Traveling Time Zones with Kids: Avoid Jet Lag

Posted by in No-Cry Sleep

Traveling with a child can be a challenge because of the disruption to the daily routine, the excitement of activity, plus anxiety over meeting new people and adjusting to new surroundings. When you add a leap across time zones you complicate matters even more, since your child’s biological clock (which tells them when to feel awake and when to feel tired) is forced out of sync with the clock on the wall and the day’s activities.

If you’re already struggling with sleep issues, you’ll likely find that travel of any kind intensifies your dilemma. Because of this, the very first and most important rule is: Be flexible and be patient! A few other tips may help your child overcome jet lag more quickly:

  • Keep your child well-hydrated with plenty of water, milk, juice, or breastfeeding sessions. Have plenty of healthy, non-sugar snacks between meals. Don’t use any over-the counter products such as those designed for jet lag, sleep-aids or antihistamines without your doctor’s specific approval and instructions. Many of these can be harmful to children. 
  • Switch to the new time once you’ve arrived in your destination, or even on the trip over. Powerful biological cues, such as the timing of meals and naps, plus exposure to daylight and darkness will help all of you adjust to the change in time more quickly. 
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Work hard to stick to your child’s normal routines of naps, meals and bedtime – and keep these aligned to the clock on the wall as much as possible. Distraction is a wonderful tool for children. If your little one is nodding off two hours before bedtime then pull out a brand new toy to keep them awake a little longer. Mommy. Daddy or grandparent playtime also works wonders. For older kids try cooking together or taking a walk (NOT in the stroller!! Let those little legs do the walking.) Yes, I’m sorry to say, your child may get whiny and grumpy – but if you stick with routine for a couple of days you’ll all be back on track.

  • Avoid letting your child take excessively long naps at the wrong times. This will just prolong the adjustment. Keep naps to their regular length and wake your child gently. This can be hard because if your child isn’t sleeping well at night it might be tempting to let the extra-long nap occur, but this will just prolong the time adjustment. Ease them out of sleep at the end of the normal nap period and provide a snack, a drink and a new toy or sight to see.
  • Watch the time. It’s easy to miss mealtimes, naptimes and bedtime when you’re on vacation yourself. However, if you stick to your child’s usual pattern you’ll be able to avoid any major meltdowns from a hungry, over-tired child. 
  • Make sure your child’s bedroom is set up for all-night sleep. Keep the room dark and use white noise (recording of ocean waves or rainfall) to mute any outside noises that might wake your child. These sounds can also lull her back to sleep if she wakes in the middle of the night.
  • Keep in mind that no matter what you do, it will take a few days to a week to find a new rhythm. Don’t over-schedule your first few days on vacation and on your return home, if possible. To avoid the temper tantrums and fussiness of an out-of-sync child, give him a day or two to adjust to the new time zone before embarking on a full schedule of activities.

Tips from The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers & Preschoolers

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