So, you want to travel with a toddler, do you? Then it may be time you get familiar with the wonderful world of baby jet lag!
In all seriousness, though it can be tricky to navigate, baby jet lag is something you can totally prepare for. With careful planning, loads of patience and a sack full of toys and snacks, you too can conquer toddler jet lag like a pro!
Babies, Toddlers, and Jet Lag…Oh My!
So, the burning question: Does jet lag affect babies and toddlers?
Why, yes. Yes, it does.
Remember those sleepless newborn nights? Get ready to endure it all over again.
Think about it. If we, as adults, struggle to adjust to a new routine, why wouldn’t our children? In fact, their struggle could be much worse, as they aren’t able to rationalize what is happening within themselves.
Sure, an older toddler might be able to understand what is happening if you really try to explain it to them, but that doesn’t erase the fact that the adjustment is likely going to be hard on the both of you.
Now, there are a distinct group of mamas that are going to get a major pass here, and that’s those who have babies 6 months and under. The reason? Babies at this age already sleep a majority of the day, and as such, even a 12-hour time change, though hard, likely won’t have as much as an affect on your little one as it would an older child.
Nevertheless, it is also true that babies around 2 months of age begin to produce higher levels of melatonin, thus helping to establish their circadian rhythm, or natural 24-hour body clock. By 7-9 months old, this is very well-established. The point? Babies 2 months of age or older may have a more significant struggle adjusting to time zone differences than those a month old or less.
How Long Does Jet Lag Last in Babies?
The answer to this question will vary greatly and will depend on many factors.
The first factor is your baby’s age. As previously mentioned, a very young baby will likely adjust better and much faster than an older baby or toddler would. In this case, your sleepless newborn nights can be leveraged to your advantage when travelling or returning home with an infant.
The second factor that comes into play, is over how many time zones you plan to travel. A general rule of thumb is that you should plan to allot at least one day per time zone crossed for your baby to adjust.
This leads us to the last factor. How long you should spend helping your baby adjust will depend on how long you plan to stay at your allocated destination before heading back.
Let’s say that you are going on a trip that will last for a week. You’ve travelled across five time zones. If you use the aforementioned rule, you could expect to have to take up to five days getting your child adjusted. See how that could pose a problem?
In this case, we would recommend that you spend about two to three days helping your baby or toddler adjust, rather than five. Sound daunting? With the right technique and a little preparedness, it may be easier than you think.
Just like adults, though, there are some babies and toddlers that simply won’t adjust well to the new time change.
Are we saying that toddler jet lag can last up to a month?
On average, adult symptoms of jet lag tend to dissipate after only a few days. But there are some people that will experience jet lag for weeks, and yes, even up to a month!
If you experience this with your child, be patient. Make sure that you stay consistent and follow general routines as much as you normally would. Be mindful, especially with small babies, and don’t expect too much, too soon. Be kind to yourself, and to your little one as well!
Toddler Jet Lag Solutions
Now, for the good stuff. We know you’ve been patiently awaiting tips for how to get rid of jet lag in toddlers and babies.
So, let’s start from the top.
Before You Leave
When it comes to coping with jet lag, preparation is essential. To start, be sure to grab quiet toys that aren’t too loud and don’t provide any light stimulation. This might include stuffed animals, playing cards, puzzles, you name it.
Next, be sure to throw in your bag some high protein snacks and a few hydrating, yet naturally sugarless, drinks. Snacks high in protein help keep our bodies full for longer, which will be perfect for those middle of the night toddler cravings. Throw a bottle of baby safe hand sanitizer in there, too, for when you’re too tired to get up and wash your hands before cramming snacks.
As for sleep, if you’re only travelling to a time zone of a few hours difference, go ahead and take a week while you’re still at home to adjust your child to the new schedule, little by little. You could do as little as 15 minute increments or up to one hour at a time. Simply scoot your child’s bedtime slowly, either forward or backward, depending on the need. Slower, shorter increments are generally better.
However, if you plan to travel to an area with a time zone of 12 hours or later, you’ll have to just jump in with both feet when you get there. But don’t worry. We’ve got you covered!
Travelling to Your Destination: Morning vs. Evening Arrival Times
Whether you are on your way to or from your destination, it is important to keep in mind what it is that you want accomplished. If you want your baby or toddler to sleep once you arrive, you won’t want to allow them to sleep the entire way there.
If you plan to arrive in the evening, you may allow your child to sleep on the way, but once you get closer to your destination,wake them and have them stay up for a few hours. This will give them a chance to get sleepy once again, and desire to go to bed.
On the flip side, if you plan to arrive in the morning and want your toddler or baby to stay awake, you’ll want your baby or toddler to sleep as much as possible on the way there. To do this, use items that aid in creating normalcy for your toddler or infant . This includes noise machines, a familiar toy, a blanket to block sunlight and more.
Arriving at Your Destination: The First Day vs. The First Night
The First Day
After you touch base at your destination, it might be a good idea to sneak in a nap or two if you and your little one need it. But don’t go crazy.
The idea here is to give you and your baby a chance to catch up on rest without inciting your jet lagged toddler to climb up the walls at night. This means you’ll need to be mindful of how long you and your toddler nap during the first day.
Try setting an alarm for 2-3 hours, and when it goes off, get up! Grab your jet lagged baby or toddler and head outdoors.
Go sightseeing, visit a local attraction or sit on a park bench. Whatever you do, it’s important to get some fresh air to get your body exposed to natural sunlight which will naturally begin to reset your body’s internal clock.
Does your baby or toddler seem tired or irritable? By all means, let them rest, but don’t let this go on for too long. As a guideline, four hours consecutively may prove to be too much, and is likely to have you wondering why you didn’t just wake your child up from his or her nap as you watch them jump from bed to bed tonight.
Also, make sure you feed your toddler or baby according to the new schedule. If he or she won’t eat, try small snacks instead, in increments of one to two hours.
The First Night
Be prepared, mum and dad!
Your first night after returning home or at your new destination will likely be tough.
Just like when your baby was only a few days old, you’ll probably be struggling to keep your eyelids open, tonight. We feel for you, but all is not lost.
One of the best things you can do for yourself, your baby or your jet lagged toddler is to prepare, prepare, prepare! By staying one step ahead of the situation, both physically and mentally, you’re already that much closer to surviving your first sleepless night with your baby or toddler.
- To start the night, do things as you normally would for bed. No matter if you’ve just arrived at your destination or have just spent a fun, albeit groggy, day out, this will remain the same. You’ll want your baby or toddler’s bedtime routine to closely resemble what you do at home.
- Eat, bathe, read, cuddle…the whole nine yards, here.
- Got other tricks up your sleeve that you think will help baby or toddler sleep? Go for it, but be careful. Too much “newness”, even if you think it’ll help, can further stimulate your child and make them much harder to put down. In most cases, familiarity will be key.
- Once you’ve wrapped up your little one’s night routine, it’s time for bed. Shut off the lights, eliminate noise and settle in.
- Now that you’ve set the scene, remember that the real battle is of the mind.
- Thinking that your jet lag toddler or baby will fall asleep and stay asleep will have you sorely disappointed. And after a long trip, you may even feel inclined towards anger.
- Relax. Instead, keep your expectations realistic and be sure to have your stash of soft and quiet toys close by for when those little eyes open again…if they ever close to begin with!
Onward We Go!
Once you’ve made it past your first night, you can breathe. The hardest part is over, but don’t expect things to become a walk in the park just yet.
Your baby will likely still be adjusting to his or her new schedule, and you’ll need to stay very consistent to see results.
As the day rolls on, continue to give your baby naps as you normally would throughout the day. Always resist the urge to oversleep, especially if the night before was rough. In general, try to be awake by 11am, though 9am would be ideal. Get out, enjoy the weather, exercise and get plenty of activity in.
At night, follow the same bedtime routine as before, prepare yourself mentally, and practice the same protocol for hushed voices, low lights and quiet toys. If possible, try to hit the sack between 7-9pm, or even 6pm very young babies.
Once you’ve made it past the first two days, you should start to see progress, even for 12-hour times differences.
Days and nights should progressively become easier for you both, though you may still feel tired and cranky. Continue to get out, sight see, visit a playground or two and explore, so that you both are nice and tired once the evening hours hit.
Going Back Home
Wondering about the best way to get over jet lag after coming home? You may wish to follow the same tips as when you first arrived at your previous destination. You can expect to have to deal with the same annoyances as you did before, so be prepared. Remember, moving too fast or doing too much too soon, will send your jet lagged kids into a tizzy, which is something you’ll earnestly want to avoid after a long trip!
The Best Way To Get Over Baby Jet Lag
Now that we’ve filled you in on how to overcome jet lag, let’s review some of our top tips:
- Be Prepared – Pack toys that aren’t over-stimulating but interesting enough to hold your child’s attention when they wake up at night. Activities like colouring books, stuffed animals or even Play-Doh, if you dare, are good choices.
- No Screens -Resist turning on the TV or even playing on your phone while your child sits close by. The blue light in these devices stimulate the brain in much the same way that sunlight does, which may make it even harder for you to get your jet lag children to get back to sleep.
- No Sugar – Is one of your child’s favourite snacks packed with refined, or even natural, sugar? Don’t do it, mama! Steer clear of sugary foods at night, even if it is your child’s favourite. Opt for protein-rich snacks like yogurt, peanut butter or crackers with cheese to help your child feel full and ready for sleep.
- Stay Consistent – Let baby or toddler nap when tired, but try to adhere to normal day and night time routines as much as possible. This is probably the most important of all jet lag baby remedies.
- Don’t Overdo It – Avoid over-tiredness in very young babies. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, the more sleep babies get, the more they sleep. So, don’t try to keep your infant awake past their age appropriate wake-window. Instead, put them down early, and watch out for the 4pm slump. If your baby is showing that he or she is tired around this time, go ahead and let your baby sleep for 45 minutes, wake them and then put them back to bed around 6 or 7pm for the night.
- Practice Patience – Feeling stressed, grouchy and tired? We hear ya. Just remember that this time shift is just as taxing on your baby or toddler as it is on you, and then some. Practice patience with both yourself and little one… with consistency and dedication, this too shall pass!
- Get Plenty of Sunlight – This not only will brighten everyone’s mood, but it will also work with your natural hormones to adjust your body’s 24-hour internal clock.
Tips For Flying With Your Baby
When it comes to how to ensure a smooth flight with your child, the same rules apply fas with any other form of transportation.
- Be sure to bring snacks and a light blanket to help block sunlight.
- Bring your noise machine, familiar books and toys.
- Just be sure to follow the guidelines above concerning a morning or evening arrival.
For more tips specific to plane travel, check these family flying tips or this article on flying with your baby for more details.
The Wrap Up
All in all, dealing with jet lag will require patience, stamina, careful planning and consistency.
But you’ve got this, parents!
Remember, the better you prepare, the better the outcome. Whether arriving in the morning or evening, be sure to have those non-stimulating toys, high-protein snacks, and blankets to block out sunlight when you need your baby or toddler to sleep. Allow your jet lagged toddler or baby to adjust little by little and be sure to flex those patience muscles!
So, be encouraged. Jet lag isn’t an impossible situation! It may sound exhausting and may throw you for a loop the first few days. But we can assure you that it won’t last forever. Before you know it, you and your baby or toddler will have adjusted to the new routine, quite well.
So, go ahead. Enjoy your adventure, or your much anticipated return home.
You deserve it!
(Is your baby still crying? Why not check your baby’s temperature to be sure?)