Holidays, where you travel to different timezones, are always fun when they are happening but then there is the dreaded “J” word to deal with when you get back. What do you do when your children are jet-lagged and want to party in the middle of the night when you just want to sleep? How do you help a child recover from jet lag?
When you cross two or more timezones, especially when traveling east, you tend to suffer worse jet lag. You may have heard the phrase “East is a beast, West is best”. Unfortunately, not only do your sleep cycles get messed up when you travel to different timezones but so does your eating and activity routines. Have you woken up ravenously hungry your first night overseas or when you arrived back home and wondered why? Your body probably still thinks it should be eating on your previous destination’s time zones. This could contribute to your child waking at the wrong hours while they recover from their jet lag.
To help your children recover there are some key things you can do.
1) Get them active and out in the sun.
Did you know children are more sensitive to light, especially morning light? Use this to your benefit! Get them out and about playing outside in your backyard or at a playground. The sunlight will help with re-setting your child’s circadian rhythm, which is affected by sunlight. This will help a child recover from jet lag faster. Sunlight (and lack of it) teaches our body when it is time to wake and time to sleep.
2) Get straight back into your normal routine.
The next day after you arrive home get straight back into your normal routine. Get your child out of bed in the morning at their usual time. Keep other parts of your routine normal too – napping, meal times, and playtime.
3) Do a sleep boot camp.
You probably found that things were different about your children’s sleep during your vacation. Maybe you didn’t have a bedtime routine or you shared a room or bed when you don’t normally or maybe you even patted them to sleep because they were unsettled in their new environment. Go back to basics! Re-establish your bedtime routines the next day. Get them putting themselves back to sleep again. It’ll be like a sleep-training boot camp.
4) Don’t be afraid of a super early bedtime.
You will probably find your children are quite tired just from the holiday and then you add potential wakings in the middle of the night because their little bodies are having a hard time adjusting. To combat this don’t be afraid to put them to bed early that first night to help them replace the sleep they have lost. People worry that early bedtimes mean early wake-ups, but generally when overtiredness is a factor it actually helps children sleep longer. They may even need somewhat early bedtimes the next few nights too.
5) Nighttime is still night time.
Keep the children’s bedtime in darkness at night to send the right message. If you aren’t using them already, put up blackout shades for total darkness, especially in the early morning hours when the sun is starting to rise.
If your children wake up at night it is perfectly understandable. Their little bodies are still adjusting. Just make sure to keep activity and lighting to a minimum. This shows them that it is still night time, not day time and playtime.
6) Offer naps, if needed.
Don’t be afraid to offer nap time to get your children through the day. Even offer one to your children that don’t generally nap. It helped my 5-year-old recover 100x faster from our recent holiday to Australia and Japan. He got some rest in while he was still waking early, and it helped him make it through the day and sleep better overnight.
Jet lag is brutal, but with these tips, it should help soften the blow and get your kids back on track much more easily!