Changing time zones be one of the more problematic parts of traveling (with or without kids).  As a young adult, I didn’t really know what jet lag was until I traveled to Germany.  With the time being 8 hours ahead in Berlin, I felt so discombobulated when I got there and for the first few days.  Our children feel the same way, crankier than normal, waking up early in the morning or in the middle of the night.  It takes some time for them to adjust just like adults.  It’s best to keep this in mind, so you don’t start stressing if their sleep is a bit wonky for a few days.

Jet Lag 

  • Jet leg is felt when adults and children travel across multiple time zones quickly
  • Circadian rhythm -our bodies are already set on a specific pattern of wakefulness and sleep. When we travel across two or more time zones, our bodies remain on the old time. It may feel like it’s past bedtime, when it’s barely time for dinner.
  • Symptoms: daytime grogginess, insomnia, upset stomach, and mental/mood changes.
  • Children are said to adapt faster and recover from jet lag faster than adults.

TIPS FOR SUCCESS

As a pediatric sleep consultant, I see my clients anxious about rocking the boat or making any sudden changes with their baby’s sleep.  Anyone that has had a baby not sleeping and used sleep training knows that there is a LOT at stake.  Follow these simple steps to make the transition as easy as possible. 

>Soak up the SUN<

  • Our circadian rhythm (internal clock) heavily depends upon the influence of sunlight and darkness.
  • When you get to your destination, expose yourself and your kiddos to plenty of sunshine in the morning and the day. This will lessen the amount of melatonin the body produces, helping you stay awake when it’s usually time to sleep.
  • In the evening, start dimming the lights. Try not to expose your child to any bright lights or sunlight before bed. They will need complete darkness when going to sleep and to minimize early morning waking. Try winding down about an hour before you plan on putting your child to bed. Follow your normal bedtime routine, to cue your baby’s brain that it’s time for bed. 

TRAVELING WITHIN THE UNITED STATES

If you are taking a short trip or are only traveling one time zone, it may be worth keeping your baby or toddler on their normal schedule, in your time zone.  This will take some planning, but keep your watch set to the old time.  This may mean baby is going to bed a few hours earlier or later than normal or baby is waking up early.  The few days away may be challenging but when you get home, your child should slip right back into their normal routine. 

TRAVELING EAST TO WEST 

This transition can be a bit tricky and usually requires a late afternoon nap, that isn’t typical in your child’s day.  Let’s use a trip from Florida to California as an example. If your child usually goes to bed at 7:00 pm local time in Florida, that would be 4:00 pm in California.  Its unlikely that you are going to be able to stretch your child in one day to get up to speed with local time and I wouldn’t recommend trying.  My advice is to put your baby or toddler down for a short nap in the later afternoon.  In this instance, an hour nap from 4:00-5:00 pm would be enough, to make it to a 7:00 pm bedtime.  Watch the time carefully, this is a nap you want to wake your child from, if they aren’t already awake after about 60-minutes. As your child adjusts to the new time, you can eliminate the late afternoon nap.  This typically takes about 3 days.    

TRAVELING WEST TO EAST

For some parents, this transition can be a little bit easier when traveling because you can get away with a bit of a later schedule than usual.  Let’s use a trip from Nevada to Georgia as an example.  If your child usually goes to bed at 7:00 pm, that will be 10:00 pm in the new eastern time zone.  If you are lucky your child will be tired from traveling and the fun activities you have planned, not protesting an early bedtime.  My advice is to start off bedtime about an hour earlier than normal (9:00 pm in the current western time zone, which is usually 6:00 pm at home).  You can continue trying to back this up further, if your trip is long enough.  Also, expect naps to be a bit shorter and you may even temporarily lose a nap while away.  Lastly, if your child isn’t a morning person the struggle may be real.  In order to preserve naps and make sure they are tired by bedtime, you’ll need to get them up for the day by 8:30 am, at the very latest. 

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL 

When traveling into another country, you and your little one are going to be experiencing big leaps in time.  In this case, it’s best to jump right in and do your best to start adapting to a new schedule.  Chances are, you’re going to be literally reversing your day, up when you usually sleeping and sleeping when you’re usually up.  The jet lag will probably be a drag for a few days, although you might find your child recovering faster than you.  

It’s going to take time for your internal clock, or circadian rhythm, to adapt and regulate melatonin production.  The best thing you can do it SOAK UP THE SUN.  When you are awake in the morning and out in the day, get out into the sunshine and expose your eyes and body to as much outdoor time as possible.  This will signal to your body to decrease melatonin production.  At night, turn off the lights and make sure it’s SUPER dark for bedtime and in the morning.  This will signal to your body that it’s time to produce melatonin, which causes sleepiness.  

Parents – be aware that your child may experience more often waking in the night and may even seem awake and playful when doing so.  This can be frustrating because you can’t force sleep and you may be asking yourself how to get baby to sleep.  Why won’t baby sleep?  Some parents may consider getting their child up and letting them be active for an hour or two.  Remember to pick your battles here.  Insomnia is just as hard for children as it is for adults. 

When you get home, you may have to do some tweaking with your child’s sleep schedule, to get them back on track.  Consistency is going to be key here and setting boundaries for what is normal.  If after a week you’re still struggling and asking yourself why your baby not sleeping, get in touch!  As your pediatric sleep consultant, I’m here to help! 

<<So much world. So little Time>> 

Traveling with young children can be challenging yet so rewarding!  These are the memories you and your children will cherish for years to come.  My best advice – do your best, be patient with yourself and your child, and try for some level of consistency when possible.  Control what you can control – the bedtime routine, your child’s sleeping space, and the environment they sleep in.  Don’t get overly frustrated getting baby to sleep. There’s nothing you can’t fix when you’re back home. Happy and safe travels!  

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