Juggling Jet Lag

So you’re traveling again... It’s been so long you probably forgot what to do right?

And on top of it all, you are doing it with your kids. Yay!

Traveling with kids is not for the faint of heart but we’re not going to stay chained to our homes for five or six years waiting for our babies to reach an age where they’ll be more conveniently portable, especially when we have been stuck at home for the last year already. We’ve got a world to explore and our babies are coming with us.

But before you adventure out, I want to make sure you’re armed with all the information you need to maintain those sleep skills you’ve been working so hard to develop.

If we’re crossing time zones, how do we deal with the inevitable complication of jet lag in our babies?

1. Avoid the Red-Eye

Some of us like to envision this scenario where we jump on the plane when baby’s already asleep, and they just magically sleep through the entire flight, arriving fresh and rested and ready for the upcoming adventure. While this is possible, I’m guessing unlikely. It’s much more likely that you’re both going to have an awful night and arrive frazzled and seriously overtired. Catch a daytime flight and hope for a decent nap or two on the way. You’re all going to arrive with a bit of a sleep debt anyways, since motion sleep isn’t nearly as restful as what we’re used to, but that can actually help you get your baby adjusted to the new schedule.

2. Travel Prepared

Given the special circumstances surrounding travel, it may be beneficial to loosen up on some rules. If they want to watch two straight hours of Blippi, I say go for it (so long as they have headphones, right?). Be sure to pack your carry-on with new to them toys, snacks, books, and portable battery chargers, and whatever they ask for, hand it over. You may want to slow your roll however when it comes to loads sugary snacks during the trip because it’s just going to result in a big crash when she comes down from that high, and that’s going to make sleep that much harder. Instead offer her plenty of fruits and vegetables, and make sure you keep her hydrated. It’s probably going to mean a bunch of potty breaks, but trust me, it will help her body adjust. Jet lag symptoms go way beyond sleep. Constipation and diarrhea are two of the most common so maintaining proper hydration is crucial.

3. Should you Change the Schedule?

If you’re traveling for less than five days, it’s probably not worth making adjustments to baby’s bedtime regardless of the time difference. Experts say that jet lag lasts, on average, for about a day for every hour of time change, so if you’re taking a four day trip and you’re looking at a six-hour time change, it’s hardly worth getting baby fully adjusted to the difference just to turn around and have to do it all over again once you get home. If, however, you’re going to be gone for longer than five days, then you’ll want to adjust to the new time zone as quickly as possible. Luckily, our bodies have an inherent ability to adapt to new time zones based on the light/dark cycle, so you’ll have nature working on your side. So yeah, night one, straight into the new time zone.

4. Consistency and Predictability.

A predictable bedtime routine sends signals to the brain that sleep is just over the horizon, so the brain can start preparing for it by firing up the melatonin production, relaxing the muscles, and slowing down mental activity. So whatever your baby’s bedtime routine is at home, stick to it as closely as you can. Black out any external light sources two hours before baby’s bedtime by turning down the lights and making the bedroom dark. I always bring some black trash bags and painters tape when I travel in case I need to make some make shift black out curtains. A completely dark room is one of the best tools you’ve got for helping them get to sleep and stay asleep.

jet lag, child sleep

5. Here Comes the Sun.

As much as we don’t want any sunlight getting in the room while baby’s trying to sleep, we do want it soon after the night ends. Getting an adequate amount of sunlight during the day (especially in the morning) charges up our melatonin production and helps get the circadian rhythm adjusted quickly to the new time zone, so getting outdoors during the day will work wonders in helping baby sleep well at night.

6. Add an extra nap.

Even in the best case scenario, baby’s still going to be needing a little more sleep once you get where you’re going, so an extra nap of somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour and a half, can really help counteract the overtiredness that comes after a long flight. Just remember to leave enough space between waking up from her last nap and bedtime so that there’s time for fatigue to build up to rest at bedtime. Let’s say you’ve got an 8 month-old and your usual bedtime is 8:00. You’ll want to get her up from her last nap of the day by no later than 5:00 so she’s sleepy enough to go down for the night once bedtime comes around.

7. Same Same but Different

Remember to pack baby’s favorite PJs, lovie, blanket, pillow, and so on. Once baby’s asleep, it will help them to stay that way if their surroundings are similar to the ones they’re used to. And if you don’t usually share a bed with your little one, don’t start now. Let me say it again for those in the back... Do not bed share while you’re traveling unless you want to bed share when you get home as well. If your baby gets comfortable with bed sharing while on vacation, there is a strong chance they are going to want it to continue at home.

8. Keep Calm and Vacation On.

Nobody thrives when they’re sleep deprived, and kids are no different. We’re all going to be a little grumpy and short-tempered once that plane lands, so try to be patient if your child has more meltdowns than usual. She is likely overtired and possibly overstimulated from the adventure. As I mentioned earlier, it takes about a day to adjust for every hour of time difference, so it’s going to require patience and consistency on your part to get them over the hump as soon as possible. Keeping your cool will help your child adjust quicker, and the sooner you’re all accustomed to the new time zone, the sooner you can all get on with enjoying your trip.

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