Jet lag sucks. It just does. Nothing ruins a first day of vacation quicker than walking around in a sleep-deprived haze, falling fast asleep at the dinner table, and then waking at 3AM more hungry than you’ve ever been in your life. It can wreak havoc with anyone, but it can be especially difficult for babies, toddlers, and kids to deal with – and in turn that can make things even harder on you! I travel enough with my kids that I have dealt with jet lag in numerous countries, and I’ve picked up some tricks along the way to make things a little bit easier. Read ahead for tips on helping babies, toddlers, and kids with jet lag, including jet lag remedies and jet lag prevention.
Jet lag prevention; prepare in advance
There are a few things you can do before the flight to make jet lag easier on the little ones. When booking the flight, I find that day time flights usually minimize jet lag the most; overnight flights often disrupt sleep and you can arrive in a new place in the early hours of the morning with a long day ahead of you, running on little or no sleep. Similarly, I avoid early morning or very late flights as much as possible for the same reason.
When the flight approaches, try to keep your kids on schedule as much as possible, and aim for a good nights sleep the night before (often easier said than done with some little ones, obviously!) Make sure they get a good breakfast and are properly hydrated before the flight itself.
Be sure to pack bottles and snacks so they’re not hungry, and whatever they might need to get a good nap in on the plane (read this post for my complete diaper bag checklist for plane travel.)
Start with the flight itself
As soon as I get on the plane, I change my watch (I’m probably the only person out there to still wear a watch!) to the time at the destination, and then I try to adjust my schedule during the flight to what it will be wherever I’m going.
I try to do the same with my little ones, but with some flexibility – I’m not going to skip a nap because it should have already happened according to the new time zone! I will try to push a nap a little further back maybe, or bring a meal time forward if I can do so, and it helps with the transition upon arrival.
Dehydration is a major cause of jet lag, so make sure everyone gets plenty to drink. Whether breastfeeding or formula feeding, pack an extra bottle or two in case baby is more thirsty than usual (and if you are breastfeeding, make sure you stay hydrated as well so that your milk supply is not affected.)
Encourage kids to drink a cup of water every hour to replenish their system, and try to avoid caffeinated drinks like Coke as much as possible. Read more about why it’s so important to stay hydrated when flying while breastfeeding.
Jet lag remedies: try to get back into a routine
When we arrive at our destination, I try to get my little ones back into a routine as quickly as possible. This might not necessarily mean that the timings of feeds, naps, etc, are perfect, but I do try to get the actual routine back to normal.
My baby currently takes two long naps in the morning and afternoon, so even if the times are a little off, I will still put him down twice during that first day. If he eats every three hours, then I will continue to feed him every three hours, even if the times of the feeds are off. I find that it’s easier to adjust the times to fit in with the local time if the actual routine itself is what they are used to.
We recently arrived in England at 7AM, having come from New York on a six hour flight. The time difference was +5 hours, so we landed in what were the very early hours of the morning for us. The flight had been short, so we hadn’t slept much, and there was no way we were getting through that first day with no naps!
If kids are tired and cranky and generally falling apart, let them nap – but keep it short. If you plan to nap with them, set an alarm so that you don’t find yourselves all waking up six hours later with no idea what happened! An hour or two at the most should be enough to make it through until bedtime on the local time.
Get outdoors as much as possible
Two of the best cures for jet lag are sunlight and oxygen – so get outdoors and into the fresh air as much as you can! Plan for your first day to include as much outdoor activity as possible; go sightseeing, take walks, visit a local beach – just do something to keep yourself outside and moving around.
Put baby in a stroller or baby carrier if you need to, so they can take the naps they’re used to, but encourage older kids and toddlers who no longer nap to walk around as much as they can.
This will also help you to get to know the area you are visiting as quickly as possible – which will come in handy with my next tip!
No matter how well prepared you are to deal with jet lag, it is inevitable that everyone is going to feel at least some of the effects.
Plan in advance for this! You might find your kids wake up at weird hours of the night absolutely starving because their body clocks are off, or they might all fall fast asleep at 6PM, forcing dinner plans to change.
I always pack a ton of snacks whenever we travel so that, if my son wakes up at 2AM demanding food, I have something I can give him just to keep him going until breakfast. I also always try to pick a hotel with a restaurant inside of it, or preferably one with room service, so that we have food options if it turns out we have to take it in turns to get dinner.
I also look at restaurants and grocery stores in the local area that might be useful if we end up being up and ready for breakfast at some crazy hour. Knowing that you have options in case the kids body clocks are completely screwed up makes it much less stressful.
Keep plans for your first day flexible, in case jet lag hits harder than you anticipate it will. Have a plan in place, but don’t book anything that can’t be rescheduled if it turns out someone falls asleep at an inconvenient time, and don’t plan on anything that first day that you have your heart set on in case it doesn’t happen.
Let bedtimes and meal times be a bit flexible, and know that everyone might be up the following day a lot earlier than they usually are. If a baby normally sleeps through the night but is suddenly awake and hungry multiple times, know that it will most likely be a temporary one or two night thing – no need to panic that all of your hard work on their sleep routine has been ruined!
Above all, relax – jet lag is temporary and soon enough, everyone will feel back to normal.
Sunday 31st of March 2019
Hi Thanks for such a helpful site! We are travelling with our 11 month old to the uk in a few days leaving canada at 10.30 PM . My babys normal bedtime is 7.30pm. It's a 7 hour flight landing in the uk at 10.30 am local time which is 5.30am canada time.( 5hr diff) My baby still has 2 naps a day with the last one finishing at 4pm. I am considering putting him down as if bedtime at 7pm just for an hour to get him through security and boarding etc. He will then have about 3hrs awake before hopefully he sleeps on the plane...do you think this is a good idea? I am concerned he might only get 5.5hrs sleep on the plane overnight....
Monday 1st of April 2019
Hmmm, I think that might work, but you know your baby best. We traveled to the UK when my youngest was 8 months old, and our flight left NYC at 10.30pm (he usually goes to bed at 6pm) - we had planned to let him sleep for an hour or two before the flight, but with the bustle of the airport, he couldn't settle and ended up staying awake until the flight. He fell asleep on take off, but I will say he was very fussy as we boarded and as we waited to take off. If you think your little one will stay awake without getting overtired, that might be better since he can then sleep (hopefully!) for the whole flight. But if you think that's going to be too much for him, I think your plan sounds like a good one. Good luck, and have a fantastic time in England!
Wednesday 22nd of February 2017
This is very helpful. We are heading to France on Monday with our 7 month old. So worried about the 7 hour time change!
Thursday 23rd of February 2017
How exciting! Honestly, babies adapt so much better to time changes than we do, your little one will be used to the time change before you guys are! Have a wonderful time!
Laura @ Our Next Adventure
Thursday 22nd of December 2016
Great tips. We're planning a trip to Italy in the spring and I'm so worried our toddler daughter is going to be all out of whack! Short naps is a great idea!
Saturday 24th of December 2016
You know, kids really do deal better with jet lag than adults - my sons bounce back much quicker than I do! Have a wonderful time in Italy, I'm very jealous!
Saturday 17th of December 2016
Just one rip to add, if you've done all the prep and are staying with family, don't let well meaning family turn off your alarm to "let you sleep in." It can literally throw all your preparation down the drain! (I speak from recent experience 😣) Once our clocks were off that first day, it was so much harder to get on track with local time and we missed out on so much that we had planned. Still made the best of our trip and are super appreciative of the open door, just make sure whoever else is around is well aware of your jet lag combat plan ahead of time!
Sunday 18th of December 2016
Oh my goodness! Yes, I can definitely see this being done with my family - I'll e sure to communicate all plans ahead of time!