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8 Tips for Dealing With Jet Lag

So you are traveling across several time zones.... with a baby. I salute you, intrepid traveler, because this is not a task for the weak at heart. This requires courage and determination beyond that of the ordinary adventurer. If Lewis and Clark had a baby along with them, I’m guessing they would have called it quits before they arrived at the airport.

We are mum's and that makes us the hardest of the hard core!

We’re not going to stay chained to our homes for five or six years waiting for our babies to reach an age where they’ll be more conveniently portable. We’ve got a world to explore and our babies are coming with us.

But before you set out, I want to make sure you’re armed with all the information you need to maintain those sleep skills you’ve been working so hard to develop. I’m a sleep consultant, after all, so sleep is what I tend to focus on. If you’re looking for hotel recommendations, you’re in the wrong blog.

How do we maintain good sleep habits while we’re traveling?

If we’re crossing time zones, how do we deal with the inevitable complication of jet lag in our babies?

1. Avoid Late Flights.

Some of us like to envision this scenario where we jump on the plane when baby’s already asleep, and they just magically sleep through the entire flight, arriving fresh and rested and ready for the upcoming adventure.

It may have even happened once or twice in human history, but the odds are overwhelmingly against it. It’s much more likely that you’re both going to have an awful night and arrive stressed and seriously overtired. Choose a daytime flight and hope for a decent nap or two on the way. You will likely arrive with a bit of a sleep debt, since motion sleep isn’t nearly as restful as what we’re used to, but that can actually help you get your baby adjusted to the new schedule.

2. Travel Prepared.

Given the special circumstances surrounding travel, I think this is one of those rare times when it’s OK to give in to their demands. If they want to watch seven straight hours of Peppa Pig, I say let them. Be sure to pack your hand luggage with lots of toys, snacks, books and portable battery packs, and whatever they ask for, hand it over.

The only real exception here is not to feed baby a lot of sugary snacks in the hopes of keeping them placated during the trip because it’s just going to result in a sugar crash when they come down from that high, and that’s going to make sleep that much harder. Offer them lots of fruits and vegetables, and make sure you keep them hydrated. That is probably going to mean a lot of toilet trips but trust me, it’s worth it. Jet lag symptoms go way beyond sleep. Constipation and diarrhea are two of the most common so maintaining proper hydration is crucial.

3. Is it worth altering the schedule?

If you are traveling for less than five days, it’s probably not worth making adjustments to baby’s bedtime regardless of the time difference. Experts say that jet lag lasts, on average, for about a day for every hour of time change, so if you are taking a four day trip and you’re looking at a six-hour time change, it’s not worth getting baby fully adjusted to the difference just to turn around and have to do it all over again once you get home. If, however, you’re going to be gone for longer than five days, then you will want to adjust to the new time zone as quickly as possible. Luckily, our bodies have an inherent ability to adapt to new time zones based on the light/dark cycle, so you’ll have nature working on your side. So yes, night one, straight into the new time zone. It might not be a seamless transition, but we’ll work on that.

4. Stick to your bedtime routine.

Bedtime routines are about more than just getting into comfortable clothes and cleaning our teeth. A predictable bedtime routine sends signals to the brain that sleep is about to happen, so the brain start preparing for it by firing up the melatonin production, relaxing the muscles, and slowing down mental activity. So whatever your baby’s bedtime routine is at home, stick as closely to it as you can.

An important part of this is making sure it is dark in their room, black out any external light sources two hours before baby’s bedtime. If that means putting bin liner bags over the windows, then that is what you do. A completely dark room is one of the best tools you’ve got for helping them get to sleep and stay asleep.

5. Sunlight is on your side.

As much as we don’t want any sunlight getting in the room while baby is trying to sleep, we want plenty of it when they’re awake. Getting a significant amount of sunlight during the day charges up our melatonin production and helps get the circadian rhythm adjusted quickly to the new time zone, so getting outdoors during the day will work wonders in helping baby sleep well at night.

6. Add an extra nap.

Even in the best case scenario, baby’s still going to be needing a little more sleep once you get where you are going, so an extra nap of somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour and a half, can really help counteract the overtiredness that comes after a long flight.

Just remember to leave enough space between waking up from their last nap and bedtime so that there’s time for fatigue to build up in the interim. Let’s say you’ve got an 8 month-old and your usual bedtime is 8pm.You will want to get them up from their last nap of the day by no later than 5pm so they are tired enough to go down for the night once bedtime comes around.

7. Keep things familiar.

Remember to pack baby’s favorite PJs, lovie, blanket, pillow, and so on. Once baby’s asleep, it will help them to stay that way if their surroundings are similar to the ones they’re used to. If you don’t usually share a bed with your Little Darling, don’t start now if you can help it.

Let me just repeat that.

Where possible do not bed share while you’re traveling unless you want to bed share when you get home as well. Babies get attached to this scenario in the blink of an eye, and once they are attached, they can be seriously tenacious about sleeping in their own bed.

8. Remember who you are dealing with.

Nobody thrives when they are sleep deprived, and children are no different.

We are all going to be a little grumpy and short-tempered once that plane lands but you are the adult here and it’s up to you to keep everything on an even keel, even if your baby starts melting down.

They are the child, and they are likely very tired.

As I mentioned earlier, it takes about a day to adjust for every hour of time difference, so it’s going to require patience and consistency on your part to get them over the hump as soon as possible. Keeping your cool will help baby adjust quicker, and the sooner you’re all accustomed to the new time zone, the sooner you can all get on with enjoying your trip.


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