You’re visiting the Bristol branch of Little Dreams. Click here to view the main site.

How to manage sleep flying long haul

Share This Post

Flying even the shortest flight with little ones can feel daunting… will they sleep? What if they just cry for the whole flight? How do I get them to sleep on the flight? What happens if they won’t sleep in their new time zone?!

So flying long-haul can feel even more overwhelming! Fear not, I have some top tips for you based on my own experience of flying to New Zealand with my 2 children, who at the time were 4 and 1 years old, and I can assure you that things might not be as hard as you imagine!

Flying long haul with babies:

Take off/landing:

It’s a good idea to feed your little one if they are still having milk during take off and landing. It can help to equalise the pressure they may experience in their ears which can be painful and often distressing.

Book a bassinet:

If your little one is under the weight limit (all airlines vary slightly on this) then I definitely recommend booking one! This will ensure your little one has a dedicated sleep space and also means that you have your hands free to manage any other children you may have with you.

If on solids:

Take lots of pouches/things you know they like and that are easy to feed them. There is very little room on a flight and obviously no high chairs so make life easy for yourself and come prepared! We also found that the mealtimes didn’t necessarily fit with my little one’s schedule and waiting for food to be served when he was hungry would have been pretty desperate for all involved!


During the flight, it may be tempting to let your little one sleep for longer than they usually do (which is fine if it is a night flight but becomes a little problematic if they then take extra long naps meaning they aren’t quite tired enough to go to sleep when it’s night time (and the cabin crew turn off the lights)!! So try to keep them on their normal schedule.

Flying long haul with children:

Footwell bed:

It may be tempting to reduce the costs of a long haul flight by not booking your child their own seat (if they are under the age where seats are mandatory – usually around 2 years old). My advice?? Book one (unless you manage to get the bassinet in which case you may not need one). You really don’t want a 2 year old sat on your lap, sleeping, eating and playing, on you for the entire flight! Giving them their own seat gives you all a little more freedom (and space)! You may have seen there are cushions which are inflatable and fill the footwell void available on the market. We got one for our 5 year old and it was a godsend!! It meant that when she slept, she could curl up with her legs up rather than having to sit up to sleep. Beware though, not all airlines allow them so do be sure to check. You can improvise though – put your hang luggage in the footwell to help raise their legs off the floor completely which will be much more comfortable for them.


Similarly to babies and toddlers, ensure you take lots of snacks on the plane. Not only will these be vital if the mealtimes don’t quite fit with your schedule, but they also kill some time and provide a little distraction!

Top tips for all aged children on long haul flights:

Comfort items:

Ensure you take your child’s comfort items on the flight (favourite blankets and teddy, comforters, pj’s and, if your little one uses them, lots of dummy’s)! It will really help your little one to sleep if they are surrounded by things that are familiar to them which they associate with sleep.  

Time it right

If your flight is due to land in the evening (local time) then try to keep your little one awake for their usual awake window before landing so that you can put them to bed at the new bedtime. If your little one is no longer napping but has a little sleep on the plane, try to ensure they are awake for the last 5-6 hours of the flight to give their bodies enough time to be ready for sleep in the evening. This works the same vice versa, for instance if your flight lands in the morning, try to get your little to sleep for a good chunk towards the end of the flight so that they are ready for some exploring once you arrive!

Divide and conquer!

If there are 2 adults on the flight, and there are 2 children, try taking responsibility for one child each (if one is older and quite happy to watch films and pretty much entertain themselves, then take turns swapping the younger child so the other person can have a break every now and again). Similarly, if you are travelling with just one child, try to take it in turns to be on ‘duty’.

When you arrive at your destination:

Fresh air and sunlight:

Make sure you get outside for lots of fresh air and sunlight once you arrive (unless it is the evening of course in which case as per the above you will have kept your little one awake long enough to ensure they are tired enough for bedtime in their new time zone). Fresh air and sunlight are the best regulators of our circadian rhythm so are absolutely key in getting your little one’s body clock in sync with their new surroundings. Try to keep the last hour or 2 before bedtime nice and relaxing though, inside with dim lighting to allow their body to start to produce melatonin – the sleepy hormone.   

Set your wake-up time:

Try your best to set a wake-up time in the morning and stick to it. Even if your little one (or you for that matter) have had an awful night’s sleep adjusting to the new time zone, try not to lie in the next day as it will become a bit of a vicious cycle and your body clocks will take much longer to adjust.

And finally – enjoy!!

Holidays are all about relaxing, exploring, taking your foot off the gas and going with the flow a bit – away from the chaos of day to day life. Remember, even if sleep goes way off track during your holiday, just go back to your normal routine when you get home – consistency will be key and your little one should quickly re-adjust.

As always, if you’re experiencing any problems with your little ones sleep, please do get in touch for a free 15 minute chat – We would love to help!

You may also like