Surviving the Dreaded Baby Jet Lag
I am lucky to have been able to travel quite a bit with my son. But I do feel very unlucky when we travel to different time zones and face… baby jet lag. What’s the point of a vacation if you spend it awake all night with your child?
As it is my son isn’t a great sleeper, so I am doubly motivated to make sure each trip goes as smoothly as possible when it came to sleep. Here are my top tips for minimizing and surviving baby jet lag. Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links to products I use and personally recommend to cope with travel and jet lag with kids.
1. Consider staying on your home schedule if the time difference is small.
If we are travelling to a time zone that is different by 3 hours or less, I tend to keep my son on his home-schedule. This can mean some early breakfasts or late dinners, but it usually works in our favor because he isn’t cranky and his sleep is much more stable than if I tried getting him to bed hours earlier or later than usual.
2. For big time differences, understand the adjustment will happen slowly.
I have found that we need 3 days to get my son mostly comfortable with a new time zone and 5 days before he is completely settled. It is best to help them adapt to a new time zone by gently shifting bedtimes and nap times by an hour or so each day until they are sleeping at appropriate times.
3. Your child will most likely not sleep through the night at first – don’t be surprised.
Even great sleepers are thrown off by time differences. Your child might go down to sleep easily after an exciting day of tourism, but wake up in the middle of the night filled with energy because it is the time they’d normally be awake back home. Allow them to play quietly in the dark or with dim light for the first 1-2 nights as they adjust to sleeping in the new time zone.
4. Be careful with naps.
If your child does not typically nap during the day, avoid daytime naps at your destination because it will make it much harder for them to sleep at night. If your child is younger and still napping, be sure to give them naps during the day. You may want to limit the time of their naps, though. While we were visiting family in the USA (a 12 hour time difference from Hong Kong) my son was taking 2 naps a day. He would have his morning nap and wake on his own. But I found his afternoon nap could drag on for hours if I didn’t wake him, and then it was much harder to get him to sleep at night
5. Allow sleep on the plane.
When I travel on my own, I will make a point of staying awake or sleeping on the plane as a first step towards adjusting to the new time zone. I do not recommend this with children! If you are lucky enough to have your child fall asleep on the plane, in nearly all cases, I would say just let them sleep. I tried keeping my son up on a long haul flight and as a result he was incredibly fussy and unsettled. I was exhausted and frustrated, as were the surrounding passengers. Unless you have a child who is still very pleasant when exhausted, don’t try to get them on the new schedule until you’ve arrived at your destination. To help your child sleep, or sit comfortably on a long-haul flight, I recommend an inflatable pillow like the one below. I put this on the floor between my son’s seat and the seat in front of him so he can keep his legs up, or lay down flat to nap.
6. Use daylight to your advantage.
Daylight is key to adjusting to a new time zone quickly because daylight signals to your body that it is time to be awake. Get your little one outside as much as possible, especially in the morning and late afternoon when they are likely to be particularly drowsy.
7. Encourage eating at mealtimes in the new time zone.
Eating at mealtimes in the local time zone will help you adjust much faster, but it can be difficult to coax an overtired toddler or child into eating. Ensure they at least snack during the local meal times during the first 1-2 days so they can adjust to the schedule at your destination more quickly. By the third day they will most likely be eating on the new schedule.
8. Snacks are ok, and can be a godsend.
Especially the first couple of nights, your little one might wake up hungry. Allow a snack the first night, and a smaller snack the second night, if your child wakes again. By the third night if your child wakes up, try to resettle them without food so they can adjust to sleeping at night in the new time zone. Also, during the day, if you are facing a cranky child, do not underestimate the power of a snack. Sometimes a few puffs go a long way!
9. Invest in a good travel crib/cot.
My son does not sleep well in a unfamiliar places. After sleepless nights in several different cities, I resolved to always carry our Baby Bjorn Travel Crib with us when we travel. It is one more thing to carry, but it makes him much more comfortable. The price is higher than a pack n’ play, but it is much lighter and easier to assemble/ disassemble. And it has the added benefit of knowing that he will always have a clean and safe bed. You would be surprised by the moldy, broken, or generally unsafe cribs we have encountered, even in very nice hotels.
10. The adjustment can be harder once you return home… but your children will eventually sleep normally again!
Unfortunately it is always true for us that it takes my son much longer to adjust back to his normal schedule at home than it took him to adjust to a new schedule while traveling. I am really not sure why this is and no matter how exciting I try to make our days when we get back from a holiday, it usually takes at least a week for normal sleep habits to return. It helps to just accept it and re-adjust to the new time zone slowly. For example, bedtime can be moved an hour earlier or later each day until your child is back to their usual routine.
Have any tips to manage jet lag when traveling with kids? Share in the comments below!
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