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How we beat with jet lag with kids
I’ve been asked this question quite a bit now – how do we minimise or cope with jet lag with kids? Anyone who has little ones knows how important SLEEP is. Let’s be honest, a holiday isn’t a holiday if everyone is miserable and sleep deprived with a jet lag headache the entire time.
What is jet lag?
Jet lag comes on as a result of a disruption to your normal sleep pattern when changing time zones.
The symptoms of jet lag are:
- Inability to fall asleep or wake up at the right time, poor sleep quality
- Tiredness and exhaustion
- Low mood or anxiety
- Concentration or memory problems
- A change in appetite
- You might also notice tummy troubles; nausea, constipation or diarrhoea
How long does jet lag last?
Jet lag is temporary, but how long it lasts is unique to the individual, our bodies all react differently. Jet lag can last from 1 – 2 days to weeks (but hopefully not if you follow some of the tips in this guide) It is hugely impacted by how much of a time zone change you have experienced.
Now of course every child is different and what works wonders to cure jet lag for some will not work for others. I have one child who can slot into any time zone without trouble. At 2 years old she flew from the UK to Saint Lucia, (5 hours back in time) and while she struggled to stay awake for dinner the evening we arrived, she adjusted to the new time zone within 24 hours. My younger daughter did not adjust. She continued to wake up 4 hours early for the entire holiday. To be fair to her she was only 8 months old and I do think babies with jet lag are harder to help than toddlers with jet lag (or older children and adults).
Tip 1: Know your child and plan accordingly
If you have a newborn with no set sleeping pattern maybe now is the time to fly to the other side of the world. They don’t know day from night so it’ll make no difference!
But most people reading this don’t have a newborn. You have slightly older babies and children who are a bit more set in their ways when it comes to sleep. In my experience the older the child the further they can travel through time without being too affected by jet lag (or at least not being any more affected than you as the parent).
If you’re planning your first long haul trip across timezones and you have a baby or toddler – It might be prudent to see how they cope with a 4 -5 hour time difference rather than going straight for the 10 – 12 hour time zone shift!
Your child’s sleep patterns
Is your kid one of those who can stay up late with you at weekends and sleep in the next day?
Or perhaps yours are more like my youngest, they’re up at 6am the next morning regardless of their bedtime
Some children will sleep x number of hours after going to sleep, irrespective of what time they went to bed. Others have a stronger internal body clock. If your child is the latter then I suggest choosing a holiday destination with less of a time zone shift.
Tip 2: Slow Travel to beat jet lag with kids
If you need to go a long way – say UK to Austrailia – then jet lag is going to be a challenge. Not just for your children but for you too! In an ideal world you would travel there slowly. Stop part way and slowly adjust to the new time zone as you go.
I envy people who have the time to travel slowly. Slow travel is a luxury that not many can afford.
Most of us are working within constraints of school holidays and/or annual leave from work. If I know I only have 1 week for my trip I don’t tend to go beyond a 5 hour time difference. If we have 10 days or more I would consider an 8-10 hour time difference.
When we eventually go to Hawaii (11 hours behind) I will make sure we have 3 weeks at least and I will probably include stops on the way there and back to help us adjust to the time zones.
Tip 3: Travel East or South
Jet lag travelling West to East (or down South) is much easier to manage in my experience.
When we travel to Europe from the UK usually we’re only jumping 1 or 2 hours ahead. We tend to keep the children on UK time because that means we can all have dinner at 7pm (but the kids feel like it’s 5pm), they can easily stay up till 9 – 9:30pm (feels like their usual 7 – 7:30pm bedtime) and they’ll happily sleep in longer too – it really feels like a holiday for sleep deprived parents.
What happens when you scale this up to a 5-6 hour time difference or longer?
Honestly, it’s fairly similar. When we flew to Thailand – 7 hours ahead of GMT – we had very little trouble with the kids’ sleep. Little ones will comfortably stay up later with you in the evenings and sleep in in the mornings. Over the course of the holiday, if you keep waking the children before they naturally wake they will start to naturally shift and get into a pattern of slightly earlier bedtimes and wake times. The nature of most of the holidays we’ve been on mean that the kids are outdoors, getting fresh air and are very active through the days – even a lazy day at the pool for me means the kids have been swimming most of the day. They’re exhuasted by the time evening comes and fall asleep often more easily than I do!
When flying home from a holiday in the East you will all struggle to stay awake in the evening and will wake early in the mornings. If you have to slot straight back into school and work routines this works out ok. For once, the morning routine will feel easy because you’ll all be up nice and early!
But this doesn’t work out so nicely if you’re flying West to GO on holiday. Jet lag is worse going West! It’s a pain if no one can stay awake long enough to eat dinner but you’re waking up hours before breakfast is served! If you have a child you think will struggle with jet lag (see tip 1) and you can’t bare the thought of having to get up before sunrise with them each day, I would recomend travelling East rather than West until they’re a little bit older.
Or travel South and avoid much of a time change at all – Mauritius is only 4 hours ahead of the UK. We took our girls there when they were toddlers and had absolutely no issues with jet lag at all. The 12 hour flight was tiring and the first day we all relied on jumping in the pool regularly to keep us awake but we had no problem with the time change.
Tip 4: Use a GroClock
This tip is more for toddler jet lag and younger children who cannot tell the time from a regular clock, but it also works for older kids who are familiar with GroClocks. We used a GroClock with both of our girls at home to help them learn when it was time to be asleep and when it was ok to get up. It also doubles up as a nightlight for those worried about the dark. Our GroClocks travelled all around the world with us when they were younger.
If a child wakes at 2am because it feel like 7am, and they can’t tell the time then can’t really blame them for thinking they should get up and wake you up! And yes, even if you don’t suffer much from jet lag yourself, if you’re woken at 2am when youre body thinks it is 7am you will struggle to get back to sleep too. Ouch!
A GroClock will help little ones figure out whether it’s time to wake up or try to go back to sleep. And the star system gives them an indicator of how far from morning it is. See more GroClock details and find the best prices here.
Tip 5: Keep your routines
There are many cues and signals from the outside world that our body factors in when it’s deciding when it is bedtime. This tip works for adults as well as children to minimise jet lag. As soon as you can, shift your usual routine to the new time zone.
Eat meals at the correct times for the time zone you are in.
Keep your bedtime routine as similar to home as possible. If bath and bedtime story is your usual at home, do it on holiday too. It helps your children understand that now is the time to go to sleep even if it doesn’t feel feel like it yet.
We even stick to bedtime routines on overnight flights! I pack PJs and books in my hand luggage, I make the girls change and brush their teeth, we have stories and a rule of no screens before bed. No they generally don’t get a FULL night sleep. Usually mine are too excited to sleep for long but they do get a good rest and it helps to get them into the new time zone when we land.
Tip 6: Spend as much time outside as possible
Get outside into daylight first thing in the morning – exposure to daylight helps to reset the body clock appropriately.
Take off shoes and socks and play in the sand or on the grass. It’s incredibly grounding. This is something we’ve alway found far easier to do when away than at home, for us holidays tend to be based outside much more than inside.
As a side note – this is one of the reasons I LOVE travelling with my kids and why, for me, it’s worth battling the jet lag to reach some winter sun. My friend Eva explains brilliantly why encouraging your kids to play outdoors is so important.
Tip 7: Let go of expectations, relax!
You might be completely surprised by how your children cope with jet lag when you travel long haul. Often the journey is so tiring kids will fall asleep regardless of the time, and stay asleep because their body needs the rest. And excitement will get them up again, even if their body clock wants them to sleep.
When you are all suffering from jet lag, everyone can get a bit tired and grumpy. So go easy on yourself. You’re allowed to make life with jet lag easier for yourself.
Don’t push for bed time if the kids aren’t ready. It’s so rare that kids can stay up late and star gaze or watch for bats and it not be an issue. No one has work or school tomorrow. Let bed time slide if it helps keep everyone sane and happy.
Don’t plan activities first thing in the morning if getting up is going to be a struggle.
If they wake up a bit too early, try to go with it. Get up and take photos of the sunrise and be first in the restaurant for breakfast – you’re guaranteed to get the best table!
Let the kids have an unplanned snooze, even if at home you wouldn’t dream of letting them nap in case it spoilt bedtime. Snooze with them! Why not?!
You’re on holiday, enjoy it!
Are there any tips for avoiding jet lag with kids that I’ve missed?
Comment below and let me know
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