Jet Lag in Kids: Steel Yourself for Your Next Trip
Travel with kids manages to reduce even the most intrepid globetrotter into an anxious ball of nerves, desperately Googling how to avoid jet lag in kids. The amount of ‘advice’ out there makes it all feel more complicated than an expedition to Mars.
It’s not, but it’s not easy sailing either. Unfortunately, every child, flight, trip, and parent is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all answer to jet lag in kids; what worked for your friend could very easily spell disaster for you. But there are some cold, hard jet lag facts that can inform your personal travel strategy.
Jet lag in kids is unavoidable, but it doesn’t last forever.
If you can, plan your arrival days accordingly. If you’ve got a family wedding to attend, it’s probably best not to cross nine time zones only to arrive the afternoon before your baby will be handed around like a trophy for Best Extended Family. No bride wants to compete with an exhausted, crying baby for attention. (The baby will win.)
You can’t control the body’s internal clock… but you can “help” it adjust.
Our bodies operate on an internal clock, a physiological schedule of waking and sleeping regulated by daylight and darkness. Like other biological processes, such as digestion, there’s little we can do to abruptly change what our natural programming. Your kids’ internal clocks will have to adjust naturally, in response to the new hours of sunlight at your destination.
This means you won’t be on your kids’ perfect schedule from the moment you land; it’s just not physically possible. But if you slowly shift toward their usual schedule or routine over the course of a few days, you’ll be giving their internal clocks the nudges they need.
There is no magic pill for baby jet lag…
Melatonin is a hormone released in the body to signal when it’s time to sleep. In a synthetic, pill form taken at bedtime, it works well for adults struggling with jet lag, particularly when travelling east.
However, there are no studies of whether melatonin is safe or effective in helping jet lag in kids, so consult a doctor before giving it to children, especially babies.
…but daylight is the closest thing to jet lag medicine.
Once landed and dealing with baby jet lag, make a point of packing as much daylight as possible. When the kids wake up groggy from daytime naps, get them outside and in the light immediately. Find ways for them to be active outdoors. UV rays are the only way to “convince” their bodies to get on local time.
Jet lag will always be less intense going west than it is going east.
It’s a fact, so plan accordingly.
This happens because our internal clocks are slightly longer than the 24 hours in a day. Long (but very interesting) explanations aside, this means our internal clocks very literally lose a day while adjusting to the eastern time zone (and not in the fun, tequila-induced way); shifting nine time zones east can make jet lag last as many as six days longer than a shift nine time zones to the west.
Finally, there are no rules when it comes to jet lag in kids.
Traditional advice dictates that you should not wake sleeping babies, but jet lag in kids may be the one exception. Get your kids up early, make sure their naps are the normal length, and don’t allow naps too close to their new bedtime.
As mentioned above, sunlight is the only sure jet lag remedy and even that takes time; a child that sleeps all day will never get the sunlight their body needs to ‘learn’ that it’s daytime.
Until that happens — hang in there, parents.