Kids and jet lag: What I’ve learned

Posted by Stacy Baas on April 21, 2017 0 Comments

So you’ve got a trip coming up that involves a big shift in time zones. Maybe you’re going from West Coast to East Coast, or East Coast to Hawaii, or even visiting another continent.

We’ve been lucky enough to have done all of the above with our little traveler, and while that gives me just one point of reference, I have learned a few things along the way that might be helpful for you as you face a middle-of-the-night marathon or the middle-of-the-day doldrums with your kiddos.

Here is my must-do list for jettisoning jet lag:

Get on local time: Particularly when my daughter was a baby, I thought it was crazy to switch her to local time on a trip only to have to go through the whole process again when we got home. But, as hard as I tried to keep her on “home time,” I found that she eventually switched to local time anyway, which just served to make me feel crazy and disoriented myself. So, now we start from day one and push ourselves to go to bed as close to a “normal” local time as possible. It still takes a few days to get us there, but it makes for a smoother trip in general, and saves my brain the hassle of doing time conversions all day.

Use light and dark to your advantage: When it’s daytime, keep the shades open and get outside into the natural daylight as much as possible. When it’s nighttime, unplug the nightlights, close the shades tightly, and if your kids will do it, give them little sleeping eye-masks to wear.  While I’ve never gone to these lengths before, I know people who travel with their own blackout curtains. Darkness really does tell a body it’s time to sleep. And light – even a sliver from a streetlight or nightlight - tells us to get our bums out of bed.

Play through the mid-day poop-out: There inevitably will come a time during the middle of the day when your child will desperately want to sleep and shouldn’t. That’s exactly the time to pull out the most fun activity you’ve got in your back pocket (ideally something active) and get them immersed in it. On a recent trip to England, our daughter would start begging to go back to bed around 9:30/10am. Once we figured out that was her “witching hour,” we planned daily trips to the playground to get us through. It worked! If she made it over that hump, the rest of the day flowed smoothly from there.

A middle-of-the-night snack: Particularly if you’re traveling far enough that a regular mealtime would fall in the middle of the night at your new destination, don’t be shy about feeding your little one a snack if they wake up in the night. Sometimes a wake-up is just our bodies telling us that it’s time to eat, and a few crackers, fruit or even a little sandwich can do the trick. Plus, there’s something special about sharing a snack in the middle of the night that just makes being up together a little more party-like than painful.

Melatonin rules: I am a big fan of melatonin, even for little ones (we started using it when our daughter was about 2 years old). For a long time, we used the liquid melatonin so we could give a small dose to our daughter before the new time zone bedtime, and now that she is a little older, we use melatonin gummies, which make sleep inducement feel like a treat. Now the whole family takes two gummies before bedtime on a trip!

Benadryl, if you must: As big of a fan as I am of melatonin, I’ve never been a big proponent of Benadryl as a sleep aid for kids. But for big time changes (6 hours or more), I will use it on the first night to ease the transition. However, I’ve heard some horror stories about it amping some kids up, so I would advise giving it a try before leaving for your trip. And of course, it’s a medication, so use all of the other precautions listed on the bottle, as well as your pediatrician’s guidance.  

Get your own sleep: The best weapon you have in combating your kids’ jet lag is overcoming yours as quickly as possible. Use all of the tips above for yourself, and add in a little Tylenol PM or other sleep aid of your choice if you can. Take turns doing wake-up duty with your partner if you can, so that neither of you must endure all of the sleeplessness, and both of you can enjoy your trip.

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