Let’s talk about sleep. To be specific toddler sleep while camping. The big concern is that going away for a weekend or more will mean sleepless nights as you try to enjoy the great outdoors. I am going to preface this by saying that it is not always easy to get your kids to sleep well while camping. It often gets easier the more your kids get used to sleeping in a tent or a trailer but expect to be tired and if you are struggling adhere to tip #9. That is honestly how we survive long camping trips. Our kids sometimes sleep extremely well while other nights it is absolutely terrible. I wish I could offer a magical solution to get your child to sleep while camping. If I happen upon a magic wand that sprinkles sleep dust that puts my children in a deep sleep I will let you know. However here are some suggestions and tips in the meantime:
Do the same bedtime routine that you do at home while camping. If you have a snack, brush teeth, get into pajamas and read books at home then have a snack, brush teeth, get into pajamas while camping. The first night take your time with the routine. We have found the first night to be the hardest and consecutive nights become easier as they get used to camping. We have been able to shorten the routine and mix it up as our kids are getting used to the camping. If you are unable to do part of the routine like a bath tell your child that is something we are not going to do and plan something else instead like a nice face wash. (Or just pretend the face wash is a bath!)
2. Favourite Stuffy and Blankets: Bring your child’s favourite stuffy and blanket for sleeping. They will be happy to have some familiarity on the camping trip and hopefully the items will make it easier for them to sleep.
Be flexible with bedtime. If your little one is used to going to bed at 7:30 pm they might not be going to bed until 9 pm because things just take longer while camping. Hopefully they will fall asleep right away and make it easier on you.
Be prepared to cuddle a little more than usual at bedtime especially the first few nights as they get comfortable with the new space. Spending the time holding their hand as they fall asleep might feel like an eternity but could help them feel better throughout the night. Our oldest needs that assurance while camping but does not need that at home. When we take that extra time she has a better sleep.
Create a Nook
From talking with other parents and from my own experience some toddlers need space when they are sleeping. If they happen to see you sleeping beside them in the early morning they tend to perk up and are ready to start their day at 5:00 am!!! Who wants that? NOBODY!!! If you are able to fit a play pen in the tent or some sort of sleeping bed, then you can try to drape a blanket down the side to keep them from seeing you as they become restless in the early morning. Hopefully they will fall back asleep.
Lock out the light
When camping in a tent, especially in the summer, it becomes light out really early in the morning. This means that your little camper is up early with the sunrise. Similar to the nook try to find a way to safely drape a blanket over part of the sleeping area so that the sleeping nook stays a little bit darker. In the below picture we used to drape a light blanket over the top half of the tent to keep it darker around her head. In our VW van we have black out curtains which are amazing. Now that our kids are more comfortable in the van they often sleep untill 830 or 9!! While this seems perfect I will add that this is usually after a later bedtime around 9. As well after about 6 am I am cuddling in the pop top with our youngest and my husband has gone to the bottom bunk and is cuddling with our 3 year old on the bottom bed.
It is often tough but the first night or two you will need to help teach them how to sleep in the tent. Different kids need to be taught in different ways. My first daughter had to belt out and scream for 5 minutes and then she would zonk and sleep 12 hours. I sometimes felt bad for the campsite but then it was either that or have a restless sleep throughout the night. My youngest is completely different She needs tons of cuddles to sleep well at bedtime. If she sees me as she falls asleep she is a happy camper.
Back to Bed
If your kids wake up throughout the night use all your tricks to put them back to bed. Sometimes nights on the go are just rough and you need to do what you have to do. Still breastfeeding your toddler? Then breastfeed with your toddler lying down and try cuddling them back to sleep. They need a cuddle to fall back asleep then put them back to sleep with a nice cuddle. When our toddler wakes up at 430 am we have to send one of us to cuddle with her until a more reasonable wake up time. We make sure we have the beds set up comfortably for ourselves in case we need she needs comforting. That way we can get some sleep as well even if it is a bit uncomfortable!
Go to bed with the kids
This is really how we have survived camping for long periods. If our kids go to bed at 9 then we go to bed at 930. The nights are so unpredictable that in order to enjoy the camping experience we have found that going to bed early really helps keep us happy and healthy. Of course we have the odd night where we sneak out of the tent or our VW van and hang out by the fire. However the majority of the time we are so exhausted that we read with a flashlight and then fall asleep 30 minutes later.
Any other suggestions!!! Please comment as parents always love to hear what worked and what did not work while camping.
Note: I am not a sleeping expert and so use any of these suggestions at your own risk. This was written from my own personal experience and from listening to other camping parents experiences.