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.
Helping babies, toddlers, and kids with jet lag
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.