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Helping Kids Sleep Outside Their Normal

Updated: Jul 15, 2023

Some parents are hesitant to put their child on a sleep schedule because they are afraid it will mean they can't deviate from that schedule. Others love having a schedule and don't dare to deviate from it. While I am a big believer in the power of timing and schedules for babies and young children, I also encourage you not to let it keep you from doing fun things!

You may be wondering, is it bad to let your toddler stay up late? If we're talking every night, then yes. But every once in a while, absolutely not! This past weekend, my husband, Evan, decided to take Gideon (3.5) camping in the backyard for the first time. I knew there was no way he'd go to sleep in the tent at 7:30pm, his normal bedtime. We decided to make a night of it, cooking dinner over the fire, making s'mores, and then Gideon and Daddy sleeping in the tent. We let Phoebe (2) stay up a little later too to enjoy the s'mores and bonfire. She still slept inside in her bed though. Below I'll share my tips for helping your child sleep in a unique environment, like a tent!

How to Camp With a Toddler

Like I said, I knew there was no way he'd go to sleep at his normal bedtime when it was still light out and he was in a completely new environment (a tent!). We also couldn't do his full bedtime routine in a tent. However, we did do as much of it as possible.

Keep a Bedtime Routine

Even in a tent, your child needs some sort of bedtime routine to help him and his body understand that it's time to settle down and go to sleep. Do as much of your normal bedtime routine as possible. We still brushed Gideon's teeth and got him dressed into pajamas before going into the tent. Evan took a few books and a headlamp so that he could still read Gideon some bedtime stories. They were also able to say their prayers before saying good night. It was still most of his normal routine, just done a bit differently.

Keep the Environment as Normal as Possible

This is a tip for how to help your child sleep in a new place anywhere. Make the sleep environment as close to his normal one as possible. Obviously, a tent is very different from his bed indoors. However, Gideon still had his regular pillow, construction blankey, and Mr. Deer with him. These are the same things he usually has in his bed inside. Also, Evan took a sound machine out with them. They initially tried to sleep without it and listen to the sounds of suburban nature. However, when it was after 9:30pm and Gideon still hadn't fallen asleep, Evan turned on the sound machine.

As a side note, my favorite sound machine is the LectroFan Micro2. We have three of them in our house (one in each kid's rooms and one in ours). It is very small and travels well. There is a rechargable battery that can last for up to 40 hours. So, the boys were able to use it all night long in the tent without power. (This has also come in handy when our power goes out during a storm!) The sound machine is also pretty inexpensive compared to others and has lots of great sound and volume options. Not all sound machines are the same. For example, I love the Hatch Rest as a okay-to-wake light, but it's not my favorite option as a sound machine. Therefore, we use the Hatch for light and the Lectro for sound!

Can Toddlers Sleep in Tents?

If you aren't sure how your child will do with something new, like sleeping in a tent, start small. Evan took him camping in the backyard first before going to a park or camping area. We weren't sure if he'd be scared or not want to sleep in the tent. We weren't sure if he'd wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble sleeping. Etc. Etc.

Therefore, camping in the backyard was a good test. That way, if he was scared or woke up in the middle of the night and had trouble sleeping, they could come inside and finish the night in his normal sleep environment.

If you will be going away and your child will need to sleep in a travel crib, like a Pack n' Play, start small. You can set up the Pack n' Play in his room the week before and let him take a few naps in it there. That way, when you go away, he's already comfortable sleeping in it. It'll be much easier to deal with him getting used to it at home, than it will be in a new environment. Whatever new scenario you will need to put your child in, find a way to start small first.

Gideon's Camping Experience

For the record, Gideon wasn't scared at all; he loved the experience! We had some issues getting our tent together (Evan had to rethread the poles), so they didn't even get settled in until about 9:00pm. Gideon didn't go to sleep until almost 10:00pm. He then slept all night until 6:30am! That was obviously a much shorter night that usual, so we altered his schedule a bit the next couple of days to help him catch up. I previously shared schedule tips for when your child stays up later than usual for a special event in my post, Staying Up Late for Fireworks. Check that out for more details!


Timing and schedules are certainly important for babies and young children. However, you shouldn't let that keep you from living and enjoying life together! Keep in mind the 80/20 rule: Stay on schedule 80% of the time, then you'll be able to go off schedule the other 20% and still bounce back quickly! What's your favorite activity to do with your littles?

~Ashley Bell, pediatric sleep consultant

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