From birth, we’ve tried our hardest to keep our children on a pretty tight schedule when it comes to sleep. We found early on with Blythe that making sure she followed a consistent routine of nap times and bed times helped her easily sleep through the night.
But when traveling across 14 time zones and hopping the international date line, even I mentally melt down and lose track of which way is up. On our recent trip from Denver to Bangkok, nearly 30 total hours of travel, for over a week I was waking up at 3:00am and working like mad only to begin to hallucinate by 3:00pm each day. Not good.
Jet lag is no fun for anyone and our recent experiences lead me to wonder what it feels like to a two and four year old. However, Blythe and Levi seemed to do exceptionally well with the transition, all things considered, and I think there were a few key steps that we took that got them over their jet lag relatively easily.
Here are a few things we did that seemed to help.
1. Plenty of rest and naps ahead of our trip
Perhaps the most important thing we did to help the kids adjust happened before we even set foot on a plane. We put a high priority on early bed times and mid-day naps for both of them in the days leading up to our trip to Southeast Asia. We also made sure to get our crazy running around, doing errands and seeing friends, done a couple of days before we left. We didn’t want the kids going into a 30-hour travel stretch frazzled, so the two days before we left were spent taking it pretty easy.
2. Don’t get too caught up in what time it is at your destination
While it can be helpful for adults to either stay awake or go straight to sleep (depending on which direction you’re traveling) on long haul flights to begin adjusting to the time difference, kids just need to sleep. Don’t get caught up in thinking about the time at your destination and whether the kids should be awake or asleep. Once they’re settled in on the plane and have had something to eat, try to get them to sleep as soon as possible for as long as possible. The fatigue that comes from a long travel day is hard enough on them without adding to it by trying to get them adjusted on the flight.
3. Let them nap after arrival, just not too long
When we arrived in Bangkok, we made sure to let Blythe and Levi nap each day to rest up and help them adjust. But on a few days, we had to wake them up from naps. Their little bodies were telling them it was the middle of the night, so their naps would have lasted for hours and they would have been awake during the middle of the night. So after a couple of hours of napping, we had to gently wake them up to keep them from sleeping all day.
4. Lots of fluids, little sugar
Just being in a pressurized cabin for 20 hours can lead to fatigue, but it’s also dehydrating which leads to even more fatigue. It’s incredibly important to make sure your kids are drinking plenty of fluids during long flights. This involves a little planning ahead at the airport since the small plastic cups that flight attendants hand out don’t go very far. On our recent trip to Asia, we purchased two large water bottles to refill the disposable sippy cups that we had packed for Blythe and Levi.
And while this might be obvious, stay away from too much sugar, including the apple and orange juices that our kids beg the flight attendants for. You don’t want your kids bouncing off the cabin walls on a 12-hour flight.
5. If you’re going with Benadryl, test it at home first
Alright, so let’s just get it out on the table. We doped our kids up on our flight to Bangkok. There you have it. I’m sure all of our crunchy, tree-hugging friends back in Boulder will be horrified that we didn’t purchase all natural, homeopathic, Whole Foods, something-or-the-other, but we didn’t. We gave them Benadryl. And a lot of parents do in order to induce sleep on long flights. But if you’re going to try this out, try it at home first. While it knocks most children out, some kids go absolutely haywire on Benadryl, so be sure to find out what your child’s reaction is before you’re on the plane.
6. Avoid too much electronic entertainment
While our iPad has definitely saved us a few times when we were able to avoid temper tantrums with Dora the Explorer or Angry Birds, too much stimulation from electronic screens can wind kids up. And when you’re on an international flight with 14 children’s movies available on the entertainment system, it’s tempting to let the kids watch for hours as you catch up on a good book. But be warned that too much time in front of a movie or game is very likely to keep your child from sleeping soundly in-flight.
Do you have any tips to share on helping kids adjust to jet lag? Let us know in the comments!