5 Tips for Dealing with Baby Jet Lag
Taking a long trip with a baby or small child can be daunting, especially if you’re crossing into different time zones. If the hour time change during Daylight Savings can wreak havoc on your kid’s schedule, imagine what an 8 or more hour flight plus several hours at the airport can do!
That being said, a desire to avoid dealing with jet lag is not a valid reason for not travelling. There’s plenty to be gained from showing your baby the world, and armed with the tips detailed below, you’ll have a few tricks up your sleeve when it comes to dealing with baby jet lag.
1. Give yourself a few days to decompress, once you arrive and once you return home. If you’re flying to a destination in another time zone, don’t expect to check in at your hotel and then hit the town, as you might have done before you had any little ones in tow. Your baby will need at least a few days to adjust even slightly, so don’t book any major tours or make any big plans during those first few days.
The same goes for when you return home. I used to fly from New York to Madrid and then go back to work the next day, despite being awake all night on an overnight flight and arriving first thing in the morning in Spain. You can’t do that with kids. Give them some leeway—a few days on their travel destination’s schedule once they arrive homeand then you can help them adapt to the schedule.
2. Help your child adjust. You can absolutely wait it out, and sooner or later (most likely later), your child will adjust to his original schedule, naturally.
Another approach is to take matters into your own hands.
On a recent trip back to Spain from NY, my daughter was going to bed at 3 a.m. (because her body told her it was 9 p.m.) and she would happily sleep until 1 in the afternoon. After about 3 days, I started waking her up a little bit earlier each day, first at 12:30 p.m., then at 12:00 p.m., then at 11:30 a.m. and getting her to bed just a little bit earlier too, first at 2:30 a.m., then at 2:00 a.m., then at 1:30 a.m. In a week and a half, she was back on her 8:30 p.m. bedtime.
3. Get the lighting right. During the day, when your child should be awake, spend as much time outside in the sunlight as possible. This will help get her internal clock back on schedule. Also, getting some fresh air and being active should help tire her out. By the same token, when she’s up late at night, keep the lights dim and keep playtime as calm and quiet as possible. That means no toys with flashing lights or loud music.
4. Encourage napping. I believe it’s true what they say, that sleep begets sleep, so don’t try to keep your baby awake when he’s tired. Often times babies that are overtired sleep much worse, so maintain your regular naps while travelling and when you return home. Trying to adapt nap times to your new time zone before your baby has fully adjusted can be disastrous.
5. Be patient. It takes time, but your child will gradually return to his normal schedule. It might take you just a day or two to adapt, but it will indubitably take your little one much longer.
After our first transatlantic flight with our daughter it took three whole weeks to get back on her schedule, and during that time I was so desperately tired and frustrated I swore I would never travel again. But that, of course, isn’t the solution. The next few times around I found myself a lot more relaxed, in part because I knew what to expect, and also because I had a strategy.
What’s most important is taking it all in stride, and viewing jet lag as an unfortunate and minor side effect of taking a wonderful vacation with your family.
Samara Kamenecka is a freelance writer and translator from NY, but she has been living in Madrid for the last 16 years. When she’s not exploring the city with her boyfriend, daughter and dog, she likes to cook, read and travel. You can find her blogging over at Tiny Fry.