Jet lag is hard on anyone. But jet lag with kids is hard for both little ones AND their parents! Especially when you’re flying to a different continent and there’s a big time change, it’s hard to readjust to the new time.
Here are a few jet lag tips we’ve done over the years that have really helped with resetting to a new time zone quickly. Here’s what has worked for us!
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10 Tips for Getting Over Jet Lag with Kids
RESET ON THE PLANE TO AVOID JET LAG
For us, it’s easiest to jump right into the new time zone as quickly as possible. Usually while on the plane, we start eating and sleeping according to the new time zone. If it’s an overnight flight, we try to get some rest so we can hit the ground running. We reset our clocks and our minds as soon as we can!
PACK SOME SLEEP CUES
We also always make sure to bring some sleep cues with us when we travel, and white noise is a huge one for us. During our summer in Europe, we had FIVE devices that could play white noise. Sounds nuts, but we used each of them at some point or another. At home, we love this sound machine, but while traveling, we prefer just using white noise apps to cut down on weight. We had Dan’s phone, my phone, one of Dan’s old phones, Dan’s laptop, and the kids’ Kindle.
We also pack one stuffed animal for each kid, as well as pajamas, of course. And we definitely also pack the baby’s sleep sack.
When we’re on a long flight, we also like to take these inflatable leg rests – they make it so much easier to sleep. Then we tried to stick to their normal bedtime routine as much as possible, even when on a plane – quick story and song, prayer, sleep.
JUMP RIGHT INTO THE NEW TIME ZONE
If we arrive in the daytime, we try to immediately head out and do an activity. Our natural instinct is often to take it easy that first day. But we’ve found it works much better for our family to get going and get our bodies moving. If we arrive in the morning, we may take an afternoon nap, but we try to keep it to no longer than 1.5-2 hours. Then we head back out and walk around.
While we may take a short nap the first day, we don’t nap the 2nd day (unless it’s a small kiddo who needs a nap normally – and even then, we keep it short). I feel like that 2nd day is even more critical for resetting! After the first day, everyone is usually exhausted and will likely go back to bed that night even after a quick nap. After the 2nd day, everyone is usually a bit more energetic. So we try to wait until the next night to sleep again instead of napping.
For example, when we flew into Rome a few years ago, we landed around 10am. By the time we got into the city, we got some lunch and then immediately took a nap. Then we had everyone up by 4pm (which is about the time our younger 3 would wake up from a nap, anyway), and headed out to walk all around and eat dinner. We went to bed a bit later that night (by about 8:30/9) and slept a bit later than normal the next day (until about 10). By the 2nd day, we were almost totally adjusted.
WALK, WALK, WALK (IN THE SUN) TO HELP KIDS SLEEP WHILE TRAVELING
As much as possible, we try to get walking out in the sun. Exercise is great for helping your body feel energetic even when you’re sleepy. It’s also perfect for wearing out kiddos so they’re ready to sleep once you go back.
ADJUST MEAL TIMES
I feel like it’s not usually lack of tiredness that wakes my kids at odd hours, but rather hunger! It’s so hard to sleep when your stomach is starving at weird times. Again, we try to reset meal times as quickly as possible and jump into the new time zone.
When we flew to Greece a few years ago, we didn’t arrive until about 5pm. So we fed our kids dinner and tried to stuff them full, but they were exhausted by that point. So they ate some and we all passed out by 8pm. But then they woke up at 4:30 starving! So we kept the lights low and fed them a snack, then tucked them back into bed. That little bit of food helped get them resettled, and then they were fine the next night.
EAT PROTEIN AND FRESH FOODS
Speaking of food, protein is great for helping little ones’ bodies stay full and ready to sleep. When our kids woke up before dawn in Santorini? We had purchased a big container of delicious, thick Greek yogurt, which was perfect for quickly filling tummies and helping them settle back down. Protein during the day is great for avoiding crashes that come with tons of carbs. And adding in some fresh fruits and veggies will not only add some extra hydration and nutrients, but it will help your body feel better and more refreshed, too.
We try to hydrate our kiddos as much as possible early in the day, and limit fluids as we approach bedtime. We don’t want them waking up at all hours to go to the bathroom. And we definitely don’t want them having trouble getting back to sleep!
SWITCH COLD TURKEY TO STAVE OFF KIDS JET LAG
I’ve heard some parents put their kids to bed earlier/later by 15 minutes for several days before a trip. Maybe it’s just our kids, but their bodies don’t get that they’re going to switch a million time zones, and they don’t just fall asleep earlier because we want them to, and they just get cranky if we put them to bed later. Our kiddos won’t sleep in later just because they go to sleep later, so they end up just starting out on less sleep – which isn’t good for anyone.
Instead, we try to just make sure everyone is well-rested for several days before, and then switch cold turkey once we’re traveling.
Oh, and I’ve also heard some people stick with their same time zone and don’t switch at all while traveling. Even with blackout shades, our kiddos somehow know when it’s morning and won’t sleep in past the 1st morning after travel. So it doesn’t work for us to just continue staying up later and waking up later, but it sounds like a great thing to try if your kiddo will continue sleeping in. This is especially helpful if you’re going somewhere like Europe, where dinner tends to be much later!
We always pack along kids melatonin to help them adjust and go to sleep at the right time. While we don’t use it regularly, it’s been helpful to us on the plane and those first couple of nights to help our kids reset. Melatonin doesn’t help kids stay asleep, but it does help them fall asleep. So it’s great for us when we could use a little extra help in getting readjusted.
Melatonin is what your body releases naturally in order to fall asleep, anyway, I feel better about it than an actual sleep aid. HOWEVER, while it’s been useful to us, of course be sure to talk to your doctor before using it with your own kiddos. While we haven’t tried it, I’ve had a couple friends mention either eating dried cherries or drinking cherry juice for a melatonin boost. Who knew?!
When using it, we generally give it to our kids about half an hour before we want them to fall asleep to let it set in. We like this quick release kind. This kind isn’t kid-specific but it’s the exact same dosage, and is cheaper and smaller than the kid-specific kind.
If your kiddo doesn’t sleep a wink on the plane? The plane will eventually land, and your child will eventually sleep. If it takes an extra couple of days to readjust? It will work out. You may need some extra hugs and chocolate (for mom), but eventually everyone will sleep. And frankly, if you just set the bar low and expect everyone to sleep poorly the first couple of nights, you might be pleasantly surprised. I try to remind myself that the lack of sleep won’t last forever. And it’s still our choice if we choose to be happy or grumpy during the day.
Your turn!! What are your best jet lag tips?