So you’ve booked a long-haul flight, but now you’re dreading the jet lag with kids. What to do???
As Daddy Lynn read the last line of their favourite book, the boys drifted blissfully off to sleep. It was 8:30pm and us parents eagerly high-fived with smug grins. We had survived our long, delayed flight from the UK to Bangalore, lasted the day through a bleary eyes and foggy head and BEATEN JET LAG! Hoorah!
Or had we…
At 11:30pm our 2 year old sprung out of bed and started scrambling around looking for his toys. His older brother soon followed suit and helped by switching on all the lights. Before we knew it, dinosaurs were attacking a Lego tower. We gave in and by 1am I was picking up the phone ordering pizza and fries from the hotel’s room service and switching on kid’s TV.
MASSIVE KIDS JET LAG FAIL. How do parents beat jet lag in kids? Especially toddler jet lag!
Usually as a family we managed to adjust fine to the time differences when travelling; it’s only a 5.5 hour time difference between the UK and India. But for some reason, jet lag had well and truly got the better of us this time. It took us a good week to get back to normal routine. I swear coping with jetlag after flying with a baby was much easier!
So I turned to my fellow family travel blogging community for their advice on how to how to help kids with jet lag. Here are their tips:
1. Consider your flight times
Marianne (Mum on the Move) believes ‘a good trick for beating jet lag is to try and get your body clock on to your destination time zone as quickly as possible – even before you get there. Think about the local time zone as soon as you board the plane, and adapt your sleep on the plane accordingly. For example – if your plane lands at 7am local time you will need to ensure you have been sleeping right up to the time you land, which often means staying awake for the first few hours of the flight.
Is the overnight flight better?
‘Where possible, we look to fly overnight when it’s already the kids bed time. We always look to find ways to exhaust them in the afternoon with a lot of fresh air before catching the plane then they will settle much faster and be at least partly rested . On arrival, we’ve found we’re all less inclined to want to nap straight away and can battle it through to the normal bed time in our new time zone. If you want the body to adjust quickly, tired or not, we all go to bed the following night at the correct bed time in the new time zone. At the very least, dim the lights and turn off electronics so there’s a natural cue that this is now the new bed time. If you give into the urge and think ‘we’re awake anyway so let’s go and explore’ it will just delay the adjustment.’ (Keri, Our Globetrotters)
Or is the day flight better?
‘To beat jet lag, we try to fly during the day and arrive at our destination in the evening. We check into a hotel, eat dinner and to right to bed, no matter what time it is back in Sydney. Usually we are so exhausted by then that we have an amazing night’s sleep and wake up well-rested and very close to the routine for the time zone we have landed in.’ (Christine, Adventure, Baby!)
But what if your flight arrives in the middle of the night?
‘Set your alarm for 8am local time, get everybody up and start your day. We find that you need to get onto local time straight away to beat jet lag, even if you’ve only had a few hours sleep. You can always have a short nap after lunch to get you through the rest of the day.’ (Nicky, Go Live Young)
And if your flight arrives in the morning but your knackered and haven’t slept on the flight?
‘When we travel we have found the best way to avoid jet lag is to have a sleep! Once in the hotel everyone has a quick shower then hops into bed. The alarm is set for two hours later. Once we are all rested we head out and about to explore the local area and have dinner out. Then back to the room for bed time. Wake up the next day ready to go.’ (Debbie, Travel with the Greens)
Or perhaps consider a stopover.
‘Back when we were just a couple, escaping jet lag seemed to be pretty easy, but fast forward to the arrival of our two kids and beating jet lag has almost become a sport. These days, when booking a long haul flight, we look for options that include a stop over around half way. It provides an opportunity for the kids to adjust, sleep and eat, before continuing on to our destination’ (Leah, The Kid Bucket List)
2. Splurge on your arrival accommodation
‘During the first few days we know we’ll spend more time at our hotel than usual, so we splurge on upgraded accommodations. Things we look for include: 24/7 room service for when the kid’s demand breakfast at 2 am, a separate sitting area where one parent can entertain children while the other tries to sleep, and a beautiful city view to make the middle of the night restlessness more exciting!’ (Jessica, Magnets from Everywhere)
3. Get out and about on that first day
Sally’s top tip (Our3kidsvtheworld) is ‘drinking a lot of water and getting out in the sunlight. You are less likely to feel tired if you are out and about in the sunshine and keep moving. I feel the jet lag worse when I stop and inside not moving around. If you stay busy and try and ‘hit the ground running’ you will adjust to the new time zone much quicker.’
Having a run along the Corniche in Abu Dhabi
Similarly, Kayla (Wanderlocity) believes exercise is key. ‘When we get home, we bust out the bikes and scooters. Some fresh air, sunshine and movement always does a body good. Getting exercise also assists in getting back in the general swing of everyday kiddo (and adult) life. By being out in the sunshine and fresh air, you’ll be using the light cues to help get your circadian rhythm in sync with the local time zone. Light tells your body it is time to be awake, especially when you pair it with movement!’
Whereas Wisterian Watertree puts his faith in absolute physical exhaustion. ‘Obviously works only once they are old enough to move on their own, but when they do and if you time it right, so they can not keep their eyes open at bedtime, you can reset their body clocks and they will sleep through the night and will sleep at naptimes the next day. Works the same way when you get home, but they have to be so tired they literally fall asleep in your arms. This is why you need to research the options for playgrounds near where you are staying (indoor playgrounds if there is any risk for rain). If you are going somewhere wintery, make sure to have clothes appropriate for outdoor play in cold weather. Consult the locals. It probably works for the adults too, by the way.’
4. Stick to the routine you have at home
‘To help combat jet lag when travelling, we do our best to keep naps and bedtime consistent. For us this means keeping our routine and schedule similar to at home. We usually travel with a sleepsack, blanket and a couple of favourite books plus do our bedtime routine in the same order as at home. Additionally, we do our best to keep naps and bedtime at the same time (but on local schedule). Sometimes, we just need to wait it out but we are usually back on track in a few days.’ (Celine, Baby Can Travel)
5. Eat meals at local times
‘Studies show that by adjusting to eating your meals at local time instead of when you would normally eat, that you ‘reset your body clock.’ Fasting during your flight is also recommended but with kids this is obviously not possible. I would recommend small meals and snacks during your flight is best, then indulging in a big meal (whether that be breakfast, lunch or dinner) in your new time zone.’ (Mary, The Abbottses)
6. Healthy eating and drinking
‘Jet lag hits my daughter really hard. On the first day after a long flight she is not just out-of-sync with the clocks but often suffers from an upset stomach, which always makes me feel awfully guilty. We have discovered that giving her healthy snacks and avoiding anything sweet or exciting like chocolate really helps her. She immediately perks up and this means in turn she deals with tiredness a lot better. Our food of choice for jet leg now is apples and grapes, they work like a charm!’ (Marta , Learning Escapes)
Carrie Bradley (Flying With Baby) stresses no caffeine after 2pm and a good healthy meal before bedtime.
7. Be patient and flexible
Aja (The Wandering Chaos) advises that ‘it can take several days longer when flying around the world for them to adjust.’
Indeed, Chelsea (And Then Life) recommends adjusting the daily routine by one hour at a time – ‘The gradual approach works for us because it’s not such a shock to the system, for lack of a better word. You are able to slowly get back into your norm. The shorter time difference, the easier, but if you have the luxury of doing this for more than a day or so, I think it could work even for multiple time zones.’
Jules (Shades of Courage) embraces jet lag and even plans craft activities for 3am – ‘It is just human nature to come home exhausted and dreading the sleepless nights and grumpiness. Nothing kills the holiday buzz quicker then a bad bout of jet lag. So one tip would be to anticipate it, embrace it and accept it, as part of the holiday. We always say hope for the best, expect the worst and take what you get. So plan to have snack time at 3AM and plan on how to use the time with the kids in a nice way. Why not use the time to complete a travel journal/draw pictures of the holiday & co with the kids. This will make it less painful for everyone and is a good way to look back on the holiday memories.Obviously this is fun for a day or three and not the new normal’
The Grand Conclusion
These are all fantastic suggestions from my fellow family travel bloggers, but what works for one family may not work for another. By all means, make the best of efforts to combat the dreaded jet lag, but also be flexible with your kids; it may take time.
What did we do wrong on our recent trip back to Bangalore? We may have napped too long that first day. The pizza and chips at 1am probably wasn’t the best idea. But really, I believe you just have to take jet lag as it comes. One time it’ll win, the next maybe you will. Like so many challenges of parenthood, it’s a phase. It’s just a case of riding the wave, with a few tricks up your sleeve.
Were you an intrepid backpacker in your previous life? Exploring distant and exotic lands on a budget, getting off the beaten track and feeling like you were doing something different? Now that young kids are in the picture, travel priorities may have changed. But you don’t have to get sucked into the package holiday bubble. Adventure travel with young kids is possible! Jenny x