Traveling is hard. Traveling with young children is even harder. Now add changing timezones into the mix, and jet lag has the potential to completely ruin a vacation. Before hitting cancel on those travel plans, there are certain assurances you can put in place to make traveling with kids a smoother ride. Keep reading to discover a few tips and cures for jet lag.
What Exactly Is Jet Lag?
So you're changing timezones. Why can't your brain just get the rest of your body on the right schedule? It's not that simple. "Jetlag throws us off both physically and emotionally," shares sleep expert and author of The Compassionate Sleep Solution, Eileen Henry, "Children are like tuning forks to the emotional state of the grownups in charge. When we are in this compromised state, it is difficult to be a strong emotional anchor for our little ones."
Jet lag can leave adults feeling anxious, stressed and cranky. Not the best state of mind for parenting. Additionally, getting sleep as a parent is tough enough. Add in jet lag, and parents are likely to be nearing exhaustion and their breaking point. For some already anxious parents, worrying about the unknown and everything that can or may go wrong, can spike their anxiety.
How to Combat Jet Lag
All it takes is a little planning—both before and during a trip—and surviving jet lag is possible.
Make a Plan
Before setting out, put a plan in place. "On a long flight, go in with a plan—and do your best to stick to it," says Molly Fergus, Vice President and General Manager of TripSavvy.
"To start, consider booking your travel during the daytime if you can, planning to land in the afternoon or evening time if you’re flying," says Erin Leichman, Ph.D., NCSP, "All babies and young children are different, but this might help your little one to adjust to something like a new time zone." Make sure to arrive early for your train, plane or whatever your mode of travel. Getting there on time, prepared, and ready to go, is the first start to a calmer trip. Think the opposite of Home Alone's running through the airport to catch a last-minute flight.
And while you might handle jet lag just fine, children usually have a harder time adjusting. Make a list of your child's daily routine, and consider how it might be interrupted. Start getting your child prepared for the changes by making some small changes at home.
"Avoid jet lag in the first place by shifting your children's schedule in the new place to line up with home," shares Devon Clement is a postpartum doula, newborn care specialist, and baby sleep coach, "For example, a 7 p.m. bedtime in California is 10 p.m. in NYC—just keep them up late, and let them sleep in! Even if you split the difference, you'll have an easier time getting home than if you tried to do 7 p.m. in your new time zone."
Finally, the night before, make sure everyone in the family is packed and gets a good night's sleep. This will help ensure a smoother morning/day of travel.
On the Journey
Besides arriving early, here's one for the parents: As tempting as it might be, do not over caffeinate! "Just be tired and try to go to sleep at a normal time," says Devon Clement, "Caffeine can make sleep elusive even if you're completely exhausted, and it becomes a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation."
Make sure to have protein-packed snacks on hand for both you and your child. Staying well-fed and hydrated is important for keeping blood sugar level and energy up. Be prepared for possible temper tantrums and have distractions on hand just in case. Here are our top things every parent should have in a carry-on bag and the best hacks for flying with kids.
Once You Arrive
Scope out the sleeping situation. Try and keep your child's sleeping area as similar to the home as possible. "Once you arrive, keep as many routines and schedules, such as sleep times and mealtimes, as consistent as you can," says Dr. Leichman, "This can help your child (and you!) get the best sleep possible. Do the same bedtime routine steps and consider bringing your child’s favorite toy, blanket or bedtime book." Sometimes it helps to bring along a white noise machine in case the hotel or sleeping accommodations are louder than at home. There's a good chance sleep will be a little off, but keeping everything as comfortable as possible will help your child acclimate more easily.
The above also applies to the return home. "The good news is that young children love routine," says Dr. Leichman, "Do your best to get right back into your normal schedules as soon as you can. Think about your child’s bedtime routine and be sure to read your little one her favorite story, or sing a soothing song that is normally in her routine."