest in that he was up way past his bed time enjoying the scene at the airport. He got a little cranky when our flight out was later than expected, but fell asleep pretty quickly on the plane and slept to landing. He was awake through car rental and the trip to our final destination, but we put him down to nap at his regular time and then to bed at his regular hour. We did not keep him on west coast time and he had no problems.

Coming back, he was awake on the plane through dinner until about his 8 pm bed time when he fell asleep. He woke when we landed until we got home and then we just put him in his crib. He went right to sleep and woke up at his usual hour west coast time. He had no trouble adapting to west coast time and we just resumed the routine we had before we left.

I guess the moral of the story is that my toddler seemed comfortable sleeping on the plane and had no trouble switching time zones. I wish I could have said the same for his parents! Margaret

We haven't tried a red-eye flight with our young ones yet, but they did pretty well on several plane trips. Especially in their own car seats which they can nap in pretty well. We usually picked flights that wouldn't have us get them out of bed too early, and then we'd arrive east sometime around dinner time.

As for adjusting to the time change or not, I'd suggest splitting the difference. When traveling almost invariably dining out, or visiting with friends/relatives will lead to a later bed time. Our kids go to be at 8 in CA, so we would put them to be around 9:30 or so on the east coast. They fell asleep just fine, and it was a little closer to our bedtimes too which is helpful if you are sharing a hotel room or something! Mike

We haven't tried catching a really early flight to the east coast with our 15-month-old twins; it was hard enough making that flight when it was just two adults! (we used to regularly take a 8 am flight from SFO to Newark.) We've been choosing a midday flight so far, around 11:30 am or noon. This gets us into Newark at 7:30 - 8 pm, so the kids aren't too tired yet, which I think is good. Trying to get off the plane and to your final destination when kids are tired and cranky is not pleasant.

When we returned from our last trip (at Thanksgiving), I booked a 6:15 pm flight from Newark, mainly because it was the only one with a reasonable price. I also thought it might be good because the kids would be hitting their bedtime and sleep through much of it. I was wrong. They were tired, yes, but never went to sleep. I think it was just too late to get started and it rubbed them the wrong way. They were awake, cranky and crying through much of the flight. Next time we will book a midday flight home as well.

Regarding the time change, we didn't try to convert them, and they basically stayed close to west coast time, but probably shifted about an hour or so toward east coast time. We were there for a week. I guess some kids convert much more quickly but ours did not. Lisa

I don't have any specific advice about flight times. We've always flown middle of the day, and our son usually takes a shorter-than-normal nap on the flight. But what I wanted to say was definitely keep him on West Coast time! That way you can sleep in, and then go out to dinner with your child instead of needing a sitter or being cooped up in the hotel. We just went to NYC in November and that system worked great for us. Have fun! Catherine

I have a 20-month old, who, like your son, is a pretty good sleeper. We have traveled many times with her to the East Coast. My advice: don't take the red-eye! The kids don't sleep well with that much excitement, meaning that you will all be off- schedule and cranky for the first day of your trip. Take the morning flight, and hope that he sleeps. Our daughter generally takes about a 45 minute nap on the plane(less than the usual 11/2 hours), and she takes it a little later than usual. (Bring the blankie, etc, in the carry-on -- I do this anyway in case of lost luggage, which has happened several times, to help him nap.) Put him to bed shortly after arriving, which, once you are settled, will be about the right time according to the CA clock. We always keep our daughter on CA time -- for vacations it works out well: you get up a little later, nap a little later (making outings easier), and go to bed later (making going out to dinner easier). After about 10 days, she starts to adjust, because of the light, etc, but I think for 4 days, your son won't even notice. Have a good trip. Melissa T

For what it's worth, I think flying in the morning is much easier. But neither of my children (now 3 1/2 and 14 months) has ever slept much on airplanes! I would personally not schedule a redeye unless I was sure that my baby would sleep. Otherwise you'll be up all night with the baby, and spend your whole time worrying whether the baby is keeping other people awake. During the morning both you and the baby will be fresher and it will be easier to deal with a toddler who would rather be running and climbing than staying still in an airplane seat. This has been true for us even if we had to get up early (the coffee, for me, and the added excitement, for the baby, was enough to get us going).

However, on the way back it might be easier to return in the late afternoon. The baby will be tired, but will be forced to stay up later (to a Pacific Coast as opposed to East Coast bedtime) which will help him adjust back to Pacific time. However, in only four days he probably won't adjust much in time. When we fly east, I always try to adjust the schedule gradually in advance a few days before we leave (15-30 minutes change/day). That way my kids aren't staying up until 11 p.m. after we arrive! But they don't usually adjust completely -- just a hour or two. The baby adjusts more, because he is more sensitive to sun time than my preschooler is. Have a fun trip! Stephanie

If I were you, I wouldn't even consider taking the red-eye--it will be miserable and you will all be horribly jet-lagged. There's this misperception that flying overnight saves you a day, but in fact, the day you arrive on the east coast you will be too tired to do anything anyway.

Our son normally naps in the afternoon. On the plane to the east coast, he didn't nap at all, which was a bit tiresome (we had to read him books pretty much nonstop for 5-1/2 hours) but actually worked out fine, because then he was ready to go to sleep for the night earlier than usual, which helped to get him onto east coast time.

We've had other trips where he stayed on California time on the east coast, and that was ok, too; it left more time in the evenings for him to play with his relatives, and meant that we could all sleep late in the morning, which was nice! If we had been planning a lot of early-morning activities, we might have tried harder to get him onto east coast time. Nomi

How well do YOU sleep on planes? THe biggest problem for me with redeyes was that I couldn't get nearly enough sleep to function the next day, whereas my son was happy as a clam from all the aleep he got and needed us to be awake and able to care for him after we arrived. Traveling during the daytime hours may be a bit more tiring for you in terms of meeting the needs of your child during the flight, but at least you will get a full night's sleep at the end of the day. And I bet he will nap on the plane. THe sound of the engines and the vibrations of the plane seem soothing to many babies. In terms of the time change, you are probabl;y better of keeping him on West Coast time for the trip with such a short stay. It always took my son a few days to adjust, which would mean a few days after returning too. Jen