8 Tips for Overcoming Jet Lag
So you’re traveling. Across several time zones. With a baby.
I salute you, because this is not a task for the weak-willed. This requires courage and determination beyond that of the ordinary adventurer.
But hey, we’re mamas and that makes us the hardest of the hard core, right? 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. We’ve got a world to explore, dreams to chase and our babies are coming with us.
My first taste of traveling with a baby came when our youngest was 6 months old. In order to complete my training and receive my certification in Infant and Child sleep, I had to fly to Sarasota, Florida. Did I mention, with my 6 month old baby. All the while leaving behind for the first time our 3 year old. FOUR flights there, and FOUR to return. This story, however, is for another day. I will tell you though, it went far better than I ever could have imagined.
So before you set 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.
So how do we maintain good sleep habits while we’re traveling? If we’re crossing time zones, how do we deal with the inevitable complication of jet lag in our little ones?
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. It may have even happened once or twice in human history, but the odds are overwhelmingly against it. 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. 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, this is one of those rare times when it’s OK to give in to their demands. If they want to watch seven straight hours of Paw Patrol, I say that’s fantastic. Be sure to pack your carry-on with lots of toys, snacks, books, post-it notes (trust me on this one), and portable battery chargers. This way if they need something it will be handy and easy to get. The only real exception here is not to feed baby a bunch of sugary snacks in the hopes of keeping her happy. This is just going to result in a big old crash when she comes down from that sugar rush, and that’s going to make sleep that much harder.
Hydration is key!
It might mean more potty breaks, but staying hydrated is so worth it. Jet lag symptoms go way beyond sleep. Constipation and diarrhea are two of the most common so maintaining proper hydration is crucial. Hydration will also help to keep everyone in a way better mood.
3| Is it worth altering 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. On our excursion to Florida, a three hour time difference, I simply kept my daughter’s schedule on home time. This meant in Florida she was going to bed three hours later (by the clock) than normal, waking up three hours later, and napping three hours later than she would be at home.
If, however, you’re going to be gone for longer than five days, then adjusting to the new time zone as quickly as possible is best. 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. It might not be a seamless transition, but we’ll work on that.
4| Stick to your bedtime
Bedtime routines are about more than just getting into comfortable clothes and cleaning the fuzzies off our teeth. A predictable bedtime routine sends signals to the brain that sleep is just over the horizon, so the brain 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 as closely to it as you can.
An important rider on this bill here, black out any external light sources two hours before baby’s bedtime. If that means putting garbage bags or tin foil over the windows, then you bust out the masking tape, because aesthetics don’t matter to a sleepy baby. A completely dark room is one of the best tools you’ve got for helping them get to sleep and stay asleep.
5| Sunlight’s on your side
As much as we want children’s room to be DARK while they’re trying to sleep, we want lots of light exposure when they’re awake. Getting a significant amount of sunlight during the day charges up our melatonin production. More importantly, it 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.
“Morning light exposure is one of the most powerful influences on a person’s sleep-wake schedule. Early-morning light exposure basically sets a person’s internal clock for the day” – A Clinical Guide To Pediatric Sleep by Jodie A. Mindell & Judith A. Owens
6| Add an extra nap
Best case scenario, your child’s still going to be needing a little more sleep once you get where you’re going. Add an extra nap of somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour and a half. This can really help counteract that overtired state that is present after a long flight. Just remember to leave enough space between waking up from her last nap and bedtime. This will ensure she has ample time between sleep to build up enough sleep pressure to fall asleep easily at bedtime and sleep well through the night.
For example: you’ve got an 8 month-old and your usual bedtime is 8:00 pm. You’ll want to get her up from her last nap of the day by no later than 5:00. This way she’s sleepy enough to go down for the night once bedtime comes around.
7| Keep things familiar
Remember to pack your child’s favorite PJs, lovie, blanket, and pillow from home. It will help your little one sleep if their surroundings are similar to the ones they’re used to.
If you don’t usually share a bed with your little one, don’t start now.
Let me just repeat that.
Do not bed share while you’re traveling unless you want to bed share when you get home as well. Babies get attached to this scenario in the blink of an eye. Once they have been allowed to bed share on vacation it can be confusing to then head home and the rules around sleep are different. This will lead to more tears than ever necessary. It’s best to be clear about your intentions and boundaries around sleep regardless of your geographical location.
“Clear is kind, Unclear is unkind” – Brene Brown
8| Remember who you’re dealing with
Thriving when they’re sleep deprived is darn near impossible. Kids are no different in this respect. Everyone is likely going to be a little grumpy and short-tempered once that plane lands. Remember that you are the calm confident leader here, it’s up to you to keep everything on an even keel. Even if your baby starts melting down. She is, after all, a baby, and she’s likely pretty tired.
It will likely take a day to adjust for every hour of time difference. Patience and consistency will be your best advocates to get them over the hump as soon as possible. Honing in to your calm will help baby adjust quicker. The sooner you’re all accustomed to the new time zone, the sooner you can all get on with enjoying your trip.
Safe travels and sweet dreams.