Jet lag is one of those inevitable disadvantages to traveling. There is no way around it. If you want to see parts of the world that are several time zones away, you will have to suffer from the physical effects of adjusting to the time change. Overcoming jet lag with a baby or toddler is even more difficult because they don’t understand the time change, and are harder to get to sleep when they become overtired. But don’t let that discourage you from traveling during your child’s early years.
Overcoming jet lag with a baby or toddler can take about 3-4 days. But there are a few things you can do to make the transition easier on your little one.
Tips for overcoming jet lag with a baby or toddler
1. Expect a few sleepless nights.
You will inevitably be tired yourself, but your little one will struggle to sleep for a few nights. When babies and toddlers become overtired they actually sleep worse. Although your super tired, super cranky baby needs sleep more than anything, he or she will likely sleep much less than usual for a few nights. But your tot will probably take longer than usual naps during the day. One night during a trip to Europe when our daughter was 19 months old, she slept only 2 1/2 hours. That was brutal! It was hard and exhausting on her and on us too, but knowing what to expect took away the shock factor and ultimately made it easier to deal with.
2. Roll with the punches.
If your jet lagged baby or toddler can’t sleep get up with them. Keep the lights dim and opt for a relaxing activity like reading a book. Be patient. Again, they don’t understand why they are awake. They don’t understand that it is the middle of the night. The time change can be confusing for them and they need you to be a source of comfort. Often, when we travel a great distance. our days started at 5am because our baby was simply not going to sleep any longer. On a positive note, that meant we got to visit some of the usually crowded areas before big crowds filled the space. And we were able to snap a few pictures without 4,000 other people in them.
Stick as close to your child’s bedtime routine as possible. For us, that meant selecting a hotel room with a bathtub instead of a shower stall only. It meant purchasing milk each night so she could have a sippy cup before bed, and bringing her sound machine from home to recreate her typical sleeping environment.
When you first arrive at your destination, expose your child to daylight and try to stay outside as much as possible so their internal circadian rhythm will adjust to the time change. The fresh air and a little physical activity will also help keep them awake and distracted. This is especially true with toddlers. Find a park or even a town square that they can run around in and explore.
5. Naps – but not too long or too late.
Babies and toddlers need at least 14 hours of sleep a day. (Infants require up to 18.) So allow your baby time to nap, even if it isn’t their typical nap time. Sleep begets sleep, so napping will definitely help make the transition easier on them. However, don’t let them sleep too long during the day. A three hour nap for a toddler is OK, but anything longer than that and you might have trouble getting them to sleep at night. Set an alarm in case you fall asleep, too, otherwise you may all end up sleeping the entire day away. You also want to avoid letting them nap too late in the late afternoon. Try to keep them up for at least three hours before bedtime to ensure they are tired.
Overall, jet lag with a baby or toddler isn’t too different than it is for adults. It’s never fun, but ultimately showing your little ones the world is worth the momentary exhaustion that comes with the territory.