In 2 weeks time, my family will be heading on vacation to France. It has me thinking a lot about recovering from jet lag again. Our family has a lot of experience traveling long distances to Australia (where we are from) and we often find it takes about a week for us to adjust. It feels to me, that I struggle more with going to Australia whereas my kids struggle more coming back. I wonder how we will each cope with going to France?
As a general rule, if you travel more than 2 time zones, that is when jet lag can really kick in. And people tend to say that traveling east is worse than traveling west.
Some level of jetlag is unavoidable, but let me give you some tips on how you can smooth the transition. You can do the same things when you reach your vacation destination, and when you return home.
1) Get quickly back into your normal sleep/wake schedule.
The next day after you arrive at your vacation destination or back home get straight back into your normal routine. You may want to let them sleep late a bit on your first day if they arrived overtired (but not enough to completely throw off nap schedules). If your child doesn’t nap I’d suggest not sleeping past 9 am. If they do nap, perhaps cut the sleep to 8 am.
Make sure your child’s bedtime is at their normal time that first night to try and get them used to their normal schedule in your current time zone.
The second day that you are home though 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 play time.
2) Stomachs can suffer from changes in time zones.
Unfortunately, your eating and activity routines get totally confused by the change in time zones, just like your sleep cycles. Your child’s body will still think it should be eating on your previous destination’s time zones. This could cause your child to wake in the middle of the night as well.
For younger babies, you might want to ensure they have a middle of the night feed overnight (even if they usually don’t need it) to help prevent big wake ups overnight. For older kids, make sure you have a nice big dinner meal to fill up those bellies as much as possible.
3) Get out for fun in the sun.
Overall, children are more sensitive to morning light. This means that getting them out in the sun within the first hour or so of their wake up will help them work on re-setting their circadian rhythms. The sunlight (and darkness at night) will help teach your child when it is time to sleep and when to wake up.
4) Keep well hydrated.
It is not uncommon to experience dehydration during plane trips. The problem is that dehydration can actually worsen jet lag symptoms. Make sure that your child drinks a lot of liquid before, during and after your flights.
5) Keep your first days on vacation and back home relaxing.
When possible it is best not to overschedule yourself the first days at your vacation and back home. This gives your child’s body time to start adjusting to the new time zone. Relaxing days can also help prevent more overtiredness. As we know overtiredness always makes sleep problems worse.
6) Early bedtimes are key.
Tiredness is definitely a big thing when it comes to traveling. We will be getting on our plane at midnight here and arriving at 1 pm France time (6 am NY time). Our kids will only have had maybe 6 hours of sleep on the plane, that is, if they fall straight asleep. So we will be giving them an early bedtime our first day in France, and likely the next couple of days after that as they recover from jet lag and the subsequent multiple night wakings while their bodies remain confused.
Many parents express concerns to me that early bedtimes mean early wake-ups, but it is important to note that when overtiredness is the reason for the early bedtimes it generally helps children sleep longer.
7) Treat nighttime as night time.
It is not uncommon for children to go to bed at night and wake up a couple of hours later when they are jet lagged. Sometimes their bodies can think that they were only supposed to nap. We don’t want to treat this wake up as a nap though. I always suggest to keep the room dark and quiet and as much as possible have your child lay in bed waiting for the return back to sleep.
Make sure that your vacation destination has blackout blinds so that the room is super dark. If needed you can either bring travel ones yourself or just masking tape and garbage bags can work!
We want to send the message that night time is night time and thus for sleeping. The more we lean into the wake ups and, say, offer to put on the TV or something, the more we can accidentally encourage it to happen the following nights.
8) It is ok to offer naps, even for older children.
Even if your children are past the age to offer naps, it is okay to offer them as they get used to their new time zone. It always helps my 5 and 7 year old recover so much faster from our trips to Australia. It helps them get to a more reasonable bedtime. This is especially key if jetlag is causing early wake ups!
9) Do a sleep boot camp on return home.
The way your kids sleep on vacation is often different than when you are home. Whether it is because you room shared, bed shared or because you got up to them multiple times overnight while they were jetlagged. When you get back home go straight back to how they fell asleep pre-vacation. I call this a sleep boot camp because you might have a day or two of protesting at bedtime and nap time but after that, they’ll be right back to normal.
Jet lag is never fun, but hopefully, this will help you feel better prepared for your next holiday. Summer is not far away and this is when many of us go on long vacations! Try to relax though and enjoy your holiday even if sleep is a mess for a little bit!