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Overcoming Jet Lag With Babies and Toddlers

Sometimes I write posts because I read a few great books, put some great advice into practice and had complete success.

Very rarely, I don’t prepare beforehand, I fly by the seat of my pants, do everything the wrong way and live to tell about it. Then I write a post centered around avoiding my mistakes.

This is one such post.

If you need to know how to handle sleepless toddlers or tips on dealing with baby jet lag, look no further.

Jet lag is meaner than someone who would pour out your Diet Coke just for fun. I’m not talking going from Eastern to Central time here, of course that may go by with barely any notice.

I’m talking about coast-to-coast or international travel jet lag. Add babies and toddlers and it’ll make you wish you’d saved your hard-earned Benjamins and stayed at your local Motel 6 for a few nights alone.

However, if you found this article because your baby already has jet lag, then I can help. It will be okay. Baby will sleep again and so will you.

I assure you, it’ll get better.

1. Recovery time.

I have found in my many many international flights that a true case of jet lag can take as little as 3 days to get over and as much as 1 week. That isn’t to say you don’t sleep that entire time. Simply that you feel a bit “off” and your body clock is confused.

Depending on the age of your children it might be relatively easy. Babies under 6 months will probably find it a lot easier since they sleep so often during the day. They’ll be rested enough throughout the day to adjust in a healthier way.

2. Start beforehand if you are a planner.

If it’s only a few hours difference the best way to combat jet lag is to adjust their schedule little by little for the few days prior to your trip. If it’s a four-hour time difference, consider shifting their routine in one or two-hour increments until they are more or less on the new time.

I don’t do that because it seems like a lot of work. However, if you are going to be gone a while and need your children to really be content, it’s a good alternative.

If you are going 15 hours and a whole day ahead (like you do going from the US to Australia and back) then this won’t help you much. You’ll just need to get there and adjust immediately.

Either way, in the week leading up to the trip you can be sure they are as well-rested as possible so they don’t begin the jet lag journey in a bad mood. 

3. Give yourself a day upon return.

Once you’ve arrived then it’s time to start the time adjustment. On our latest trip, I attempted to jump straight into the exact routine (time wise) we had in Australia. It was a disaster.

By the time they got to sleep in the morning I’d wake them up thinking that was helping. Then, putting them down in the afternoon for a nap (as we did back home) they might not sleep. By 4:30 they were cranky and dying to sleep but I tried to keep them up until bedtime.

The best thing you can do is to keep them on the current time within reason, but to let them rest throughout the day in a way their body clock is used to at first. This way, they will not be overtired and sleep-deprived and will more easily fall into their new routine as the time passes.  After they are well-rested, transition back to this time zone.

4. Don’t turn on lights at night.

If everyone wakes up for a few hours in the middle of the night, keep them in bed. They may want to talk or sing or roll around, you probably are too, but don’t treat nighttime as daytime.

This will only prolong the agony. 

My babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, were all able to spend an hour or two in their cribs passing the time playing with their toes or singing and this helped the jet lag pass much quicker.

5. Make sure bellies are full.

It will be very hard to keep your little ones in bed and well-rested if they’re starving. Traveling can get our bodies out of whack with both sleep and food, and a good way to get them back into order is having normal meal times and eating well.

No one can sleep well while starving, so filling little bellies full is a great way to help them transition back into their normal routine.

6. Know deep inside – this too shall pass.

At 26 weeks pregnant, up 5 hours in the middle of the night on Day 6 of jet lag I was having some mighty desperate thoughts. I thought I might literally die of fatigue.

Oh the dramatic meltdowns I was having. After 2 weeks we were all sleeping well, napping well and thriving. It passed. It passed and we lived to tell about it. They will get back on track, they will sleep through the night again, your hair won’t fall out from exhaustion, and it will be okay. 

I believe there are some trips you must make and bring your children along, no matter their age. However, there are some trips that can wait until later.

Taking small ones cross-country or international is doable and can be great fun. It is also a lot of work. Weigh the pros and cons and, after you’ve done all you can, damn the torpedoes and make some memories!

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