In our experience, jet lag with kids can really hinder the first days of a new adventure. Jet lag kids or a jet lag baby is no fun on either end of a trip. A few of the most common symptoms of jet lag kids are:
Difficulty initiating sleep in the new time zone (going east)
Fractured sleep patterns.
Increased fatigue and irritability.
Lack of interest in food.
Altered bowel habit.
All of these symptoms can be lessoned, mitigated or avoided all together by preparing for jet lag properly. In the past, we have spent days upon days living with no sleep, trying to enjoy ourselves in a new country, but failing miserably. We have also arrived at a destination 8 hours ahead of our normal time zone with no jet lag at all -- a miracle! Through trial and error, we have found 5 of the best ways to help overcome jet-lag in kids.
Here are the Best Ways to Overcome Jetlag in Babies and Toddlers
1) Choose the flight schedule that is going to allow you to keep your basic schedule. For instance, when traveling from Florida, USA to Milan, Italy -- we chose an evening flight. This allowed our family to rest while in flight. However, it did push the kids bedtime back by several hours. Originally I was worried, but it ended up being a great start to the transition. When we arrived to Amsterdam, it was mid morning local time. We had a layover followed by a short flight and a short train ride. By the time we arrived at our Airbnb, it was evening. We unloaded our stuff, ate dinner and put the kids to bed around 7PM local time, which is their normal routine at home. They slept through the night from day 1. (Ages 17 months and almost 3 years) **For an East to West time change, we prefer to take an earlier flight (morning), so that we arrive in the afternoon or evening when everyone is tired -- making the timezone transition much easier. Child jet lag when returning home can last a bit longer due to the daytime arrival, however it can still be lessened.
2) Play ALL day prior to leaving. For a West to East transition, this has proved amazing. Prior to the previously mentioned trip, my husband took the kids to the park two times during the day before we left for the airport. They played so hard, took their usual nap, then went back and played again. They were exhausted, but not miserable in the airport. This facilitated them sleeping amazingly on the plane. ***For a morning flight, we let the kids run and play inside the terminal. While we don't have as much play time, waking up early wears them out.
3) Keep the routine. We are all about an evening routine. While we are open to changing it occasionally, our kids are used to dinner, bath, then heading toward their bed at 7pm. So, why would we change it for a flight? On a West to East long haul, we typically wait for the dinner service, then "bathe" them with body wipes, put everyone in PJs, set up their beds and put them to sleep. On an East to West, we keep our typical nap routine during flight.
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4) Get comfortable. We have tried two sleep configurations on long hauls; the "bunk bed" and the inflatable travel pillows. We were never able to get our toddler to sleep in the bunk bed configuration, but the baby slept like a dream. This trip was the worst jet lag we have experienced and took us at least 5 days after we arrived for the kids to adjust. Additionally, this configuration is not safe and we don't recommend it. The best sleep configuration we have found is to use the inflatable travel pillows to get your little ones to sleep comfortably. We inflated one for each kid to extend their seat which gave them each enough space to lay down flat. We did our normal routine for each kid and our almost 3 year old slept 6 hours straight while the baby slept about 5.5 hours straight. It was a huge win. I highly recommend any parent flying with kids to invest in one of these pillows.
5) Supplement. Prior to leaving I stocked our family up on Immupro -- an all natural supplement made by Young Living. "ImmuPro provides zinc and selenium for proper immune function along with other chelated minerals which emerging science suggests are more easily absorbed by the body. It also delivers melatonin which encourages restful sleep by promoting the body's natural sleep rhythm." (Young Living Website) We absolutely LOVE Immupro. For the adults, we take one whole one at night. For the kids, we do 1/4 tablet for our son and 1/2 for our daughter. We supplement with melatonin for kids (Immupro) the first few days while everyone is adjusting.
If you still find yourself in the throws of jet lag kids, here are several ways to help.
Keep the lights dim or off for middle of the night wakings
Keep the stimulation at night minimal
Move the schedule day by day instead of huge leaps. (i.e. Day 1: bedtime at 5 pm, Day 2: bedtime at 6 pm, etc)
Minimize naps -- our baby wanted to sleep 12 hours a day in his carrier on his first overseas trip, so we had to consciously put him in the stroller and keep him awake to help him adjust.
Keep everyone very hydrated
Make the best of early wakings -- be the first to tourist attractions or photo opportunities
Be willing to change your plans to accommodate an overly tired child. We have canceled entire excursions to be sure our kids were feeling their best. It can be hard, but the rest of the trip will suffer if they are constantly tired. We found the best park in Prague by changing our plans and in the end, it was beneficial to all of us.
Like everything that comes with parenting, each child is different. Each situation is different. The best way to overcome jet lag is to take it one day at a time. It is temporary. The general rule is it takes as many days to adjust as time zones you've traveled, so 8 hour time difference means a full 8 days before the average person is adjusted. Expect the average and take steps to minimize if possible. Remember, a jet lag child is a normal part of the family travel experience!
As always, we love to hear your tips and tricks for minimizing jet lag!
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