Traveling with children is never easy, especially when you are traveling long distances across multiple time zones. One of the biggest challenges that parents face is helping their children adjust to a new sleep schedule. Jet lag can leave your child feeling tired, irritable, and even sick. This can be tough not only on the child but also on the parents who have to deal with a cranky child. However, with the right preparation, you can make the transition smoother and reduce the effects of jet lag on your child.
Start Adjusting Sleep Schedule Before You Go:
One of the most effective ways to help your child adjust to a new time zone is to adjust their sleep schedule before you travel. This can be done by slowly shifting their bedtime and wake time a few days before you leave. Aim to adjust your child’s sleep schedule in increments of 30 minutes over several days, so they don’t feel too overwhelmed.
Keep Your Child Comfortable on the Flight:
A long flight can be challenging, but being prepared can make all the difference. Ensure that your child is comfortable by packing their favorite sleep items, such as a blanket or stuffed animal. On the flight, encourage your child to take naps even if it isn’t at their ‘scheduled’ naptime. If possible, try to book a flight that fits your child’s sleep schedule. But…do not book a red eye. While the thought of booking a redeye seems smart, the quality of sleep that your baby would be getting is significantly diminished. I always encourage booking your flights during daytime hours and allowing for decent naps on the plane rather than broken-up nighttime sleep.
Use Natural Light to Get Back on Track:
Once you arrive at your destination, the aim is to get your child’s internal clock back on track as quickly as possible. Natural light plays a crucial role in resetting your child’s body clock. Try to spend time outside during the day, especially during peak daylight hours. This will help to reset their body clock more quickly.
Keep Your Child Hydrated:
Traveling can dehydrate your child, which can exacerbate the effects of jet lag. Ensure that they drink plenty of water during the flight and once you arrive at your destination. Dehydration can lead to fatigue and irritability, so make sure they have access to fluids at all times.
Keep a Flexible Routine:
While having a routine is important when traveling with children, it is also important to be flexible. Your child may need more sleep than usual or may not be able to fall asleep at the usual time. Be patient and allow for changes to your child’s routine until they adjust to the new time zone.
Adjust to the Time Change or Keep Your Current Time Zone:
Adjusting your child’s internal clock to reflect the new time zone is an important part of helping them get the sleep they need. However, if your trip is 5 days or less, reconsider if adjusting their internal clock is worth the effort to bring them back to your home time zone. The average amount of days it takes for someone to adjust to the new time zone is one day for every hour difference. So, with that information in mind, I say to forgo making the change to save yourself the headache when your return home.
Now, if you are going to be gone for an extended period of time, most definitely adjust their internal clock as quickly as possible.
If you have already started adjusting their schedule before you arrive, you are one step ahead! If you haven’t yet, as soon as you arrive at your destination, start following the new time immediately. If that means that you may need to provide an extra nap to bridge the time from afternoon to evening for bedtime, then let them sleep. Aim for 45 minutes to an hour and a half for their nap and make sure there is still enough wake time for them to be able to have enough sleep pressure to fall asleep for bedtime.
Traveling with children is a challenge, but with some preparation, it can be made easier. Adjusting your child’s sleep schedule before you travel and keeping your child comfortable on the flight are two great ways to help them adjust to a new time zone. Once you arrive at your destination, use natural light to get your child’s body clock back on track, keep them hydrated, and be flexible with your routine. By following these tips, you can help your child adjust to a new sleep schedule and reduce the effects of jet lag.